RED FORT RAMPARTS CALLING
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
Greetings to friends, countrymen, Indians and others from Ramparts of the Red Fort, Delhi and this is your commentator, Major Chitranjan Sawant, face to face with you on the occasion of today’s national event, our Independence Day. The 13 buglers from the three Services; Army, the Navy and the Air Force standing atop the big Lahore Gate, inside the artistic mini arches, have just sounded the Fanfare denoting the arrival of the Inter-Services and Delhi Police Guard of Honour right in front of the main ramparts of the Red Fort, opposite the huge Lahore Gate. There is a fairly big sized crowd sitting or standing on the other side of the large waterless moat girdling the ramparts. All eyes are fixed on the high pole in the centre of ramparts that has the furled national flag tied smoothly at the top end awaiting the arrival of the Pradhan Mantri, Shrimati Indira Gandhi.
RESPLENDENT IN VICTORY
India, that is Bharat had won a war in December 1971 against its arch rival Pakistan and the new nation, born with the help of Hindu India, named itself Bangladesh and declared Bangla Bhasha as the lingua franca of the new nation. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan continued with Urdu as its official anguage and Islam as its official religion. Thus there was no possibility of the two independent nations coming together for a political reunion in the name of Islam. None of that ever crossed the minds of leaders of the two Muslim countries that always toyed with the idea of going their separate ways to promote nationalism. More than four decades later, when their leaders chose to promote and practise their own state philosophy, India took two paces forward to encourage them. India, the victorious nation, now had the onerous responsibility of taking Bangladesh under her wings to preserve, protect and defend against diabolical designs of Pakistan. The latter always professed Muslim brotherhood but in actual practice left no stone unturned to subjugate their former compatriots to exploit them to the hilt.
Generally speaking, India gave the royal ignore to a belligerent Pakistan and extended brotherly counselling to the friendly administration of Dacca. If disagreement in diplomacy became the order of the day, Delhi remained equi-distant from Dacca and Islamabad. I guess that is what the international diplomacy is all about.
Indira Gandhi’s address to the nation from the ramparts of the red fort reflected this philosophy of political life of the Indian sub-continent.
Dealing with our relationship with the two big power blocs, one Communist led by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the other one that boasted of freedom of thought and expression, democracy in electing the government of the day and practising Transparency in Governance was led by the United States of America. Indeed on this National Day of ours, while celebrating Freedom from the British Yoke, we also promised to ourselves never ever fall again in the trap of foreign powers that were ever keen to enslave the people of the Indian Sub-Continent. Indira Gandhi presented bouquets of lovely flowers to leaders of the USSR in absentia whose Navy had trailed and tagged the American flotilla of the Seventh Fleet in the Bay of Bengal during the closing days of the war. America stood exposed and we left it at that to avoid embarrassment to either side. In due course of time, the men of war of the American fleet merged with the growing shadows of twilight and were never seen again anywhere near the Indian territorial waters.
The brickbats reserved for Richard Nixon who had masterminded the tilt towards Pakistan in the American foreign policy in the region, were never used and gathered dust. A consummate master of international affairs that Indira Gandhi was, she always kept some fodder reserved for the rainy day. This far sighted policy of Indira Ji paid rich dividends in the long run and stood the emerging nation in good stead.
DAZZLING HOME FRONT
Much of the precious time of a Prime Minister making a speech from ramparts is taken away by the economic and may be the political policies that he or she has been following so far and changes contemplated, if any. An attack on the communalists in this segment is a sine- qua-non. Indira Gandhi was never trailing on this count. While criticising communalists she roared like a lioness and gave no quarters to those who were critical of her policies. The political opposition ran helter-skelter for cover but found none as these had been destroyed by own troops before the battle began in the right earnest.
Indira Gandhi looked like goddess Durga and sounded like one in her speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Possibly the Maratha generals of the 18th century who had occupied the fort by defeating the then Mughal king were not as ferocious and as incisive as Indira Gandhi was while making her speech, an address to the Nation on 15th August 1972.After all it was under her leadership that the Indian Army had won a war, dismembered Pakistan and helped the new-born nation Bangladesh to find its feet. Indira Gandhi had won laurels but did not wish to sit on it. More courageous tasks lay ahead and she never shirked her responsibilities. Indira Gandhi was Victory personified and the world acknowledged it.
The response of the vast crowd assembled in front of the fort beyond the moat on the grassy grounds was enthusiastic. They clapped with zest whenever Indira Ji made a mention of the arch enemy Pakistan’s defeat in battle. 93 thousand Pakistan prisoners of war were in captivity on the Indian soil and a sizeable area of the enemy territory was under Indian occupation. Obviously the Pakis were down on their knees and had no choice but to beseech the victorious nation for mercy. This created a mood of elation in front of the Red Fort Delhi. It was a sight that comes once in a lifetime and is recorded in the history in letters of gold. The Indian Nation rejoiced and thanked the Almighty and the Leader of the Nation, Indira Gandhi for raising the people’s morale sky high.
