“Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.”
These were the words of the famous independence speech given by the first Prime Minister of Independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru at the sitting of the Constituent Assembly. It pretty much summed up the imminent historic occasion, the fulfillment of a dream, not pertaining to a handful, but of a nation of proud people who refused to be subjugated by a foreign power, the fruit borne by the rivers of sweat, tears and blood of copious countrymen, the relentless struggle and hardships of the freedom fighters.
However there was a time when India wasn’t a country. In the later part of the 18th century, it was a segregated piece of land under various kingdoms and dominions. The Mughals-who had once ruled almost the whole of India during the glorious days of Akbar, had lost its sheen and were spiraling on the path of decline; torn by internal strife and an ensuing void of a strong ruler.
In the absence of a major power at the helm, smaller kingdoms began to crop up at a rapid pace thus over-throwing Mughal subjugation. After that, came the period of turmoil when the bordering kingdoms fought each other for gaining power and dominance.
The British East India Company, the French, the Portuguese and the Dutch had already established their colonies by then. They came to India as merchants but later on, taking advantage of the internal turmoil across the country, they became the rulers. Among these foreign power-houses, the British East India Company soon established its dominance over the rest and reduced them to petty stand-alone colonies in a small area.
The ambitious and the powerful British East India Company gradually spread its dominion over the entire land through force and clever ploys like the Doctrine of Lapse.
The first struggle of Independence took place in 1857. The total apathy of the Company towards Indian people, its culture and customs combined with the ferocious atrocity dished out on the common man who were reduced to slaves, had ignited feelings of discontentment among the populace. The Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 was a turning point in the annals of Indian Struggle. Notwithstanding the initial success of the revolt, the British East India Company regained control soon enough and put a crushing end to the revolt. Another notable aspect of the Revolt was the daring resistance by Rani Laxmi Bai. Her bravery has since become the lore of Indian Struggle and an epitome of a woman’s strength.
The Revolt was significant also because from then on, East India Company lost its privileges to rule India and the power was directly transferred to the British Government through the Government of India Act 1858.
The Indian National Congress was formed in 1885 under the aegis of A.O. Hume with an aim to bring forth the voice of India to the British Raj. However during its formative years, its ideology was highly misplaced.
However by 1907, Congress was divided into two factions. The radicals led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak vouched for swaraj or complete freedom whereas the moderates wanted reforms within the framework of the British Empire.
But with the advent of Gandhi in 1915 in the Indian National Politics scene, things started looking bright. Till then, INC was seen mostly as catering to the needs of the elitist. However, Gandhi, fresh from his successful anti-Apartheid stint where he championed the cause of social discrimination against the Indian Diaspora in South Africa, introduced a shift towards the common man.
In the historic Lahore session in December 1929, the INC adopted a resolution calling for complete independence from the British Rule.
Between 11 March and 6 April 1930, Gandhi undertook his famous Dandi March in protest against the Salt tax imposed by the British Government.
The Government of India Act 1935 failed to assuage the hate sentiments of the populace. Towards the end of the decade, India was dragged into World War II without the consent of the INC. The Muslim League, under the leadership of M.A. Jinnah in its Lahore session, adopted a resolution demanding two separate nations- one for Hindus and one for Muslims.
In August 1942, the INC led by Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement. Around the same time, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose formed the Indian National Army with help from the Axis. Although, his attempts to overthrow the British Empire failed, however his action caught the public imagination and the British Indian Army renounced its allegiance to the Crown.
The growing dissent of the people in the sub-continent coupled with a host of factors including the changing dynamics of world politics on the aftermath of the World War II, led the Independence of India.
On June 3, 1947 Lord Mountbatten, the last Governor-General of India, announced the portioning of the British Indian Empire into India and Pakistan. On 14th August 1947, Pakistan was declared a separate nation and at midnight, India became an independent nation.