What a coincidence that Lahore got registered as the city for the historic call by the Indian National Congress for Complete Independence (Purna Swaraj) in December 1929 and the same city hosted the Muslim League Convention giving a call for Pakistan in March 1940! On the banks of Lahore’s River Ravi, Pandit Nehru, the President of Congress, gave a call to vow and resolved to dedicate the Congressmen “to attainment of Purna Swaraj for India.” Nehru insisted on testing the waters of popular support for Congress’s new goal of Purna Swaraj, so he called for a national day of celebration on Sunday, 26 January 1930, on which in every city, town, and rural market all over India a public pledge would be taken as the Congress flag was unfurled, “We believe that India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj …” On the banks of Lahore’s River Ravi, on 23 March 1940, Sher-i-Bengal (“Lion of Bengal”) Fazlul Haq presented the Pakistan resolution in favour of Two Nation Theory (Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations) calling for a separate nation for Muslims. The Convention was presided over by the Life-time President of Muslim League, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. On 15 August 1947, independent India and Pakistan became reality despite Congress not accepting the Two Nation theory propagated by Jinnah.
In 1929, Mahatma Gandhi was “preparing the ground for a political earthquake”, as Shashi Tharoor uses the phrase in his book, “Nehru: The Invention of India”, “he wanted Motilal (Nehru) to be succeeded as President of the Congress party by his son. Jawaharlal was reluctant, pleading with the Mahatma that his ‘personal inclination always is not to be shackled down to any office. I prefer to be free and to have the time to act according to my own inclinations.’ He was also conscious that he would not be the genuinely democratic choice of the party; any support he got, he argued, would largely be aimed at keeping others out.”
But Gandhi would not be deterred. He cajoled and cudgeled Jawaharlal into submission, overcoming the objections even of Motilal himself, who feared that imposing his son on the party would not be fair either to the party or to Jawaharlal.( Ironically, Motilal it was who had first suggested to the Mahatma that ‘the need of the hour is the head of Gandhi and the voice of Jawahar.’) Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, fifteen years older than Jawaharlal and doughty organizer who was already being thought of as the ‘Iron Man’ of the Congress, had more support than Nehru for the top job. But the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) was not enthusiastic about Gandhi’s announcement that Jawaharlal would lead it, the party could not repudiate the Mahatma. On 29 September 1929, two months before his fortieth birthday, Jawaharlal Nehru was elected to preside over the Congress at its December session in Lahore.”
The Mahatma had to sacrifice his strong loyalist who had rose to be known as the Sardar after successfully leading the Bardoli Satyagrah in 1928. Gandhi was shrewd enough. Tharoor mentions the reason also: “The shrewd Mahatma had no doubt calculated that if he did not publicly co-opt Jawaharlal into the party establishment at the expense of the conservative Patel, the younger Nehru would have drifted away into active radicalism.” The Mahatma could convince even elders who were reluctant to vote for Nehru on this farsighted understanding. The country was at a crossroads. In April 1929, Bhagat Singh threw bombs into the Legislative Assembly, expressing the hope that the explosions would ‘make the deaf hear’.
On 29 December 1929, Nehru as the President of INC insisted on testing the waters of popular support for Congress’s new goal of Purna Swaraj. He called for a national day of celebration on 26 January 1930. Thousands of crowded meetings were held, with millions of Indians solemnly taking the pledge, raising their fists after the proclamation of national freedom was read out to them in every language of the land. “This was the first public articulation of the ‘tryst with destiny’ that Nehru and India made, but it took seventeen more years to redeem that pledge, though ‘not wholly or in full measure.’ Each year thereafter, India’s Independence Day had been celebrated on 26 January. After 1950, when the Republic of India’s Constitution was adopted, this national holiday was renamed Republic Day,” as Stanley Wolpert records in “Nehru: A Tryst with Destiny”.
Nehru’s call for Purna Swaraj was unanimously passed at the Lahore convention. On the night of 29 December, the new President Nehru raised the flag of a free India. It was saffron, white and green, its three horizontal stripes capturing three colours that were sacred to, and touched the hearts of, India’s major communities and which stood, respectively, for courage, unity and fertility, among other virtues. In the middle was a spinning wheel, proclaiming the country’s attachment to self-reliance. Jawaharlal made a stirring speech about the flag standing for all Indians, whether Hindus or Muslims; and as the stars twinkled in an ink-black sky, men and women, President Nehru himself among them, danced with childlike jubilation around the flagpole. It was midnight, but few doubted that a new dawn has broken over India.
Not many people may be aware that the founder of the mother organization of the present-day ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in India i.e. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar had issued a circular to all his Shakhas (branches) to celebrate 26 January 1930 as Independence Day welcoming the Congress President Nehru’s call for Purna Swaraj. This incident is described in the authoritative biography of Dr. Hedgewar, “Dr. Hedgewar Charitra” written by N. H.
Palkar. Dr. Hedgewar himself was a Congressman till 1937 but was focused on strengthening RSS which he established in 1925 along with 25 other friends at Nagpur. These days RSS is not only the largest NGO in India but has branches world-over. Dr. Hedgewar preferred to call himself Tilakite and was not in favour of Gandhi but followed the directives of the Mahatma even when he was imprisoned while participating in Satyagraha as an individual. Of course, the RSS was insisting on a Saffron flag as the National Flag but the Tri-colour with Ashok Chakra was accepted in 1947. But on 26 January 1930, as per Dr. Hedgewar’s directive the Saffron Flag of RSS, which is considered as Guru, was unfurled sharp at 6pm at every Shakha welcoming Nehru’s call. These days when various organizations and political parties are using abusive language for Pandit Nehru and his family, one should take a learning lesson from the history where despite some difference of opinions even Pandit Nehru and Dr. Hedgewar were on the same wavelength to serve the interests of the nation.
Next Column: The bond between Sultans and Rajas
(The writer is a Socio-political Historian. E-mail: [email protected] )