Has Pakistan been celebrating its Independence Day on the wrong date?

Pakistan appeared on the world map on August 15, 1947 – like India. So why does it celebrate its independence a day earlier?

Syed Shamsuddin, a friend of mine, often gets irritated when people fail to show up on time for meetings; some of them are late by a day. For quite some time now, he has been asking the latecomers to wear calendars – instead of watches – on their wrists so that they could at least turn up on the appointed day, if not time.

My mentor Hussain Naqi, too, is big on punctuality. People who have met him or attended training workshops on human rights under his supervision will attest to that.

In 2003, I attended a workshop under Hussain Naqi that the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan conducted in Lahore. On the second or third day of the event, senior political analyst and journalist Imtiaz Alam walked into the hall – he was seen for the first time – and complained to Naqi sahab:

“I have been invited to a programme, but I don’t see one face that I had expected to find here.”

Naqi sahab smiled, emptied out the tobacco from his pipe into an ashtray, and retorted, “You are late by only 24 hours, and, yes, now I can understand why the Red Revolution did not make it to Pakistan on time.”

Coming back to Pakistan and timeliness, the point I intend to raise is about an important date in our national history – the day Pakistan came into being. There is a widespread belief that our country appeared on the world map on August 14, 1947, but historical facts reveal that this matter is a little more complicated.

Murder of History

Renowned historian KK Aziz writes on page 180 of his book, Murder of History:

“The general impression, confirmed and reinforced by the official celebration of Independence, that Pakistan became free on 14th August is not correct. The Indian Independence Bill, which was introduced in the British Parliament on 4th July and which became law on 15th July, laid down that the two new Dominions of India and Pakistan shall become free at the midnight of 14-15 August.

“The power had to be personally transferred to the new countries by the Viceroy, who was the British King’s sole representative in India. Lord Mountbatten could not be present in person in Karachi and New Delhi at the same moment. Nor could he transfer power to India on the morning of 15th August and then rush to Karachi, because by that time, he would have become the Governor General of the new Indian Dominion.

“So the only practicable thing was for him to transfer power to Pakistan on 14th August when he was still the Viceroy of India. But that does not mean that Pakistan gained its independence on 14th August. The Indian Independence Act did not provide for it.”

Indian Independence Act, 1947

A copy of the Indian Independence Act, 1947 (available here), confirms the argument put forth by KK Aziz. Clause 1 of the Article 1 titled “The new Dominians”, reads:

“As from the fifteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and forty-seven, two independent Dominions shall be set up in India, to be known respectively as India and Pakistan.”

The Indian Independence Act is not the only evidence.

Zahoor-i-Pakistan by Chaudhry Muhammad Ali

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Chaudhry Muhammad Ali published a book The Emergence of Pakistan, a semi-autobiographical account, in 1967. An Urdu translation of the book, titled Zahoor-i-Pakistan, was produced by Bashir Ahmed Arshid. An excerpt on page 287 of Zahoor-i-Pakistan reads:

“Fifteenth August 1947 was the last Friday of Ramadan-ul-Mubarak, one of the holiest days in Islam. On that auspicious day, Quaid-i-Azam became the Governor-General of Pakistan and the cabinet was sworn in, the star-and-crescent flag was hoisted, and Pakistan emerged on the world map.

“On 15th August 1947, Quaid-i-Azam sent the following message to the nation, ‘At this supreme moment my thoughts are with those valiant fighters in our cause. Pakistan will remain grateful to them and cherish the memory of those who are no more.’”

Chaudhry Muhammad Ali published his book 22 years after Independence, and he lived on until 1980, but he never withdrew his assertion about the date of Independence, though it was during his lifetime that Pakistan began to celebrate the Independence Day on August 14, instead of 15, every year.

There is another authentic source to verify the fact that Independence was gained on August 15 and not on August 14: A collection of speeches by Muhammad Ali Jinnah published in 1989, by Pakistan’s Directorate of Films and Publications, under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Jinnah’s August 15 speech

The collection, titled Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah: Speeches and Statements as Governor-General of Pakistan 1947-’48, includes a speech under the heading “Peace Within, and Peace Without” on pages 55-56. The speech follows a short introduction, and the first few lines read thus:

“Message to the Nation on the occasion of the inauguration of the Pakistan Broadcasting service; August 15, 1947.

“Inaugurating the Pakistan Broadcasting service on August 15, 1947, Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah issued following message to the nation:

“’It is with feelings of greatest happiness and emotion that I send you my greetings. August 15 is the birth day of the independent and sovereign state of Pakistan.'”

Quaid-i-Azam Rahmatullah Alaih: Akhri Do Saal

Manzoor Ahmed Butt (who is introduced on the first page of the book as a recipient of the Pride of Performance award) says:

“After Pakistan came into being as an independent Muslim state on 14 August 1947, the announcement was made on the same night after 12 am from Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar radio stations. Amidst those historic and providential moments, following the recitation of Holy Quran . . . Jinnah’s message of greetings to the nation went on air.

“The message had already been recorded in late July, soon after it became clear that Pakistan would be created. Three records of this most important speech had been sent to Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar radio stations through some reliable persons. It is the first post-Independence radio speech by Jinnah.

“Mr Ansar Nasri, the former Deputy Director of Radio Pakistan, translated the speech into Urdu before it could be transmitted in the vernacular for the listeners of Radio Pakistan Peshawar. He also transcribed the speech and published it for the first time. Qauid-i-Azam spoke to the nation immediately after Pakistan came into being on 14 August 1947.”

Butt says that the speech went on air after 12 am on the night between August 14 and August 15, but he seems to be unaware of the rule that a new day begins after 12 am. He does not provide clear citations for this episode of history, and though he gives a bibliography that includes 45 books, he claims to have used for his research, it is for the readers to figure out a connection between these books and his text. I hope that he comes across this blog and guides me in my efforts. I am open to any corrections from anyone.

Historical documents and speeches, and books dealing with history make it evident that Pakistan’s Independence Day falls on August 15. Philip Ziegler, the official biographer of the last Viceroy of India, too, says in Mountbatten: The Official Biography, that Pakistan was created on the August 15.

Thus, a former prime minister declares August 15 to be the day of Independence for Pakistan, a book published by the Information Ministry records the same date, and the biography of Lord Mountbatten and the Indian Independence Act, too, vouchsafe that our country come into being indeed on August 15, 1947.

I wonder why the date was changed afterwards and why we have accepted August 14 to be the day of our Independence.

I am just an ordinary student of history. I put the following question to historians:

Are there, in this world, any other two nations that have gained independence on the same day, with joint efforts and from the same colonial power, but which prefer to celebrate the anniversaries of their independence on different days?

Or is this peculiar only to Pakistan and India?

—Translated by Arif Anjum from Urdu.

This article was originally published on Dawn.com.

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