“Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” – Jawahar Lal Nehru
Pondicherry had an immense role to play in India’s freedom movement. Firstly, it fought for its own freedom. Secondly it actively supported the Freedom movement against the British and even housed nationalists who courted arrest by the British.
No trip to Pondicherry is complete without a visit to Aurobindo Ashram. Aurobindo was influenced by studies on rebellion and revolutions against England in medieval France and the revolts in America and Italy. Even though he favoured non-cooperation movements and passive resistance publicly; in private he took up secret revolutionary activity as a preparation for open revolt, in case passive revolt failed.
Things turned ugly with the the partition of Bengal and the revolutionary forces attempted to kill a magistrate. However the bomb landed on the wrong carriage and the wife and daughter of a barrister were killed. Aurobindo was jailed in Alipore and it was in his solitary confinement that he was set in his quest for spirituality through his “conversations” with Swami Vivekananda. Aurobindo moved to Chandanagar and then Pondicherry after courting arrest due to his revolutionary dialogues against the British in his paper, Karmayogin. In Pondicherry, Aurobindo dedicated himself to his spiritual and philosophical pursuits although his dream of achieving freedom for his country never left his mind.
Subramanya Bharathi supported the call for armed resistance against the British along with Aurobindo, Tilak, V. V. Subramaniya Aiyar (who trained Vanchinathan in fire arms, the man who shot Ashe, collector of Tirunelvelli) which was completely against the moderate wing of Indian National Congress. Bharathi published the weekly journal: India, Vijaya: a Tamil daily, Bala Bharatha: an English monthly, and Suryothayam: a local weekly from Pondicherry. The British banned India and Vijaya while also cutting remittances to the papers. Bharati assisted Aurobindo with the Arya journal and later Karmayogin in Pondicherry. Bharati also translated the Bhagavad Gita, Vedic hymns, Yoga Sutra in addition to his three notable works, Kuyil Pattu, Panchali Sabatham and Kannan Pattu during his exile.
The clamour for independence from the French increased amongst the youth in Pondicherry in the late 1920s. The soldiers’ deaths during World War II caused further unrest amongst the freedom fighters and the youth.
The most famous nationalists such as Gandhi, Nehru, Tilak visited Pondicherry and Karaikal and addressed rallies for Independence. In 1934, Swatantram, a monthly, was started by veteran independence activist and trade union leader, V. Subbiah, for the cause of workers and freedom.
In 1946, the French Indian Congress was formed with the objective of integrating the French territories with India which was followed by a call by the French India Students Congress for a merger. India signed an agreement with France in June 1948 which gave power to the people to determine the political status of their land.
The post-independence Government of India pressed for unification of the French territories, offering special status and aid for Puducherry after its merger with India. The unification movement gathered momentum under V. Subbiah and they had the full support of the French Governor. On March 18, 1954, the elected members of the Representative Assembly and the municipal councillors of Pondicherry and Karaikkal took part in a referendum at Kizhur. Of the 178 members voted, an overwhelming majority of 170 members favoured the merger of French Indian territories with the motherland. An agreement on the de-facto transfer of the French territories to India was signed in New Delhi between the two countries on March 21, 1954.
However the treaty of cession was not signed till May 1956. On August 16, 1962 France ceded to India’s full sovereignty over the territories it held. Pondicherry, Karaikkal, Mahe and Yanam came to be administered as Union Territory of Pondicherry from July 1, 1963. Chandanagar became part of the Hooghly district of West Bengal.
The final incredible fact about Pondicherry is in its makeup. While the Pondicherry and Karaikal districts are bound by Tamil Nadu, Yanam and Mahe are bound by Andhra Pradesh and Kerala respectively.