‘Those who led our struggle for freedom had a vision for India, which we need to recall today more than ever before. Rakesh Batabyal has rendered us an immense and timely service by assembling the writings of more than thirty of the nation’s visionaries. We all need to learn from this collection and protect our precious democratic and egalitarian inheritance from the narrow-mindedness that seems increasingly to overwhelm our country.‘—Irfan Habib, Professor Emeritus, Aligarh Muslim University
‘This is a book as much about what we might call India’s immediate past—the self-reflections involved in the national movement for independence—as about our present political culture. We learn not just from the wisdom of our ancient past, but also from the founding insights of our immediate past, and the speeches in this collection, reflecting on the desired freedom for the nation, are brilliant reminders of that vision for political thinking today.‘—Mrinal Miri, eminent philosopher and former Chairman, Indian Council for Philosophical Research
‘An excellent selection of speeches which faithfully reflects the grandeur of the social, cultural, political and intellectual Renaissance that built a free India. From Dadabhai Naoroji to Tagore, Gandhiji to Ambedkar and Nehru to Subhas Bose, all the stars in the nation’s galaxy shine bright in this must-read volume.‘—Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of Modern Indian History and former Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library
The new public sphere that emerged in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century India was a space that enabled magnificent public oratory, particularly that which mounted a challenge to colonial rule. From social and political platforms like the Indian National Congress, or in the courts of law, or inside legislative bodies, leaders of the freedom struggle gave eloquent and clear-eyed articulations of not only the social, economic and political problems that faced India and their possible solutions, but also the kind of sovereign nation we must collectively aspire to be. India’s democratic ethos was a product of these foundational ideas of the freedom movement.
As the movement progressed—from the economic critique of colonial rule by the early nationalists, to the unequivocal demand for Purna Swaraj and the immense moral authority of the Mahatma Gandhi-led resistance—the notion of an equal society that ensured dignity to all—irrespective of caste, class, gender or religion—came to occupy a central place in it. By the time the Constituent Assembly met in December 1946, not just civil rights, but the particular rights of women, of minorities, of the Depressed Classes and the Adivasis were being articulated and demanded, not as favours but as a matter of course. As the editor of this volume writes in his brilliant introduction, the effect of the speeches delivered by the leaders of our national movement was to focus ‘political action towards scripting an ennobling nationalism that would give us a just and equal society’.
Building a Free India brings together these landmark speeches delivered over roughly a century by the leading lights of the national movement—from Dadabhai Naoroji, Surendranath Banerjee, Bhikaiji Cama, Lajpat Rai and Tilak, to Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Bose, Sarojini Naidu and Maulana Azad—as well as a range of lesser-known but equally remarkable figures. This unprecedented collection is not only an invaluable history of our freedom movement but also of the ideas of universal equality, dignity and justice that are—and must always remain—at the root of our democracy.