The Enduring Relevance of Rajendra Prasad’s Speech, Delivered Hours Before India’s Independence

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Rajendra Prasad, India’s first president, delivered this speech on August 14, 1947, just before India’s independence. Because his reflections on non-violence, truth and tolerance retain an endearing topicality today, Thread reproduces a translated transcript of the Republic Day speech, January 26, 2022.

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At this crucial moment in our history, when after years and years of struggle, we will finally hold in our hands the reins of the governance of our country, we must remember God, the Supreme Being, who shapes the destiny of individuals and countries.

Let us pay tribute to the many men and women, known and unknown, who sacrificed their lives, willingly or unwillingly, to achieve the freedom of this day, those who joyously scaled the gallows, and boldly embraced the bullets. Those who gave their languid lives in prisons and on the island of Kala Pani, who without hesitation left behind their parents, their wives and children, their family ties and even the country and offered their lives and their wealth in sacrifice. This day that we are witnessing is the fruit of their rigor and their sacrifice.

We must also offer our reverence and devotion to Mahatma Gandhi, who has been our guide for 20 years – the only ray of hope and fervor. He is the essence of our culture and the heart of our life, whose presence has kept us alive even in the midst of all the trials and tribulations of history. He pulled us out of the dark abyss of despair and turmoil and breathed a spirit into our hearts that enabled us to muster the courage and strength to claim independence, our birthright.

Inasmuch as

He gave us the infallible weapon of Satya and Ahimsah [truth and non-violence]through which we acquired the priceless gem of swaraj [independence] without having to take up arms, at a derisory cost, for such a large country and millions of inhabitants. With great skill, indomitable determination and unwavering faith in the people of the land, in his weapon and, above all, in God, he led the weak like us. It is therefore our duty to remain truthful and unwavering.

I hope that when India achieves victory, it will not abandon or underestimate the value of the weapon that lifted the country from the abyss of despair and demonstrated its power and utility. .

While people around the world are frustrated and tired of wars to shape their future, this weapon has a huge task ahead. But India cannot accomplish this great task by imitating others from afar, nor by accumulating weapons or competing with others in building such weapons which can cause maximum destruction in minimum time.

Today this country has had the chance and we hope it will have the courage and the strength to show this weapon to save the world from war, death and destruction. The world needs it, and will welcome it too, if it wants to avoid falling back into the era of barbarism, above which it boasts of having risen.

We want to assure all countries of the world that we want to treat everyone with friendship and cordiality according to our tradition. We have no hatred towards anyone. We don’t want to kill anyone and hope no one will either.

We have only one hope and one aspiration, and that is that we can help establish freedom for all and peace and happiness among mankind.

The country that God and nature had made one, is today divided in two. Separation is always painful, not only with close people but even with those we have only known for a while. Therefore, I must say that we are deeply saddened by this score.

But despite this, on your behalf and on our behalf, we wish to extend our best wishes and goodwill to the people of Pakistan for their progress and success.

We send our best wishes to those who are discouraged by partition and who have been left behind in Pakistan. No one should panic. We must preserve our home, our religion and our culture and act with courage, courtesy and tolerance.

They have no reason to fear that they will not be treated fairly and equitably and that they will not be protected. They must have faith in the assurance given to them. They should aspire to earn the respect due to them by their loyalty and sincerity to the land they inhabit.

We want to assure minorities in India that they will be treated fairly and justly. No distinction will be made between them and others. Their religion, culture and language will be preserved. And they will get all the rights and credentials of citizenship. They are also expected to remain loyal to the country in which they live and to the laws of that country.

We want to assure the people that we will make unremitting efforts to eradicate poverty, hunger and disease from the country, to eliminate discrimination between peoples, to prevent the exploitation of one human being by another and to mobilize for everyone the means of a beautiful and prosperous life.

This task before us is herculean and we hope that all the inhabitants of the country will contribute to it and cooperate with it. We expect sympathy and support from other countries in the world. We hope we can prove ourselves worthy. God bless us.

Translated from the original Hindi by Naushin Rehman.


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