It’s Now or Never

On 15 August 1945, everybody was surprised when they learned from the radio that Emperor Hirohito had declared the Japanese unconditional surrender. Sjahrir, who was used to clandestinely monitor the global situation through the Brisbane radio broadcast by the Dutch Indian Government in Exile, contacted Hatta urging for immediate independence proclamation.  He was known as strongly opposed to any political action taken under the Japanese supervision.

His underground groups in the regional areas had been alerted to declare the independence on due time if Jakarta failed to do so. However, when his colleagues in Jakarta actively participated on the preparation for independence on 17 August, Sjahrir missed the event as he kept himself away from them who had joint Angkatan Baru (New Generation) led by B.M. Diah, fearing the steps they took would end in anarchy.

Tan Malaka, another prominent underground activist, had long forecasted that Japan could survive in the World War II only for a very short time. Under the disguised name Hussein, Tan Malaka went around delivering speeches in Banten areas convincing his young colleagues that the independence should be fought and not donated by Japan.

PaperArtist_2013-08-14_12-11-44“We were not collaborators”, he said: “However, the independence   would be better to be proclaimed by Soekarno-Hatta on behalf of the nation.” His Banten colleagues strongly supported his standpoints and after having a consolidation meeting in Rangkasbitung on 9 August, they escorted him to Pandeglang railway station to convey his political strategy to Angkatan Baru in Jakarta.

Tan Malaka’s idea was in line with that of Angkatan Baru but frontally opposed to that of the old generations grouped in Gerakan Rakyat Baru (New People’s Movement). The youngster accused the latter  as hesitant, proponent of the Japanese occupation, and unable to free their mind that the Indonesian  independence  required  support and blessing  from Japanese authority.

Most of the Angkatan Baru members were impatient and nervous fearing that Indonesia would lose the momentum. As Japan had surrendered,  Indonesia should not  miss the opportunity to proclaim their independence, otherwise, they would have no legitimate basis to fight against the Dutch claim to get hold of their ex-colony.

PaperArtist_2013-08-14_12-13-07It’s now or never! They had no choice but to kidnap Soekarno-Hatta out of Jakarta keeping them free from the Japanese scrutiny.  At the dawn of 16 August, they brought them to Rengasdengklok, east of Jakarta, in the hope that Soekarno-Hatta would be willing to proclaim the independence but nothing happened.

In the evening, however, against the intention of the Japanese military administration, Admiral Maeda guaranteed Soekarno-Hatta that he would care for them from Japanese Army and Kempetai threat. Back to Jakarta late at night, Hatta failed to arrange a meeting to discuss about the proclamation declaration in Des Indes hotel where most of the PPKI members stayed. Fortunately, under Soebardjo demand  Maeda agreed to facilitate and make his house available for such a meeting.

After having discussed the latest situation in Maeda’s house, Soekarno and Hatta went to meet Major General Nishimura, a high rank officer in Japanese military administration  (Gunseikan). The latter underlined Tokyo position to stick to the status quo and declined to support the declaration of the Indonesian independence. Hatta lost his temper and openly challenged him that they would continue to act unilaterally to achieve the independence. “We will show you how to act  as it should be as a samurai”, he said emotionally.

Soebardjo invited around 50 people who had been waiting for Soekarno-Hatta in Maeda’s house, some of them were members of PPKI (such as Ahmad Soebardjo, Prof. Soepomo, Otto Iskandardinata, Iwa Koesoema Soemantri) and the rest were from Angkatan Baru (among others B.M. Diah, Sukarni,  Chaerul Saleh, Wikana and Sayuti Melik). As Tokyo wanted to maintain the status quo, Soekarno-Hatta were now aware that it was impossible to stay with their original plan to work under the flag of the Preparatory Committee for Indonesian Independence (PPKI).

After briefly reported the outcome he got from Nishimura, Soekarno assisted by Hatta and Soebardjo drafted the proclamation text. They had only several hours left as they all agreed to proclaim the independence at 10 o’clock. Soekarno discussed and revised the draft according to the advice he got from all who were present there. Everybody was exhausted. When the whole process was finalized, the time showed 3.30 a.m.

At the day break, having learned that Ikada Square was encircled and guarded by Japanese soldiers, the plan to declare the independence at that site was changed to  56, Pegangsaan Street, then Soekarno’s residence. It was ironic that all the prominent figures from Angkatan Baru, who had actively participated on the preparation of the proclamation, just missed the momentous event simply because they were unaware   of  such an abrupt change.

56, East Pegangsaan Street, August 17, 1945

On Friday morning of August 17, 1945, many people gathered in  Soekarno’s residence yard in 56, East Pegangsaan Street, Jakarta. Sukarno stood firm on the porch of the house accompanied by Hatta on his left side a little bit behind. Most people were fasting as it was in the month of Ramadan, but nevertheless the people there looked very excited. After the attendees were orderly in place, Sukarno began to speak without text. The clock showed 10 a.m.

 “Ladies and Gentlemen!

 I have asked you to be here to witness the most important event in our history. For decades we, the People of Indonesia, have been fighting for the freedom of our country – even for hundreds of years! There are waves in our actions to gain independence, and there was a rise and fall, but our spirit has still been set in the direction of our ideals.

