Jawaharlal Nehru, our first Pradhan Mantri, had unfurled the national flag, our beloved Tricolour, on 15 August 1947 at the dawn of the Independence after 190 years of the British rule in New Delhi. A special session of the Constituent Assembly was held in the Council House, now Sansad Bhawan, on 14 th August 1947 from 11 PM onwards. Dr Rajendra Prasad, the President of the Constituent Assembly had presided. Right at the beginning Dr Rajendra Prasad called upon Suchta Kripalani to sing the National Song, Vande Mataram. Jawaharlal Nehru had made his famous speech there” Tryst with Destiny” after all members had taken oath of allegiance to the new nation, Bharat, our motherland.
The next day, on 15 August 1947, Lord Mountbatten, the first Governor General of independent India had administered the oath of office and secrecy to Jawaharlal Nehru as the Prime Minister of India in the Durbar Hall of the Viceroy’s House, now the Rashtrapati Bhawan. In the afternoon Lord Mountbatten, his lady wife, Edwina Mountbatten and Nehru the Prime Minister drove from the Raisina Hill down the King’s Way, now Raj Path, towards India Gate as the national flag hoisting was to take place in the Hexagon near the Princess Park ( now called the August Kranti Maidan) for the benefit of and participation by the citizenry. The all important people could not reach the venue of flag hoisting as the milling crowd all over left no space on the road for the State Coach driven by six horses to drive on. The Governor General, his consort, the Prime Minister and senior Defence officers stood to attention wherever they were at the appointed hour and Lord Mountbatten signaled to his ADC, standing near the flag pole, to hoist the National Flag of India and he did it dutifully.
There was no mention of a ceremony at the Red Fort on 15 August 1947. Many a commentator, including yours truly had been committing that mistake year after year glorifying the Red Fort flag hoisting by Pundit Nehru on 15 August 1947. Where ignorance is bliss, it is folly to be wise. Fortunately a research paper published by the Lok Sabha secretariat crossed my eyes and I was made wise. So were our colleagues. The record was set straight and it was announced by us thereafter that the first flag hoisting at the Red Fort of the national flag by Pundit Nehru was done on 16 August 1947. The first Prime Minister had the privilege of hoisting the national flag from the ramparts of the Red Fort 17 times and he addressed the nation on the national day as many times. The time allotted for the speech of the Pradhan Mantri is just 20 minutes but I have yet to see a Pradan Mantri adhering to it.
Era of Lal Bahadur Shastri
Lal Bahadur Shastri unfurled the national flag at the ramparts of the Red Fort just twice. The dimunitive man had risen tall in national stature after he ordered the Indian Army to cross the international border and attack both Lahore and Sialkot simultaneously. His decision worked like magic and the flambuoyant Pakistan President, General Ayub Khan was forced to loosen his stranglehold on Jammu and Kashmir in the Chhamb-Jaurian sector. Lal Bahadur Shastri had become the darling of the Indian nation. Alas! Untimely death of that great man in mysterious circumstances in Tashkent after he had signed an agreement with General Ayub Kan under the Soviet pressure to withdraw to pre-war location in all sectors.
We recall the great Shastri Ji for raising the morale of the Indian nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort and elsewhere when clouds of misfortune had gathered. Shastri Ji always saw a silver lining around dark clouds and gave us the slogan “Jai Jawan, Jai Kissan”. To get over the food shortage and stranglehold of PL 480 of the US government he exhorted the Nation to miss a meal once a week and more, if feasible. He practiced what he preached and, therefore, his words carried weight and all Indians followed his advice both in letter and spirit.
Indira Gandi Era
Indira Gandhi came on the scene after Shastri Ji’s sad and premature demise as a compromise candidate of the warring factions of the Congress Party. The regional satraps had chosen her because she had been known as the “ Goongi Gudiya” and lacked self confidence to answer queries and supplementary questions on the floor of the Lok Sabha. She always heaved a sigh of relief when the question hour was over without the Speaker calling upon her to face the opposition volleys.
Indira Gandhi had resilience and the more she was suppressed by satraps the more she came on her own and developed self confidence to take on the mighty men who had ridiculed her in the initial stages. As Prime Minister, she commanded the power of the State and learnt her ropes to success gradually. Whenever she was unduly hurt or harassed, be it Opposition parties in Parliament or the wily neighbor, Pakistan in the international diplomatic arena, she counter-attacked like a wounded tigress and carried the day. If one goes through the recording of her addresses to the Nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the Independence Day year after year, one will find that she grew tall as a Statesperson bit by bit and grew taller inch by inch. The friend and foe both held her in awe after she dismembered the arch-enemy of India, Pakistan in the 1971 war.
