We all know August 15, 1947, is India’s Independence Day. But do you know why that specific date was chosen and who is affected the most?
In May 1947, Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, flew to London to meet with Prime Minister Clement Atlee to discuss the terms of India’s partition—India was initially supposed to be granted freedom by June 1948, but a series of events which included communal tension prompted the British to bring the date forward by almost an entire year.
At No. 10 Downing Street, the charismatic Mountbatten laid out his plan and presented the prime minister and his cabinet with good news: Independent India and Pakistan had both elected to remain in the British Commonwealth. Atlee and his government were relieved and Mountbatten had secured their approval. However, he had one major hurdle to cross: Winston Churchill. As an official who had the conservative majority in the House of Lords, he could delay the independence bill for another two years if he wanted.
It was common knowledge that Churchill was not in favour of granting India its independence. However, after meeting with Churchill, Mountbatten won him over by relying on Churchill’s emotional connection to India and that there would still be a binding tie between Britain and the country where Churchill had spent much of his youth. Having secured the Prime Minister’s approval, Mountbatten knew that the need of the hour was speed—parliament had to pass the legislation before the summer recess. India was unravelling and Mountbatten knew that independence could not wait months.
On June 2, 1947, in his study at Viceroy House in Delhi, Mountbatten assembled the representatives of India’s people: Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhai Patel and Acharya Kripalani of the Congress; Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Liaqat Ali Khan and Rab Nishtar of the Muslim League; and Baldev Singh for the Sikhs. Mahatma Gandhi declined to attend as he did not consider himself a party official. Nonetheless, he met with Mountbatten shortly after. The next day, in the studio of All India Radio, the four leaders announced the division of India.
At a formal press conference, Mountbatten announced out the plans for partition in front of hundreds of attendees, including journalists from around the world. Then, came the dreaded question he had been waiting for, put forth by an Indian journalist: when will the ‘transfer of power’ occur?
History for history
In what he later referred to as an ‘epiphany’, Mountbatten chose a date that resounded deeply with him—August 15, the date that the Japanese surrendered Burma while he held the office of Supreme Allied Commander of Southeast Asia. Naturally, his decision to independently announce the date sent people into a tizzy—from the halls of Downing Street and Buckingham Palace to the future corridors of power in India.
A day cursed by the stars
Funnily enough, nobody reacted with as much alarm and chagrin as India’s astrologers though. Incensed that Mountbatten had not consulted any of them before choosing a date for such an important event, they hurried to their charts. August 15 was a Friday, a deeply inauspicious day according to them. According to La Pierre and Collins, authors of the book Freedom at Midnight, one astrologer, in particular, Swamin Madamanand, even wrote to Mountbatten, saying, “For the love of God, do not give India her independence on August 15. If floods, famine and massacres follow, it will be because free India was born on a day cursed by the stars.”
It was discovered that on August 15, 1947, India would lie under the Zodiac sign of Makara, or Capricorn. Further, ominous Saturn highly influenced the day, complicated by the dominance of Rahu, which is characterised by fury and aggressiveness.
The compromise? India would be granted Independence during the midnight hour between August 14 and 15, since, according to the West, a new day begins at midnight, but according to the Hindu calendar, it begins at sunrise.
Even today, many Indians consult their astrologers before making important decisions like buying property, entering into business deals making investments, and even getting married. Some filmmakers will even consult astrologers before releasing films, to ensure they are released on ‘good’ days.
For a country so obsessed with the influence of stars and planets upon its daily life, is it any wonder, then, that back in 1947, the astrologers kicked up such a fuss?
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