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The dawn of freedom


This speech has an interesting, if little known, origin. (Jawaharlal) Nehru had requested (Sarvepalli) Radhakrishnan to speak after him on the night of August 14th at the Indian Constituent Assembly. With the request came a directive. Nehru told Radhakrishnan once he was called upon to speak, he should continue till midnight so that the assembly could then proceed to take the pledge.

Thus Radhakrishnan was part of what his biographer called 'an oratorical time-bound relay race'. Radhakrishnan ended precisely at the appointed minute to enable Nehru to administer the pledge. The historian S Gopal, who wrote biographies of both Nehru and Radhakrishnan, described the performance as 'an unparalleled combination of two masters, in very different ways, of the public art.'

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975)
(New Delhi, August 1947)

Mr President, Sir, it is not necessary for me to speak at any great length on this Resolution so impressively moved by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and seconded by Mr Khaliquzzaman. History and legend will grow round this day. It marks a milestone in the march of our democracy. A significant date it is in the drama of the Indian people who are trying to rebuild and transform themselves. Through a long night of waiting, a night full of fateful portents and silent prayers for the dawn of freedom, of haunting spectres of hunger and death, our sentinels kept watch, the lights were burning bright, till at last the dawn is breaking and we greet it with the utmost enthusiasm. When we are passing from a state of serfdom, a state of slavery and subjection to one of freedom and liberation, it is an occasion for rejoicing. That it is being effected in such an orderly and dignified way is a matter for gratification.

Mr Attlee spoke with visible pride in the House of Commons when he said that this is the first great instance of a strong Imperialist power transferring its authority to a subject people whom it ruled with force and firmness for nearly two centuries. For a parallel he cited the British withdrawal from South Africa; but it is nothing comparable in scale and circumstances to the British withdrawal from this country. When we see what the Dutch are doing in Indonesia, when we see how the French are clinging to their possessions, we cannot but admire the political sagacity and courage of the British people. (Cheers.)

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