The Great Speeches of Modern India tells the story of modern India through its speeches. Here are all the classics from Tilak, Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, Ambedkar, L.K. Advani, Manmohan Singh, Indira Gandhi, and here are also some rare speeches-Satyajit Rayon cinema, Vikrarn Seth on his school days, and Godse's defence of his assassination of Gandhi. Stimulating, informative, and full of rare gems, this one stop book is a must on every bookshelf.
Rudrangshu Mukherjee is a historian and journalist. Currently running the editorial pages of The Telegraph, he has held various academic posts and taught, among others, at Calcutta, Princeton, and Manchester universities. He is the author of four books on the revolt of 1857: Awadh in Revolt, 1857-58: A Study of Popular Resistance; Spectre of Violence: The Kanpur Massacres in the Revolt of 1857; Mangal Pandey: Brave Martyr or Accidental Hero; Dateline 1857: Revolt against the Raj. He is co-author of India: Then and Now and of New Delhi: The Making of a Capital and is the editor of The Penguin Gandhi Reader, Indian Persuasions: Essays from Seminar and co-editor of Remember Childhood' Essays in Honour of Andre Beteille. Rudrangshu Mukherjee lives in Calcutta.
The fact that this book is going in for a paperback edition is ample proof that people are interested in reading speeches. One reason for this is that the text of a speech helps to capture a slice of history even though the speech-making aspects are lost in the written word. For this edition, I have corrected a few errors that were brought to my notice. More importantly, I have added five more speeches to the original. Two out of the five that have been added are previously unpublished and I am deeply grateful to Aruna Roy and Mani Shankar Aiyar for allowing me to read these speeches and for the permission to print them.
Speeches are meant to be spoken-and heard. For this reason, a speech is fundamentally different from other forms of written text, for it is not simply dependent on the words alone-though they are the vital components of a good speech-but on certain other skills to do with voice and even gesture. A good orator brings to a speech something more persuasive and moving than the power of the written word and these qualities often prove to be ephemeral, losing something of themselves in printed form. But there are certain speeches that retain their emotive charge. Think of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address and those words-'government of the people, by the people and for the people'-which have become the most quoted definition of democracy. Or think of Winston Churchill's memorable speeches during the Second World War. At the time they were made, Churchill's speeches roused the British people and sustained their morale during their darkest hour. Even today, they make stirring reading and so many of the phrases and sentences that he used have become part of the English language. This book brings together some of the speeches made in India, from the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first, which retain their power as written texts.
One reason these speeches speak to us across time and without the oratorical skills of their authors is that most of them were actually written up before they were delivered. There are exceptions, of course. Witness the speech that Jawaharlal Nehru made in the evening of January 30, 1948, immediately after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination. He was totally unprepared but his heart dictated the right words. It was one of the great impromptu speeches of modern Indian history. But for most of the speeches in this collection, the words were carefully chosen and the cadences of sentences measured to achieve maximum effect. The most famous example of this is another of Nehru's speeches, the one he made at midnight August 14-15, 1947. The phrase, 'tryst with destiny', which Nehru coined has earned for itself an undying quality.
There are some speeches, however, that have a charge not because of their language but because of the sheer enormity of the occasion on which they were made. The speech made in 1885 by W.C. Bonerjee, as the first president of the Indian National Congress on its opening session is enshrined in India's historical memory. Similarly, Indira Gandhi's short and severe announcement in June 1975-that India has been put under Emergency-is a speech that stands as a reminder of the only period in which democracy was suspended in independent India. In these cases the occasion made history; the speech is an expression of the making.
The finest speeches in this anthology marry style and context: they are beautiful and capture a mood or a moment of history. A good example is the statement Mahatma Gandhi made from the dock at his trial in 1923. It was a speech made in court and Gandhi did not allow his passion to overrun the restraint that the location naturally imposed on him. Even today the speech can be read as a perfect summary of Gandhi's creed of non-violence. But there are also a few speeches which have been included in the anthology simply because they read so well. I didn't have to include the final speech in this anthology-made by J.R.D. Tata on the occasion of his solo flight from Karachi to Bombay in 1982 but have done so because of its great charm, style and poignancy. Here is a sprightly seventy-eight year old admonishing the younger generation for being too preoccupied with their careers and hoping 'that when they are seventy-eight ... they will feel like I do, that despite all the difficulties, all the frustrations, there is a joy in having done something as well as you could and better than others thought you could.'
This book is split into two sections with August 15,1947, acting as the dividing line. 'The first part begins in the late nineteenth century and ends with India's independence. The second includes speeches made after independence right up to present times. Within these two broad divisions, the chronological sequence has been broken and the speeches have been arranged to enable a retelling of the history of modern India with the speeches as a convenient, if unusual, access to that story.
The first section recounts India's struggle for independence. The great turning point in this struggle was the establishment of the Indian National Congress, the political party that was at the forefront of the Indian national movement. The anthology, thus, opens with the inaugural speech of the INC. The journey towards freedom was marked by many such milestone speeches. One of the most memorable of these was the declaration made by Bal Gangadhar Tilak on behalf of all subject people: 'Swaraj is my birthright.' Tilak spoke as an old man to the youth of India at 5 time when the Swadeshi movement was failing and Extremists and Moderates in the Congress party had split. Tilak articulated the desire of all subjugated people and his words, imbued with rare power, transcended all factions.
One individual who had in his own unique way resolved the problems surrounding the cultural interaction between India and Europe, had been Gandhi. When asked what he thought of European civilization, he had retorted that it would be a very good idea. His vision of India was based on a complete rejection of all that was modern and therefore derived from the West. Perhaps it was fitting that he died soon after India attained independence since the free state of India turned its back on most of Gandhi's ideals while paying lip service to him as father of the nation. While Nehru made his 'tryst with destiny' speech, Gandhi, shunning the celebrations, fasted in a slum in east Calcutta. August 15, 1947, was not the tryst Gandhi had made with destiny. He was murdered by a Hindu fanatic, Nathuram Godse, who believed that India should become a powerful and modern state. Godse has become a pariah in Indian history. What this has obscured is the eloquent speech he had made as a condemned man at his trial. The second section of this book begins with Gandhi's death since it inaugurated, in many ways, a new era for India.
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