The 14th November is the birthday of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister since the country became independent from imperialist Britain in 1947. In India, this day is celebrated as ‘Bal Diwas’ or Children’s Day, in remembrance of Nehru’s belief that children should be lovingly nurtured as they are the ‘future of the nation and citizens of tomorrow’.
A close follower of Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru believed in the fight for independence from Britain but also the prevention of religious division. He joined the Indian National Congress and was eventually elected as its president. Nehru worked alongside Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India elected by Britain, and became Prime Minister on 15th August 1947. He is widely considered to be the architect of the modern India as a sovereign, socialist, secular, and democratic republic.
To commemorate what would be his 129th birthday, I decided to take a look at Nehru’s inspirational speech ‘A Tryst with Destiny’, a physical copy of which can be found on our Politics shelf here at the AIU Centre.
The speech was delivered to the Indian Constituent Assembly at midnight on the day of independence and I found it both a beautifully poetic and powerfully ambitious read. Most importantly, Nehru’s speech struck me as a valuable piece of writing from which we can all learn lessons of peace, unity, perseverance and pride. Below are my favourite lines of the speech, and some of the most valuable lessons Nehru’s words teach us:
‘A tryst with destiny’
The title of the speech is unlike that of any other speech I have heard, embracing emotion and poetry rather than simply delivering political rhetoric. The word ‘tryst’ means a pre-arranged meeting between lovers, which shows the passion and loyalty Nehru must have felt for both India and the fight for its independence. Lesson: we should all be passionate about what we believe our destiny to be!
‘freedom and power bring responsibility’
Here Nehru acknowledges his power as Prime Minister and his success in achieving freedom without overlooking the responsibility that comes with it. He was elected at a time when religion was causing huge tension in India, and as the widely recognised successor of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru had a duty to solve these issues. Lesson: those with freedom and power must not forget the responsibilities that run alongside them.
‘the greatest man of our generation’… ‘the architect of this freedom’… ‘the father of our nation’
Who else could these powerful descriptions be referring to but the ‘Great Soul’ Mahatma Gandhi? Throughout his speech Nehru pays tribute to Gandhi, acknowledging him as the ‘old spirit of India’. Gandhi was not actually present at the speech but was instead in Calcutta attempting to calm the Muslim-Hindu fighting. After independence was announced, he began a 24-hour fast to celebrate. Lesson: Always be grateful for those who came before you.
‘Peace has been said to be indivisible’
Considering the divided nature of India at the time, to use the word ‘indivisible’ was risky to say the least. I see this quote as Nehru’s brave attempt to promote unity through peace, despite widespread conflict between Muslims and Hindus across the country. Lesson: Achieving peace can sometimes mean putting differences aside.
Having delivered his speech in English, Nehru ended in Hindi, announcing ‘Jai Hind’, which translates as ‘Victory to India’. This wonderfully reinforces his patriotism, and was a good tool for reminding the audience of his loyalty to India despite being educated in England at Harrow School, London and Trinity College, Cambridge. Lesson: Never forget your roots!