15 August 1972 – she ascended the stairs as her father used to do, like a victorious Roman General fresh from a campaign where the enemy was dissipated. By the way, the lift or elevator was built in Lal Sahadur Shasti’s time to take him on the ramparts since he had a heart condition. Now there are two elevators. The speech that she delivered after her victory over Pakistan was superb. Atal Behari Vajpayee, a Jan Sangh leader sitting on the opposition benches had likened Indira Gandhi to goddess Durga and lionized her in her hours of glory. It was well reflected in her voice, tenor, mannerism and the totality of impression of listeners was that Indira Ji has now come of age.
Indira Gandhi addressed the Nation after unfurling the National Tricolour at the ramparts of the Red Fort sixteen times. Of course, it was in two instalments – eleven in her first tenure and then she lost power. Gut within two years she staged a triumphant return to power. She performed very well as the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort FIVE times, taking the tally to sixteen, a close second to her father, Pt Nehru.
Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 snatcher her from the Nation rather prematurely. The ramparts of the Red Fort missed Indira Ji on 15 August year after year. Her gait as a lioness, her elegant sari with a broad border and the way she wrapped her sari made Indira Ji a class apart. As a radio commentator I made a word picture of Indira Ji’s personality, including her sari, not forgetting the border and it made a lively word picture pleasing to listeners’ ears. I loved the whole exercise immensely. I missed her every year when I climbed up the stairs to the ramparts of the Red Fort year after year as a commentator of the Akashvani. After her sad demise, things were never the same. When I changed over to the Doordarshan at my own request, I missed making the word picture. The cameras of the TV did that job that was so dear to me.
In 1985 the Lahori Gate, the Ghoonghat and the moat looked so different. The security considerations were primary concern of the State and everything else played the second fiddle. The Guard of Honour was also vivisected into two. The Inter-Services and Police National Guard was positioned in front of the ramparts for the National Salute and the band struck the National Anthem. A small Inter-Services and Delhi Police Guard of Honour was positioned near the small Lahori Gate well ensconced and hidden from public view by raising Kanats. Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded his mother, Indira Gandhi, took the salute and reviewed this mini guard. The glamour was gone, that is what I felt.
Everything looked and sounded so different – a kind of hush-hush atmosphere. It was the requirement of the security people. Rajiv Gandhi was not an orator and the resonance of his voice on the ramparts was missing. Of course, we accorded him due respect that ought to be given to a Prime Minister. Perhaps his staff that wrote his speech or rehearsed him lacked the verve of a trainer. No wonder one Independence Day was referred to by him as the Republic Day throughout his speech. Swatantrata Divas was replaced by the Gantantra Divas and I wonder why no one had courage to quietly show him the correction slip.
May I be permitted to skip some of the Prime Ministers who just made a debut and disappeared for ever. In the Army we have a saying,” Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” But for Morarji Desai who appeared on the ramparts twice the one-timers were many like Chaudhary Charan Singh, DeveGowda, Indra Kumar Gujral and so on. Chaudhary Ji kicked up a row by saying from the ramparts that Israeli cows give good milk and the volume is satisfying. The Arab envoys protested but to no avail. Chaudhary Saheb was dead right factually.
Oratory was revived
Atal Behari Vajpaye of the Bhartiya Janata Party, is a born orator. The gift of the gab holds him in good stead. He revived the tradition of oratory and making important policy announcements from the ramparts of the Red Fort as the Prime Minister of India. Indeed his Hindi is worth emulating and many men and women joined his Fan Club hearing him roar like a tiger in command of the situation when he stood on the ramparts of the Red Fort behind the myriad mikes. Indeed Atal Ji took his own time to make a beginning, develop the theme, throw in healthy humour and gradually near the winding up operation. When he invited the assembled school children, the NCC cadets and citizenry sitting in front of the ramparts to join him in a chorus with a thunderous voice and say: JAI HIND. The assembly of young and old responded with matching Josh or enthusiasm. Jawaharlal Nehru had stated this tradition of saying Jai Hind and it has been going on for 66 years.
The 67th Indpendence Day will see Dr Manmohan Singh climb up the rostrum on the ramparts the Ninth time. Some political pundits predict that perhaps this will be the last opportunity to say to the Nation what he has been briefed about.
We look forward to seeing the Indpendence Day ceremony on the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15 August 2014. Let us wait with Great Expectations to see and hear a new Prime Minister roar from the Red Fort ramparts and elevate the morale of the Nation and restore the Glory of the country called Bharat.