Photo: Vipin Kumar/HT
Photo: Vipin Kumar/HT

Seven iconic speeches in Parliament since Independence

From Jawaharlal Nehru's 'tryst with destiny' to Omar Abdullah's 'I am a Muslim', here are some of the iconic speeches delivered in Parliament

New Delhi: On Wednesday, Union minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj defended herself and lashed out at the Congress party over allegations that she helped former Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi secure UK travel papers. She also accused the Congress party and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of aiding then Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson’s escape from India after the Bhopal gas tragedy.

While her critics may not quite buy her defence, Swaraj’s speech, by virtue of its sheer delivery and pointed attack on an opposition keen on her resignation, will go down among the most powerful ones in Parliament.

Here are some of the iconic speeches delivered in Indian Parliament since Independence.

Jawaharlal Nehru

India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru delivered a historic speech on the eve of the country’s independence. Nehru’s address is considered among the best speeches of the 20th century. On 14 August 1947, Nehru, in an address to the Constituent Assembly, said, “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, when 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.

It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity with some pride.

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries which are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortunes alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortunes and India discovers herself again." (Read full text here)

Babasaheb Ambedkar

Dr. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, was a gifted orator. On 25 November 1949, Ambedkar gave a historic speech to the then constituent assembly, which, over the years, has become a reference point of sorts. In his speech, popularly known as “Grammar of Anarchy", Ambedkar said, “If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us." (Read full text here)

Piloo Mody

Known for his constant use of wit and humour in his parliamentary speeches, Mody, a founder member of the Swatantra Party, was a former Lok Sabha member from Godhra in Gujarat. A staunch liberal, Mody was known for his free market views.

Noted author Kushwant Singh in his 2002 autobiography, Truth, Love and a Little Malice, recounts an exchange in the Lok Sabha where Mody brought his wit to the fore. “He held pronounced conservative and pro-American views and was often accused by members of the ruling Congress party as being a ‘Washington parrot’. Once, he came to the House wearing a placard reading ‘I am a CIA agent’. The chairman ordered him to remove it. He did so, remarking, ‘I am no longer a CIA agent.’ The one member who took it upon himself to heckle Piloo Mody was J.C. Jain, a very loud-mouthed member of the Congress. Once, when he kept needling him, Piloo lost his temper and shouted, ‘Stop Barking!’ Jain was up on his feet yelling, ‘Sir, he’s calling me a dog. This is unparliamentary language.’ Chairman Hidayatullah agreed, and ordered, ‘This will not go on record.’ Not to be outdone, Piloo Mody retorted, ‘All right then, stop braying.’ Jain did not know what the word implied. It stayed on record."

Similarly, Singh writes, “When India put its first satellite in orbit, there were rounds of speeches to congratulate Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the Indian scientists. He then turned to Mrs. Gandhi and said, ‘Madam Prime Minister, we know our scientists have taken great strides in technology, I would be obliged if you could enlighten us as to why our telephones don’t work."

Atal Behari Vajpayee

As an orator, former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee stands among the country’s best since Independence. His speeches in Parliament (both as prime minister and a member) and outside were replete with sarcasm, wit, humour and poetry. Among his more notable speeches is the one he delivered on 1 June 1996 in the Lok Sabha, 13 days after he was elected prime minister. That speech, titled “Here comes my resignation, Mr. Speaker", was made after the fall of his government that year. He said, “You want to run the country. It’s a very good thing. Our congratulations are with you. We will be completely involved in the service of our country. We bow down to the strength of majority. We assure you that till the time the work that we started with our bare hands in national interest is not completed, we shall not rest. Respected speaker, I am going to the President to tender my resignation." (Watch video here)

Indira Gandhi

The former prime minister was certainly not known to be a “natural orator", but her speeches, most notably the one in 1971 after India’s decisive victory in the Bangladesh Liberation War, was among her finest in Lok Sabha. Addressing Parliament, she said, “This House and the entire nation rejoice in this historic event. We hail the people of Bangladesh in their hour of triumph. We hail the brave young men and boys of the Mukti Bahini for their valour and dedication. We are proud of our own Army, Navy, Air Force and the Border Security Force, who have so magnificently demonstrated their quality and capacity. Their discipline and devotion to duty are well known. India will remember with gratitude the sacrifices of those who have laid down their lives, and our thoughts are with their families... Our objectives were limited—to assist the gallant people of Bangladesh and their Mukti Bahini to liberate their country from a reign of terror and to resist aggression on our own land. Indian armed forces will not remain in Bangladesh any longer than is necessary...

The triumph is not theirs alone. All nations who value the human spirit will recognize it as a significant milestone in man’s quest for liberty." (Read full text here)

Ram Manohar Lohia

Lohia, the great socialist leader, contested the 1962 elections from Phulpur against then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He lost the elections that year, but entered the Lok Sabha the following year, after winning the by-elections from Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh. His very first speech in the Lok Sabha is considered a historic one, a speech that challenged Nehru, while bringing forward the ground realities that prevailed in India back then. As part of the first of many iconic Nehru-Lohia debates, popularly known as the “teen anna pandrah anna", Lohia wrote a pamphlet, “25000 rupees a day" (the daily amount spent on Nehru’s security), which was in stark contrast to the economic situation of the 27 crore Indians, who lived on 3 annas a day. Nehru retorted to Lohia’s charge, quoting from India’s official Planning Commission statistics, which stated that “the daily average income was more like 15 annas a day". The debate itself was historic because, “member after member gave up his time as he built his case, demolishing the Planning Commission statistics as fanciful". He virtually challenged Nehru to prove his claims untrue and even dared to resign as Lok Sabha MP.

Omar Abdullah

The former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Omar Abdullah, delivered a stirring speech in the Lok Sabha in 2008, while speaking in support of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for a confidence vote after the Left parties withdrew support over the Indo-US nuclear deal. He said, “I am a Muslim, and I am an Indian. I see no distinction between the two. I see no reason why I, as a Muslim, have to fear a deal between India and the United States of America (USA). This is a deal between two countries. It is a deal between, we hope, two countries that in the future will be two equals... Sir, the enemies of Indian Muslims are not the Americans, and the enemies of the Indian Muslims are not ‘deals’ like this. The enemies of Indian Muslims are the same enemies that all the poor people of India face—poverty and hunger, unemployment, lack of development and the absence of a voice. It is that we are against: the effort being made to crush our voice." (Read full text here)