"Our common allegiance is to India": Nehru's first radio address to independent India
Nehru described himself as the “First Servant of the Indian people”—in Hindi, ‘Pratham Sevak’. Was that where Prime Minister Narendra Modi found his inspiration?
In his first radio address to the nation after Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru described himself as the “First Servant of the Indian people”, which in Hindi would translate as ‘Pratham Sevak’. (Prime Minister Narendra Modi has since declared himself the nation’s ‘Pradhan Sevak’ too.
On this 75th Republic Day of India, 26 January 2024, as an incessant campaign seeks to derail it from its moorings through the politicisation of religion, it seems timely to reproduce Nehru’s first address to the nation on 15 August 1947, in which he outlined the vision and tasks for an independent India.
Radio broadcast,15 August 1947:
Fellow countrymen, it has been my privilege to serve India and the cause of India’s freedom for many years.
Today, I address you for the first time officially as the First Servant of the Indian people, pledged to their service and their betterment.
I am here because you willed it so, and I remain here so long as you choose to honour me with your confidence.
We are a free and sovereign people today and we have to rid ourselves of the burden of the past. We look at the world with clear and friendly eyes and at the future with faith and confidence....
We have achieved much; we have to achieve much more. Let us then address ourselves to our new tasks with the determination and adherence to high principles that our great leader has taught us. Gandhiji is fortunately with us to guide and inspire, and to point us to the path of high endeavour.
[Gandhiji] taught us long ago that ideals and objectives can never be divorced from the methods adopted to realise them; that worthy ends can only be achieved through worthy means.
If we aim at the big things of life, if we dream of India as a great nation giving her age-old message of peace and freedom to others, then we have to be big ourselves and be worthy children of Mother India. The eyes of the world are upon us watching this birth of freedom and wondering what it means.
Our first and immediate objective must be to put an end to all internal strife and violence, which disfigure and degrade us and injure the cause of freedom.
They come in the way of consideration of the great economic problems of the masses, which so urgently demand attention.
Our long subjection and the World War and its aftermath have made us inherit an accumulation of vital problems; today our people lack food and clothing and other necessaries, and we are caught in a spiral of inflation and rising prices. We cannot solve these problems suddenly, but we cannot also delay their solution. We must plan wisely so that the burdens on the masses may grow less, and their standards of living go up.
We wish ill to none, but it must be clearly understood that the interests of our long-suffering masses must come first, and every entrenched interest that comes in their way must yield to them. We have to change rapidly our antiquated land tenure system, and we have also to promote industrialisation on a large and balanced scale, so as to add to the wealth of the country, and thus to the national dividend which can be equitably distributed...
But production by itself is not enough, for this may lead to an even greater concentration of wealth in a few hands, which comes in the way of progress and which, in the context of today, produces instability and conflict. Therefore, fair and equitable distribution is essential for any solution of the problem...
All this requires peaceful conditions and the cooperation of all concerned, and hard and continuous work. Let us then address ourselves to these great and worthy tasks and forget our mutual wrangling and conflicts...
Today, we must cooperate with one another and work together, and work with right goodwill.
Our common allegiance is to India. In the difficult days ahead, our services and our experts have a vital role to play and we invite them to do so as comrades in the service of India. Jai Hind.
A message to the press, New Delhi, 15 August 1947:
The appointed day has come, the day appointed by destiny, and India stands forth again after long slumber and struggle—awake, vital, free and independent.
The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about.
It is a fateful moment for us in India, for all Asia and for the world. A new star rises, the star of freedom in the East, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materialises. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed!
We rejoice in that freedom, even though clouds surround us, and many of our people are sorrow-stricken and difficult problems encompass us. But freedom brings responsibilities and burdens, and we have to face them in the spirit of a free and disciplined people. On this day, our first thoughts go to the architect of this freedom, the Father of our Nation, who, embodying the old spirit of India, held aloft the torch of freedom and lighted up the darkness that surrounded us. We have often been unworthy followers of his and have strayed from his message.
However, not only us, but succeeding generations will remember this message and bear the imprint in their hearts of this great son of India, magnificent in his faith, strength, courage and humility. We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest.
Our next thoughts must be for the unknown volunteers and soldiers of freedom who, without praise or reward, have served India even unto death.
We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries and who unhappily cannot share at present in the freedom that has come. They are of us and will remain of us, whatever may happen, and we shall be sharers in their good and ill fortune alike.
The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman...
All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.
To the nations and peoples of the world we send greetings, and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy.
And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service. Jai Hind.
Excerpts selected and edited by MRIDULA MUKHERJEE, former professor of history at JNU and former director of Nehru Memorial Museum & Library