Also during the Japanese period our efforts to achieve national independence never stopped. At that time we just appeared to bow to them, but basically, we still continue to build on our own strength. We still believe in our own strength.

Now has come the time when we really take the fate of our actions and of our country into our own hands. Only a nation courageous enough to take its fate into its own hands would be able to stand up powerfully. Last night we have held a discussion with leaders from all over Indonesia and unanimously came to the conclusion that time has come to declare our independence.

PaperArtist_2013-08-14_12-15-04Ladies and Gentlemen,

Herewith we declare solidarity over the decision. Now, listen to our proclamation”.

Soekarno then held a piece of paper with his two hands and read it loudly:

We, the nation of Indonesia, hereby declare our independence. Any matters concerning the transfer of power etc. are carried out meticulously and within the shortest possible time.

Jakarta, August 17, 1945

On behalf of the Indonesian Nation


He folded the paper and put it back in his pocket. He concluded his speech:

“So, Ladies and Gentlemen!

We are now free! No more occupation that binds our country and our nation!

From now on we build our country. It is a free country, the Republic of Indonesia, and the ever-lasting independent. May God bless and make it safe for our freedom!”

After so many years dedicating his life to bring his people to independence,  it was certainly a great moment  for Soekarno and obviously for the whole nation.  His long struggle was not in vain at last.

Being independent from other country authority is a dream for any colonized nation. But the colonization in Indonesia which lasts for 300 years created a great physiological inferiority to make the dream come true. To convince his compatriots, Soekarno once rejected, in his speech in BPUPKI on 1 June 1945, the argument that Indonesia was immature for independence. Independence, he argued, was like a golden bridge across which people can get the prosperity. If Indonesia had to wait until being well-prepared, then until the doomsday Indonesia would never become independent.

Ironically, when the rumor about the Japanese’s surrender to the Allies on 14 August 1945 spread out, the youngsters considered Soekarno hesitant and indecisive. Sukarno, Hatta and other senior leaders wanted the proclamation to be made in more democratic way and got the blessing from Japanese administration ​​through the Committee for the Preparation of Indonesia Independence (PPKI) that had been established. But the young progressive people from “Menteng 31” Group, like Chaerul Saleh, Sukarni and Wikana, wanted the proclamation to be declared ​​immediately without any interference from the Japanese authority.

Those youngsters, who had been occasionally contacted by Tan Malaka — an obscure figure moving clandestinely — considered that PPKI was made by Japan. Involving PPKI could mean that the Indonesian independence was a gift from Japan. As PPKI Chairman, Sukarno who wasn’t eager to openly confront against Japan and was worried that there would be unnecessary bloodshed, refused such request. Being impatient, at the dawn of 16 August 1945, they kidnapped and brought Soekarno and Hatta to Rengasdengklok, 60 kilometer east of Jakarta, hoping that Soekarno could be pressured to declare the proclamation promptly.


Meanwhile in Jakarta, lacking the support from most of Homeland Defense (PETA) members, the plan to seize power initiated by “Menteng 31″ Group’s was aborted. Ahmad Soebardjo, a senior lawyer who later became the first Minister of Foreign Affairs, urged the youngsters to bring back Soekarno-Hatta from Rengasdengklok and he himself picked up them on the very same day.

Back in Jakarta that night, Soekarno-Hatta were informed by the 16th Japanese Army leader, that Tokyo had instructed to maintain status quo. Indonesian people were prohibited to declare their independence. This broke the promise of Marshall Terauchi, the Japanese Asian War Leader, based in Dalat, Vietnam on 12 August, 1945. Hatta was very upset saying that the Japanese had no longer “samurai” spirit as they were now  humiliated themselves by broking their promise just because the Allies asked them to do so.

PaperArtist_2013-08-14_12-19-22Notwithstanding, Admiral Tadashi Maeda, the chief of Japanese Navy, silently provided Soekarno and his college his house in Imam Bonjol Street to work out their plan for independence. Soebardjo had invited PPKI members and the youth representatives to gather in Maeda’s house. There Soekarno, Hatta and Subardjo composed the proclamation text which Soekarno drafted on a paper.

Soekarno proposed that the text to be signed by 20 people consisting of PPKI members and the youths who were present that night. Chaerul Saleh and his college disagreed that PPKI members, the majority of whom were the Japanese civil servants, took part in signing the text. They urged that Soekarno-Hatta were suffice to sign it. When the draft typed by Sayuti Melik was signed by Soekarno-Hatta the time already showed 03.30 a.m. August 17, 1945.

On the same day at 10 a.m., a simple ceremony was held at Soekarno’s residence, 56 – Pegangsaan Timur Street. After Soekarno read the proclamation, the Red-and-White Flag sewn the night before by Soekarno’s wife, Fatmawati, was hoisted accompanied by the singing of Indonesia Raya anthem.

Having done all those things, it didn’t mean that the struggle of Indonesian people ended. It was just the beginning.  They had to face the Dutch who just wanted to come back, facilitated and backed up by the Allies (British) who had landed in Indonesia under the flag of restoring order mission. But Indonesian people had now a strong determination. “To be free or die” was the popular motto during those revolution days fueling the whole nation’s spirit to fight against colonialism.