(The following are extracts from the first speech that Jawaharlal Nehru gave from the Red Fort as Prime Minister on 16 August 1947. In subsquent years, Prime Ministers have addressed the nation from the Red Fort on 15 August, but the first speech was given on 16 August since the ceremony of the handing over of power was held on the midnight of August 14-15, when Nehru made his famous ‘Tryst With Destiny’ speech.)
We have gathered here on a historic occasion at this ancient fort to win back what was ours. This flag does not symbolise the triumph of individuals or the Congress but the triumph of the whole country. The free flag of India is the symbol of freedom and democracy not only for India but for the whole world.
India, Asia and the world must rejoice on this great day.
…You also know what happened during the last 27 years when we struggled and made sacrifices under this flag… What is worth recalling is that we had taken a pledge that we shall lay down our lives for the honour and dignity of this flag and would never allow it to be lowered whatever might be the consequences. That pledge has been fulfilled. The country has achieved freedom under the brilliant leadership and guidance of Mahatma Gandhi. Our technique of fighting was different from that of other countries. Sometimes we had faltered and stumbled but finally we reached our goal. If credit is due to any man today it is to Gandhi ji.
On this day we must remember those who have made sacrifices and suffered for the cause of independence. It is needless for me to name all of them, but I cannot help mentioning Subhas Chandra Bose who left this country and formed the Indian National Army abroad and fought bravely for the freedom of the country. He hoisted this flag in foreign countries and when the day came for hoisting it on the Red Fort, he was not to see his dream fulfilled. This should have been the day of his return, but alas he is no longer in this world.
The first charge of the Government will be to establish and maintain peace and tranquillity in the land and to ruthlessly suppress communal strife, for no government worth the name can look on while law-abiding citizens are leading a precarious life; while dealing with lawlessness there can be no discrimination. It is wrong to suggest that in this country there would be the rule of a particular religion or sect. All who owe allegiance to the flag will enjoy equal rights of citizenship, irrespective of caste or creed.
But those who create mischief or trouble are our enemies and they shall be dealt with severely...the second task before us is to wipe out poverty, disease and illiteracy and raise the standard of living of our people.
We have to make India a strong and powerful country. Only those countries can become great which have strong foundations…We cannot move forward without the people’s cooperation. We are not here as Prime Ministers and Ministers, but as humble servants of the country…the masses have now become the real rulers in the country and the strength or the weakness of the Government would depend upon the people.
… In fact, our freedom signals the freedom of other nations not only of Asia but of the whole world. Therefore, this is a day of rejoicing not only for us but for the whole world. You who are gathered here in Iakhs, must remember that the eyes of millions of people all over the world are turned towards you. I must mention our armed forces who are a source of pride to the nation. They now belong to the nation and not to any foreign power. It would be their duty to guard and protect the honour of the nation and its flag.
We must all take a pledge that we shall live as one and work to perpetuate our freedom and prosperity to the masses. We have to reach that stage when no one in this country will be poor and starving or without clothes and education. Although we have achieved our freedom, that is only a milestone— the first stage on the journey to the higher goal of universal peace and prosperity. We have a long way to go.
(The above extracts are reproduced from Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Volume 4, pp 2-4)
Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library