Sunday, Jan 29, 2023

What happened to the promises of 1947?

D Raja writes: To win back the freedoms that have been eroded, we need a new struggle

Freedom fighters understood independence from British rule as freedom from all forms of exploitation and oppression, which was deeply embedded in the social structures indigenous to India.

On August 15, seventy-four years ago, our nation began her tryst with destiny. The political independence achieved in 1947 was the result of decades of peoples’ struggles. Recognising the exploitative nature of British rule, people had started resisting the colonial masters much before organised platforms and political parties came to lead them. These spontaneous uprisings were ruthlessly suppressed, leaving an indelible print on the collective memory of the people.

The struggles were multifaceted: There was no singular method nor one universal demand. Freedom meant different things for different sections of society. For women, it was liberation from patriarchal subjugation. For Dalits and Shudras, it meant liberation from the hegemony of Brahmanism. For Adivasis, it was the freedom to reclaim forest land, from the constant fear of displacement in the name of development. For religious minorities, it was freedom from potential subjugation by majoritarian communalism and the right to practice their faith. Common to all of this was the clear understanding that colonial rule was draining the country of its resources.

In the initial decades of the 20th century, when the liberation movement was bringing communities closer, we saw Mohammed Ali Jinnah defending Tilak in a sedition case and Bhagat Singh arguing against communalism. Babasaheb Ambedkar was trying to make his struggle for liberation from caste-based exploitation inclusive of women’s liberation and against feudal economic exploitation. In the anti-feudal struggles that Ambedkar led, the exploited among the upper castes participated in large numbers. All these contributed to the freedom movement along with mass movements led by Gandhi and the Congress and the militant class struggles led by a nascent communist movement and other radical revolutionary organisations.

Freedom fighters understood independence from British rule as freedom from all forms of exploitation and oppression, which was deeply embedded in the social structures indigenous to India. The orthodox and obscurantist sections of the society in coalition with organised institutions of power like zamindars, feudal principalities or riyasats, and the newly emerging affluent in colonial India resisted the progressive impulses of the freedom movement. One thing common to these forces was their allegiance to the British. The RSS, born in 1925, consolidated the communal Manuvadi tendencies.

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During debates in the Constituent Assembly, there was constant pressure from Hindutva forces to get India declared as a Hindu state. Examples from Ireland and other countries were constantly cited in support. Ambedkar stood like a rock against it. He rejected theocracy and warned that if at all Hindu Rashtra becomes a reality, it will be calamitous for the nation. The assassination of Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, who had links with RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, marked the beginning of a consolidated and organised assault on secular values.

Ambedkar framed the Constitution in such a way that the values of freedom struggle were enshrined in all its parts. The Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy protected citizens from arbitrary state action. The Constitution makes it mandatory for the Indian state to be secular and build a welfare state. Ambedkar outlined a path to development that was inclusive and in line with social justice and socialism.

On August 15, 1947, the power to administer areas under direct British rule alone was transferred. A significant part of India was under 500-plus native rulers then, among them the Nizam of Hyderabad and Hari Singh who ruled Kashmir. From 1947 to 1950, the founding leaders were occupied with the twin tasks of bringing all these into the new country besides preparing a Constitution for it. The Constituent Assembly of India was elected by the provincial legislatures. The then largely underground Communist Party was unrepresented in the CA, but the militant mass struggles organised by the Communists influenced its agenda. Also, it left the princes, rajas and nawabs with little option but to accede to the Indian Union.


The Communists were the first to raise the demand for “complete Independence”, which radicalised the freedom struggle. Hasrat Mohani, chairman of the reception committee of the first CPI conference in Kanpur, raised the demand for complete independence in a Congress session. He also coined the inspirational slogan, Inquilab Zindabad. An early communist, M N Roy, was the first to demand a Constituent Assembly.

Freedom from British colonialism didn’t mean the end of capitalist interests. After World War II ended, a new phase of imperialist onslaught on India began, in collaboration with right-wing forces. The imperial support for right-wing forces has enabled them to widen the fault lines of our society.

In the last three decades, we have seen a process of privatisation, commercialisation and liberalisation of labour and capital markets. The RSS-BJP combine is pushing for complete corporatisation, including in agriculture, education and health. It is forcing India into an irreversible strategic partnership with America, thus killing everything progressive and democratic in our foreign policy.


We see chaos and an all-pervasive crisis around us as we approach the 75th anniversary of our independence. The state is eating away our freedoms, the Pegasus incident being a recent example. The current regime has done so much to undermine our precious independence and values attached with it that a new freedom struggle to take back our freedoms from the RSS and its Hindutva agenda has to start. It has to be waged from the grassroots to Parliament.

This column first appeared in the print edition on August 16, 2021 under the title ‘The promise of August 15, 1947’. The writer is general secretary, CPI

First published on: 16-08-2021 at 04:02 IST
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