Freedom arrived at midnight for the new India. As August 14, 1947 drew to a
close, Jawaharlal Nehru, the man about to become India’s first prime
minister, uttered these words: “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, while
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 ... We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her
children may dwell.”
     Noble words, lofty ambitions. But, even as Nehru moved his listeners
with those sentiments, he knew the mountains that lay ahead would be
formidable and perhaps insurmountable. Consider the scenario at the time. A
vast and poor country, economically in a shambles, unable to feed itself, its
people overwhelmingly illiterate, torn by caste and religion, and with the
population already at 350 millionon the verge of becoming seriously
overcrowded. Added to that was the formation of Pakistan, a chunk of the
subcontinent that had broken away, shattering the dream of a unified India.
Building a Democratic Government
However, the dark clouds had a few silver linings. India was rich, in raw
materials and human resources. The British had left behind a solid railway
system. The judiciary and legal system were generally efficient. The civil
services were held in high regard. And, of course, there was the example of
Britain’s own parliamentary system of government for India to follow. Indian
intellectuals and politicians alike admired that system and eventually adopted
it, with some modifications.