As India wages a war against the global coronavirus pandemic, the country’s 74th Independence Day celebration will be demure and will be carried out amid countless restrictions and social distancing measures. Let us recount why Indian leaders and freedom fighters decided on August 15 as the auspicious date for ‘a tryst with destiny.’ 

The Indian National Congress in a resolution in January 1930 had decided to celebrate Purna Swaraj day (or Complete Independence) on January 26,1930. The Congress continued to celebrate it as Independence Day till 1947, the year when India was accorded Independence. January 26 was accorded the tag of Republic Day in 1950.

Eminent writer and historian Ramachandra Guha in his book “India after Gandhi” states that the date August 15, 1947, was handpicked by the then Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten ‘as it was the second anniversary of the Japanese surrender to the Allied Forces in the Second World War.’

Guha writes that Lord Mountbatten and Indian politicians waiting to assume their posts did not wish to delay the passing of the baton till January 26, 1948, and hence the day August 15 was selected as Independence Day.

Based on the inputs of Lord Mountbatten, an Indian Independence Bill was introduced in the British House of Commons on July 4, 1947, and it passed within a fortnight. This passage of the bill marked India’s secession from the British Commonwealth and put an end to the British rule in India. Hence, the dominion of India came into being on August 15, 1947.

The reason behind the selection of August 15 was, and taking it from the former Viceroy’s mouth, “ The date I chose came out of the blue. I chose it in reply to a question. I was determined to show I was master of the whole event. When they asked had we set a date, I knew it had to be soon. I hadn’t worked it out exactly then — I thought it had to be about August or September and I then went out to the 15th August. Why? Because it was the second anniversary of Japan’s surrender.” This fascinating piece of information was made known in the book ‘Freedom at Midnight’ by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.