Jawaharlal Nehru, Tryst with Destiny

[Click on image to enlarge] Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964), first president of post-partition India, was an aristocratic Kashmiri Brahmin. Educated in England at Harrow School and Cambridge University, he was admitted to the English bar and practiced law in India for several years. After the Amritsar Massacre of 1919, he devoted himself to the struggle for Indian freedom, working closely with Mahatma ("Great Soul") Gandhi. Four times president of the Indian National Congress, Nehru spent many of the years from 1930 to 1936 in prison for conducting civil disobedience campaigns against the British. He and Gandhi opposed the participation of Indian troops in support of the British during the World War II — unless India were granted immediate independence — and for his opposition he was again imprisoned, from 1942 to 1945. Released after the Allied victory, he became the principal negotiator of the Indian independence movement, a role for which he was uniquely fitted by his English education, his long experience of the imperial cast of mind, his legal training, and the aristocratic background that gave him much in common with the aristocratic Mountbatten. The two of them tried, with Gandhi, to preserve a united India, but, after 1946, Jinnah and the Muslim League would accept nothing less than a separate Muslim state. At partition, Jinnah became the first governor general of the new dominion of Pakistan, and Nehru the first prime minister of the new India. What follows was his first speech in that role.

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[Speech delivered in the Constituent Assembly, New Delhi, August 14, 1947, on the eve of the attainment of Independence]

[Click on image to enlarge] Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, and opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?

Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of the pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now.

That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation >> note 1 has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.

And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart. Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this One World that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.

To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make an appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.


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