Over the last month, several newspaper stories have discussed the actual date of Pakistan’s independence. While some have argued that it is, in fact, August 15, 1947, with surprise and shock, others have found ways to vociferously defend the presently celebrated date of August 14, 1947. So what is the ‘real’ story, as they say? Pakistan was created via an act of the Westminster parliament called the Indian Independence Act, promulgated on July 18, 1947. The first clause of the act stated: “As from the fifteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and forty-seven, two independent Dominions shall be set up in India, to be known respectively as India and Pakistan.” Hence, legally, Pakistan came into existence on August 15, 1947. So why the confusion?
The confusion — at least for people now — is because we believe that the speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan by Viceroy and Governor General Lord Mountbatten was on August 15, 1947 and the dinner afterwards, as the official birth of the country. However, in doing so we forget that this event only took place on August 14, as India had decided to hold its independence day celebration on the midnight of August 15, and so it would not have been possible for Lord Mountbatten — who was still Viceroy — to be present in both Karachi and New Delhi on the same day. This explained why both Lord Mountbatten and Mr Jinnah sat right next to each other while addressing the Constituent Assembly on August 14, since Mountbatten was still the Viceroy and Jinnah had yet to assume office as governor general — a fact the cousin of the King-Emperor was quick to remind Jinnah of. Hence, August 14, 1947 was the day when the Independence Day ceremonies began in Pakistan, but Pakistan had not legally become independent as yet.
In fact, the founder of the country, the Quaid-e-Azam, never doubted that August 15, 1947 was the date of independence for Pakistan. The first document of the officially published Jinnah Papers, Vol. 5, quotes him in his broadcast to the nation, stating: “August 15 is the birthday of the independent and sovereign State of Pakistan.” The Quaid-e-Azam, as well as the Pakistan cabinet, took their oaths of office on the morning of August 15, 1947. Furthermore, in the Jinnah papers there are messages from all the governors of provinces in Pakistan reporting that they unfurled the Pakistan flag on the morning of August 15, 1947 — Independence Day. (As an aside, if one argues that Pakistan was born on the 27th of Ramazan, even then Pakistan was born on August 15, as August 14 was the 26th of Ramazan).
By 1948, Pakistan was celebrating its independence from the 14th to the 15th of August, and it was only in about 1950 that a decision was taken to formally drop the celebrations on August 15. Why was this decision taken? Well, while the official documents are inconclusive, one can only surmise that the change was done to effect independence before India — our eternal rival.
Two points here: first, we must break our umbilical cord with India — it prevents us from emerging as a mature and self-confident nation. While Pakistan will always be tied to India through various things, eternally doing things a particular way just because India does it another way is no way to run a country or develop a nation. After August 15, 1947, Pakistan became a reality and does not need India to validate its existence. The sooner Pakistan internalises this, the faster it will mature as a nation and develop its own polity rather than harnessing an anti-Indian or ‘not-India’ rhetoric.
Secondly, at a certain level, it does not matter what date a country celebrates its independence. What matters is that its people know the truth and understand it. In our case, it is not a big deal that we changed the date to August 14. The important thing is to work towards mitigating the sense of insecurity and uneasiness which it subliminally portrays. Pakistan can celebrate its Independence Day on any day it chooses, but let us be an assured and confident nation in doing that.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2015.
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