History of Modern India Part 1
At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment… which comes but rarely… when we step out from the old to new… a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance… These are the words of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. He spoke to the Indian parliament on the night of August 14, 1947.
India was to become a free country the next day. What happened that morning? Why did Pakistan and India get freedom on different days. Why did Indians praise a British Governor General after freedom? Why did secular Nehru observed Hindu rituals hours before independence? August 14, 1947 is important for both Pakistan and India.
They became free at midnight that day. British India was divided into Pakistan and India under the June 3 plan. On the August 14, both countries were declared free at midnight. But they weren’t fully independent. A legal formality remained. Both countries were given dominion status under the British Crown. They were legally independent. Yet, King George VI (Queen Elizabeth II’s father) was their symbolic head of state.
Elizabeth II also symbolically rules Australia, New Zealand and the other countries. Similarly, George VI ruled over Pakistan and India. Both countries needed constitutions to appoint their own heads of states. Then they could replace the British King. They had the authority to do so. So both countries temporarily recognized George VI as their king.
Governor general’s office represented the King in both countries. George VI had never visited India before. Viceroys had ruled over British India in his name. Now Viceroy’s office was replaced with the office of governor general. But the process of appointments changed the Indo-Pak history. Even they ended up with different dates of independence.
How did this happen? 15th of August was the date fixed for partition and independence of India. Lord Mountbatten could easily become the Governor General of both countries. But in Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam became the Governor General. He didn’t like a British governor general after independence. Lord Mountbatten was also a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru. Quaid-i-Azam didn’t trust him.
That’s why Quaid-e-Azam himself decided to become the Governor General. But Nehru and the Congress party accepted Mountbatten as the Governor General. Now Quaid-e-Azam and Mountbatten were to become governor generals. Mountbatten didn’t want to go to Karachi to handover power on August 15. A visit to Karachi could spoil his oath-taking ceremony in Delhi.
A splendid ceremony was planned for him. Mountbatten loved celebrations and protocol. He inquired into every detail of the celebrations and was excited about it. He made a critical decision to ensure his presence in the event. He decided to visit Karachi a day earlier than his planned tour. He could address the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan and return to Delhi within a day. So he did the same.
He arrived in Karachi on August 13. The next day, on August 14, a convoy of vehicles left governor’s house Karachi. It was going to the present Sindh Assembly building. Jinnah and Ms. Fatima Jinnah led the convoy in their car. Mountbatten and his wife followed. Other protocol vehicles were also with them. Thousands of locals cheered to them on both sides of the road. Lord Mountbatten made a formal speech at Sindh assembly.
He congratulated Pakistan and gave some formal remarks. Then he left Karachi the same day. He arrived in Delhi on the evening of 14th August. He had formally handed over power to Pakistan a day earlier than the 15th of August. That’s why Pakistan celebrates August 14 as its independence day. Because that was the day when the government was changed in Pakistan. Now Lord Mountbatten was back in Delhi. Indians were anxiously awaiting the dawn of independence in Delhi.