The UK’s longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, passed away last week. In the backdrop of this, a clip of Jawaharlal Nehru at a public event is being shared on social media with a claim that Nehru “took the citizenship of London in 1956″ as a hallmark of his loyalty to the Queen.

In the video we hear a man felicitating Nehru saying,”It is my privilege as Chamberlain of this city to offer you both the right hand of fellowship and greet you, Mr Nehru, as a citizen of London.”

Twitter user @TheRudra1008 shared this clip along with the claim. The video gained over 40,000 views. (Archived link)

Verified Twitter handle Sudhir shared a different version of the same clip and wrote, “RT if they didn’t teach you this in your History lessons.” This clip has over 75,000 views. The tweet was deleted prior to the article being published. (Archived link)

Twitter user Flt Lt Anoop Verma (Retd.), who claims to be a defence analyst and political commentator, also made the same claim. (Archived link)

Twitter user @BeingBHK also amplified this claim. This tweet gained over 800 retweets. (Archived link)

These videos have also surfaced on YouTube Shorts and Facebook.

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Fact-check

Alt News noticed that the video by @TheRudra1008 had a watermark on the top right corner which stated — British Pathé.

Using this as a clue, we performed a keyword search and found a slightly longer version of the clip on the British Pathé website. It is one of UK’s oldest newsreel archives. The clip is also available on their YouTube channel.

The video description reads, “Two great Prime Ministers, Mr Nehru of India and Mr Holland of New Zealand, receive the Freedom of the City of London at the Guildhall.” As per the BBC, the ceremony took place on July 3, 1956.

Stock image website Alamy also has images of Nehru from the Freedom of the City Of London Ceremony in 1956.

What is the Freedom of the City of London Ceremony?

As per the city of London’s official website, Freedom of the City of London Ceremony, “one of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies still in existence today, is believed to have been first presented in 1237”. As per the BBC, “The tradition of Freedom of the City of London dates back to the 13th century when it attracted privileges including being allowed to go about the city with a drawn sword.”

Giving historical context to this honour, the website explains, “The medieval term ‘freeman’ meant someone who was not the property of a feudal lord but enjoyed privileges such as the right to earn money and own land. Town dwellers who were protected by the charter of their town or city were often free – hence the term ‘freedom’ of the City.”

Those interested in knowing more about the tradition can view the 2013 clip uploaded on City of London’s YouTube channel. At 45-second mark, the present Clerk of the Chamberlain’s Court at Guildhall Murray Craig also stated that the honor is “largely symbolic”. However, historically it gave right to trade. One privilege that ‘Freedom’ offered was to take sheep over London bridge without toll. Earlier this year, UK-based journalist Tom Harwood was given the honour. In a tweet he wrote, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, “Pleased to say I have been granted the Freedom of the City of London this morning and consequently I am now allowed to herd sheep across London Bridge”.

However, the website clarified that “today most of the practical reasons for obtaining the Freedom of the City have disappeared”. Freedom of the City of London fall under three categories. The categorisation is based on how the title is bestowed. The highest being Honorary Freedom. In this case, the recipient is invited by the Court of Common Council to take the Freedom. As per the website, “The presentation ceremony usually takes place in Guildhall or the Mansion House before the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, Common Councillors and invited guests.” Based on the location of the ceremony, it seems Nehru was bestowed the Honorary Freedom. The other two categories are Special Nomination and Freedom by Invitation.

The website also states the declaration read by the recipient of the honour:

“I do solemnly swear that I will be good and true to our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth the Second; that I will be obedient to the Mayor of this City; that I will maintain the Franchises and Customs thereof, and will keep this City harmless, in that which in me is; that I will also keep the Queen’s Peace in my own person; that I will know no Gatherings nor Conspiracies made against the Queen’s Peace, but I will warn the Mayor thereof, or hinder it to my power; and that all these points and articles I will well and truly keep, according to the Laws and Customs of this City, to my power.” [Non British and British Commonwealth Citizens have the option to substitute “our Sovereign Lady” with “Her Majesty”.]

Prior to 1996, the ceremony was open to British or Commonwealth Citizens. Now, it is also to persons from all nationalities. A Wikipedia page lists the recipients of this honour. We also found several tweets about people receiving the Freedom of the City of London.

Indians other than Nehru who received the title

Other than Nehru, Wikipedia page lists freedom fighter VS Srinivasa Sastri and Salar Jung I, prime minister of Hyderabad State from 1853 to 1883, as recipients of the honour.

As per a document in the website of Rajasthan-based deemed university, Jain Vishva Bharati Institute, Sastri was conferred the title in 1921. (view page 4 of the PDF)

Alt News performed another keyword search on Google to find a better source for Jung’s Freedom of the City of London Ceremony. We found that the book ‘The Salar Jungs’ authored by M A Nayeem and Dharmendra Prasad mentions it. The scanned copy of the book is available on the website of Salar Jung Museum. Due to the low resolution of the scanned copy, we looked up Google Books and found the same book there as well. On page 21, it is stated that Salar Jung was the first Indian to be conferred with this title. The readers should note, while the book is searchable, preview to read specific pages is not enabled. Thus, we read the relevant section in the scanned copy and found that the ceremony was conducted in 1876.

More recently, in 2019, regional head of the State Bank of India’s UK operations Sanjiv Chadha received the Freedom of the City of London.

To sum it up, several social media users have shared a clip of Jawaharlal Nehru and New Zealand’s PM Sir Sidney George Holland at the Freedom of the City of London Ceremony in 1956 with the misleading claim that it shows Nehru accepting “London’s citizenship”. It is clear from the fact-check that the ceremony has no bearing on the nationality or citizenship of an individual. However, it offers recognition and certain privileges that are no longer relevant in today’s times.

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About the Author

Archit is a senior fact-checking journalist at Alt News. Previously, he has worked as a producer at WION and as a reporter at The Hindu. In addition to work experience in media, he has also worked as a fundraising and communication manager at S3IDF.