VANDE MATARAM MISSING
Students of history conversant with the freedom struggle against the British Raj would recall that the patriotic song that stirred the emotions of young and old alike and motivated all the freedom fighters to go ahead and achieve the aim is VANDE MATARAM. It is a soul stirring song that galvanises all Indians and raises them to the highest pitch of motivation to do or die was written by Bankim babu on a fine Sunday morning when he was just relaxing at home sitting on a charpoy . Bankim Chandra Chatterji was a Deputy Collector in the service of the British Raj in India but also dabbled with the pen to produce some fine literature in the Bangala language. Among his masterpieces was a novel on the Sanyasi revolt against the oppressive rule of the Nawab supported by the British Raj to the hilt. Vande Mataram formed an indivisible part of that novel.
Vande Mataram courted controversy from Day One. Bankim babu’s wife thought that it had an overdose of Sanskrit and that would drive away the non-Sanskrit readers. The Muslim readers thought that the lines worshipping goddess Bharat Mata went against the grain of Islam and as such could not form the National Anthem of a country that believed and practised Plurality of culture. The matter lay where it was for quite some time.
It was, however, the Indian National Congress that revived it after censuring the stanzas and lines that offended Islam. Thereafter, it was sung at the Congress annual session by no less a person than Rabindra Nath Tagore himself. Who drew applause from one and all present there, irrespective of their caste, creed, colour or religion. It was a foregone conclusion that Vande Mataram would ascend the stand as the National Anthem of a free Bharat.
Meanwhile His Majesty the King Emperor of India, King George V and Queen Mary, the Empress of India visited the then capital of the Raj in India, Calcutta. In the Welcome Ceremony, a song eulogising the King and Queen was sung by Tagore himself. It was entitled “Jana Gana Mana”and was widely reported in the English dailies of Calcutta. Who knew at that time that the welcome song sung for a foreign ruler would one day become the National Anthem of independent India and stir up a gigantic controversy.
In the closing session of the Constituent Assembly the question of National Anthem kicked up a row with Nehru for the eulogy sung for King George V and Queen Mary but the rank and file of the Congress party clamoured for Vande Mataram to be raised in status. Dr Rajendra Prasad, President of the Constituent Assembly found a via media to solve the gigantic problem. Sensing the mood of the House, Rajen Babu let Nehru have his way and also the rank and file have their way too. Jana Gana Mana was voted as the National Anthem and Vande Mataram as the National Song with both being accorded equal status and to be sung with gusto on the State Occasion. However, Nehru, being the Prime Minister and Head of the Govt saw to it that Jana Gana Mana remained in circulation and Vande Mataram faded into oblivion.
The Independence Day is celebrated at the Red Fort, Jana Gana Mana is sung or struck on the military band but the National Song, Vande Mataram is conspicuous by its absence from the ceremony. The song that the freedom fighters sang IN A CHORUS AND BRAVED THE BULLETS OF THE BRITISH is ignored by the powers that be as an Untouchable year after year. Isn’t it a matter of National Shame that Vande Mataram is not sung on a National Day like the Independence Day.
People’s faith in freedom has been waning year after year and now only the Policemen and other uniformed services assemble in front of the ramparts to clap at unfurling of the National Flag and hear the Prime Minister address the nation. A few Congressmen may be spotted sitting in between the Khaki clad Jawans. The AAM AADAMI is conspicuous by his absence.
YEAR AFTER YEAR
I hate to pat my own back on any occasion in any context. However, when I ascend the ramparts of the Red Fort for doing the running commentary on the electronic media, I am invariably reminded of Indira Gandhi who addressed the Indian Nation on this august day for 15 years, year after year. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru had the singular distinction of doing so as many as sixteen times. He would climb up the stairs before unfurling the National Flag and climb down after delivering the address. However, an elevator was installed for Lal Bahadur Shastri since he had a heart condition. Indira Ji would take the lift while going up but would prefer to use the stairs after the function. The record of the father-daughter duo in unfurling the national flag from ramparts remains unbroken till today in the 21st century.
By the way, I may mention that there was NO unfurling of the Tricolour on the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15th August 1947 as the flag was hoisted on the vast grounds near the Princes Park, India Gate area. The ceremony was done at the Red Fort on 16th August 1947 and thereafter on the 15th August year after year.
Well, my wild thoughts went down the memory lane as I prepared my commentary for the 66th Independence Day ceremony at the Red Fort Delhi. I had commenced my job as a Major, making use of upward mobility reaching the rank of a Brigadier. On my retirement from the Army 22 years ago, and reverting to the civvy street, I never took an umbrage if an old Akashvani or Doordarshan broadcaster still addressed me as Major Saheb. Life is like that.
May the Almighty be kind to our people and generous to our Nation. May we have Peace and Prosperity year after year ! May the Common Man come to the Red Fort again on the Independence Day. May our favourite national song from days of freedom struggle be sung in unison from ramparts of the Red Fort again and again to stir the national spirit among leaders and led alike; so that we may say with pride MERA BHARAT MAHAN.
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