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10 Little Known Facts About India’s First Independence Day

Taking a look at the nation’s storied history as we approach India’s 75th Independence Day

The tricolour was first unfurled on the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 16, 1947, and 10 other less known facts about India’s first Independence Day.

1)    The original Independence plan was for the British to transfer power by June 1948. But the appointment of Lord Mountbatten as the new viceroy in February 1947 changed that. Following the turmoil that followed Jinnah’s insistence on the partition, he advanced the date to a year earlier. After a historic meeting with the major political parties on June 3, Mountbatten decided on the date of August 15. He apparently thought of the date to be lucky for him because it was the day two years earlier that the Japanese had surrendered to him at the end of World War II.

2)    Indian independence was officially declared at the fifth sitting of the Constituent Assembly of India in the Constitution Hall, in what is now the Parliament house on the midnight of  August 14/15. The session began at 11 pm with the President of Constituent Assembly, Dr. Rajendra Prasad in the chair and the recitation of  Vande Mataram by freedom fighter Sucheta Kriplani. This was followed by Dr Prasad delivering his presidential speech which began with the lines “In this solemn hour, of our history when after many years of struggle we are taking over the governance of this country, let us offer humble thanks to the Almighty Power that shapes the destinies of men and nations and let us recall in grateful remembrance the services and sacrifices of all those men and women, known and unknown, who with smiles on their face walked to the gallows or faced bullets on their chests…”

3)    Jawaharlal Nehru followed with his famous Tryst with Destiny oration, considered to be one of the greatest speeches ever. He then moved the   India freedom resolution which stated: “After the last stroke of midnight, all members of the Constituent Assembly present on this occasion, do take the following pledge: ‘At this solemn moment when the people of India, through suffering and sacrifice, have secured freedom, I ___________ a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, do dedicate myself in all humility to the service of India and her people to the end that this ancient land attain her rightful place in the world and make her full and willing contribution to the promotion of world peace and the welfare of mankind’.

4)    The resolution was seconded by Choudhry Khaliquzzaman, a member of the Muslim League. This was followed by a speech by Dr. S Radhakrishnan.  He then moved for the freedom motion to be adopted by the assembly.  This was followed by Dr  Prasad proposing that, “…it should be intimated to the Viceroy that: (1) the Constituent Assembly of India has assumed power for the governance of India, and (2) the Constituent Assembly of India has endorsed the recommendation that Lord Mountbatten be Governor-General of India from the 15th August 1947. And that this message be conveyed forthwith to Lord Mountbatten by the President and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. “

5)    This was followed by the last phase of the session when Mumbai based educationist and freedom fighter Hansa Mehta presented the new Indian national flag to the nation on behalf of the women of the country. Dr Rajendra Prasad accepted the flag. Sucheta Kriplani then rounded off the session by singing the first verses of Sare Jahan Se Achcha Hindustan Hamara and Jana Gana Mana (it was not yet the national anthem, a status it would acquire in 1950). The house was then adjourned till the morning.

6)    The ceremonies of August 15, 1947, started at 8 a.m., with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his cabinet as well the newly re-designated Governor-General Lord Mountbatten being sworn in at the Government House. Chief Justice of the Federal court (as the Supreme Court was called then) Justice Harilal Kania, administered the oath to the new Governor-General who then swore in the prime minister and his ministers. Jagjivan Ram, still in hospital after a recent plane crash, was the only minister who could not be sworn in that day.

7)    Mountbatten than made a speech as the Governor- General following which he signalled that the Indian national flag to be flown over the dome of the building.  A salvo of 31-gun salute heralded the unfurling of independent India’s flag for the first time. Pandit Nehru came on the terrace to watch the cheering crowd and to bid good bye to the Governor-General.  Mountbatten waved to the new Prime Minister and saluted the Indian flag now flying over the building.

8)    While the ceremonies had been going on inside, the walled enclosure outside had been cordoned off by the police. Red carpets had been laid down on the steps. Detachments of the Navy, Army and Air Force were drawn up. Everything was ready for the traditional drive in State of the Governor-General. Cars streamed in, bringing distinguished visitors. Suddenly there was a movement at the police barricades. Laughing and shouting slogans, people rushed towards the entrance. They got in amidst the guard of honour, the soldiers though stood non-plussed, neither breaking ranks nor interfering with the people. Nehru then appeared on the terrace amidst loud and prolonged cheering.

9)    The first public hoisting of the Indian flag took place in the afternoon at Princess Park near India Gate. Over half a million people had gathered there to watch the ceremony. The parade ground was enclosed with wire fencing and, seats were numbered to receive the special guests.  But there was no stopping the crowd.   The police gave up after a while, and let the people have their way. Many notable guests, including ministers, diplomatic representatives and military chiefs had to return after trying to enter in vain. The drill and the march past had to be abandoned because of the rush.  The official account mentions from that time talk about Mountbatten and Nehru helping lost children and women caught in the rush.

10)    When the tricolour was finally hoisted, there was a shower of rain, and a rainbow appeared vividly in the sky. People saw in this a good omen.  According to an account from that time, “They looked at three prominent colours of the rainbow and exclaimed `heavenly flag’. The first hoisting national flag on the ramparts of the Red Fort, which has since become a tradition on Independence Day, was done by Prime Minister Nehru on the morning of the next day, August 16.