INDEPENDENCE DAY AND THE FAUJ
Tryst with destiny
India will complete 75 years of independence on August 15 2022 and hence this day is special. It is now just a few days away. It is no doubt a landmark event and the way the government and the media have been focusing on it for the last one year or so, calling it 'Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav' and more recently 'Har Ghar men Tiranga' has kept it in the limelight of the citizenry. Let us not mention costs as it raises the hackles of many!
This initiative of the Government should appropriately celebrate and commemorate 75 years of independence of progressive India; the glorious history of its people, culture and achievements; how the nation needs to progress to sit on the high table that has eluded us so far; but in actuality the focus is bound to be on the next general elections, for which jockeying has already started!
The first Independence Day needs to be recalled so that the younger readers get to know what had happened on that important day.
The Constituent Assembly of India had met for its fifth session at 11;00 PM on 14 August in the Constitution Hall in New Delhi. The session was chaired by the President Rajendra Prasad. In this session, the first Prime Minister of independent India-Jawaharlal Nehru had delivered his famous 'Tryst with Destiny' speech proclaiming India's independence:
"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 end of his speech, he unfurled the new national flag of India.
The next day on August 15 1947, the Prime Minister had formally raised the Indian National Flag above the Lahori Gate of the Red Fort in Delhi.
On each subsequent Independence Day, the incumbent Prime Minister customarily raises the flag and addresses the nation.
The cacophony relating to the approaching end of the 75th year of Independence is becoming shriller and shriller as we approach the big day. Not that earlier Independence Days were not celebrated with respect and fervour, but it was shorn of the type of drama of today. Earlier, the day was celebrated with introspection, individually or with close family and friends, except that school children in Delhi and elsewhere were roped in as captive audiences!
In early years, the main Independence Day function at the Red Fort at Delhi was utilized by Prime Ministers to inform the country about the achievements of his/her government during the preceding year and only a few glimpses on future policy initiatives.
All that has changed. The speeches by Prime Ministers for the last few years have become elections-oriented; and mostly highlight personal or party achievements. Over the years, spontaneity too seems to have disappeared and replaced by increasingly harder security arrangements. The result is that the common citizen not only feels left out and does not even try to get a bit of space to see and hear the proceedings.
In early years, it was Headquarters Delhi Area and the infantry battalion stationed within the Red Fort that managed the entire proceedings and the Guard of Honour was provided by the Army. Thereafter it became a tri-service Guard, and somewhere along the way, the Delhi Police was included. Soon, GOC Delhi Area too was shoved to the background!
As far as the speech of the Prime Minister is concerned, besides individual idiosyncrasies, it amounted to a version of the State of the Union Address by the President of the USA, minus the interruptions of clapping and standing ovations that are the hallmark of the Americans!
As we approach the important day, one relives how that day was celebrated 75 years back i.e., on Aug 15 1947, when the colonial power, Britain was wound up, the flag of independent India went up and there was jubilation all round.
I vividly remember how I welcomed Independent India as a 'not-yet six-year-old', who had run the gauntlet of the frenzy of Partition in the previous week, when clutching our mother, we three brothers had reached the railway station of Kasur town of undivided Punjab, opposite the city of Ferozepur, which was engulfed in murders, arson and rape, while our father remained back in the hope that the madness that had engulfed Punjab would die away.
We had a harrowing and traumatic journey in a compartment full of dead and dying refugees, while a riotous crowd yelling for our lives was held at bay by a handful of soldiers, whom I have always associated with the wiry and brave Marathas. We did reach Delhi eventually and were sheltered by our relatives in New Delhi; but that is another story!
A day before Independence, the fervour in Delhi reached a feverish pitch with practically everyone out of their houses and the roads were crowded with shouts of 'Inqilab Zindabad' and 'Bharat Mata ki Jai', in which we children joined with gay abandon. Tri-colour flags of Independent India were waving everywhere, but sadly, we kids were soon called inside and tucked into bed!
Despite the severe rioting going on in many states, but maximum in Panjab and Bengal, the armed forces of India were saving refugees of both sides, but the job was colossal. In addition, the Fauj was up to their necks in dividing themselves between India and Pakistan in the ratio of two-third to one-third between India and Pakistan.
Despite these, the Indian Army, besides assisting in the mass movements to and from the newly and poorly designated borders was always leading and assisting the new political leaders, not just in ceremonials, but in all aspects of governance connected with the Independence.
This culture of the Indian Military has not only continued but has become an article of faith in subsequent wars, conflicts, insurgencies; tackling terrorism; and in bringing succor to the citizens, both within and outside the country.
Let me remind the readers that within two months of our independence, the Indian Military was mobilised to save Kashmir from the sudden attack by Pakistani marauders to secure Jammu and Kashmir by force.
There could not be a better example of fealty, loyalty, professionalism, bravery and commitment, especially as many of the officers and soldiers who went to war were still ignorant of the fate of their kin caught in the hurried partition of the nation.
Yet, it is a monumental tragedy that the military continues to be an 'attached office' and not part of the government for 75 years and the whispering campaign started by the self-serving bureaucracy about the loyalty of the military continues, irrespective of who is ruling the country. It is only the citizens that shower their affection on the Fauj, knowing and understanding that without the military there would be no Independence and freedom.
For those who do not understand what 'attached office' means, let me enlighten them that the other 'attached office' of the Government of India is the 'Song & Drama Division' of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting! Need I say more?
A few days back, the social media was full of a message that went viral on WhatsApp about who unfurled the national flag first on Aug 15 1947? That is not material, but what is important is that in all these years, the Fauj has left its mark on all facets of the nation; earned for itself the affection of the entire citizenry; and continue to do so, despite all successive governments not understanding their importance and keeping them out of the loop on policy issues.
This is a result of our political leaders remaining in ignorance about Affairs Military and being highly dependent on their bureaucratic advisors and loyalists, who have been playing the game of scaring the elected representatives of the people to meet their own agendas! A great pity as it adversely affects the security of the nation, not to mention the adverse effect on the morale of the Fauj.
Reverting back to the trivia about who unfurled the first flag of Independent India, since the story is about an event of my battalion, I want to place on record the authenticated version.
Let me fast forward to the middle of 1961, 14 years after India became independent, when I reported my arrival in the oldest battalion of the Maratha Light Infantry Regiment, viz. 1 Maratha LI (Jangi Paltan), as a newly commissioned officer with one solitary star on each shoulder. The Senior Subaltern soon took me under his wings and I commenced learning everything about the battalion, from its genesis to the wars it had fought and the details of the plethora of trophies, silver mementos, gallantry awards won, battle and theatre honours and so on, not to forget the brave and tough jawans. It was fascinating and possibly the best way to know one's new home.
What is of relevance here is the battalion's tenure in Japan from May 16 1946 to August 30 1947. The battalion having fought exceptionally well during the Italian Campaign of World War II, including the winning of the coveted Victoria Cross by young Sepoy Namdeo Jadhav during the crossing of the River Senio, returned to India and after a well-earned leave was selected to be part of 268 Indian Infantry Brigade, which along with 5th British Brigade was to form part of the British Indian Division in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BRINDIV) in Japan.
The battalion under the command of Lt Col DWH Leeming, DSO, affectionately known as 'Daddy' Leeming arrived in Japan on May 16 1946. It was stationed at Hamada, while the other two battalions, one each from Punjab and Gurkha Regiments were also in the Hamada-Matsue-Tottori area, which faced Pusan, the entrance to Korea. The Brigade Headquarters under Brig (later General) K S Thimayya, DSO was located at Matsue. The roles of the Brigade were:
- To demilitarize the area by patrols and impound arms and ammunition.
- To maintain law and order.
In early May 1947, the remaining British Officers left the battalion. On June 9 1947, Lt Colonel (later Major General) DA Surve, a KCIO (Kings Commission Indian Officer) who was trained at Sandhurst in the United Kingdom, assumed command of the battalion, as its first Indian Commanding Officer.
The battalion celebrated the first Independence Day of India on the night of Aug 14/15 1947. The town of Hamada had been gaily decorated during the day of Aug 14 1947. As dawn was about to break at 0430 hours on 15 Aug 1947, which corresponded to midnight of Aug 14/15 of India, where the first Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was giving his famous speech of 'Tryst with Destiny', to the Constituent Assembly at the Central Hall of Parliament, the Jangi Paltan in far off Japan, had turned out in their ceremonials; the buglers played the "Lights Out" followed by "Reveille"; and the flags of India, Pakistan and Britain were unfurled to mark the end of an era and to herald the beginning of a new one, with the British flag coming down and those of India and Pakistan going up.
The next day i.e., August 15 1947, 3000 children and their parents of Hamada town were invited for a tea party followed by a fireworks display.
The Jangi Paltan thus had the unique distinction of being the first unit of the Indian Army to raise the Tiranga formally at midnight Aug 14/15 1947 (IST) or 0430 hours 15 Aug 1947 Japanese Time!
While I had been digesting the above along with the colourful history and valour of the battalion, I could never have imagined that one day in the future, I would be marrying the same Lt Col (later Maj Gen) Surve's daughter, Daulat, in January 1967 at Pune (then known as Poona), some years later. That is a story of 'romance in the times of war' that continues but needs to be narrated some other time!
I end with conveying my best wishes to everyone for the 76th anniversary of India's Independence Day.
Lt General Vijay Oberoi is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff.