PANDIT JAWAHARLAL NEHRU
Born: 14 November 1889
Passed Away: 27 May 1964
Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947
1st Prime Minister of India
15 August 1947 – 27 May 1964
Monarch George VI
(until 26 January 1950)
President Rajendra Prasad
Governor General The Earl Mountbatten of Burma
(until 26 January 1950)
Deputy Vallabhbhai Patel
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Gulzarilal Nanda (Acting)
Minister of Defence
31 October 1962 – 14 November 1962
Preceded by V. K. Krishna Menon
Succeeded by Yashwantrao Chavan
30 January 1957 – 17 April 1957
Preceded by Kailash Nath Katju
Succeeded by V. K. Krishna Menon
10 February 1953 – 10 January 1955
Preceded by N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar
Succeeded by Kailash Nath Katju
Minister of Finance
13 February 1958 – 13 March 1958
Preceded by Tiruvellore Thattai Krishnamachariar
Succeeded by Morarji Desai
24 July 1956 – 30 August 1956
Preceded by Chintaman Dwarakanath Deshmukh
Succeeded by Tiruvellore Thattai Krishnamachariar
Minister of External Affairs
15 August 1947 – 27 May 1964
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Gulzarilal Nanda
Born 14 November 1889
Allahabad, North-Western Provinces, British India
(now in Uttar Pradesh, India)
Died 27 May 1964 (aged 74)
New Delhi, Delhi, India
Political party Indian National Congress
Spouse(s) Kamala Kaul
Children Indira Gandhi
Alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge Inns of Court
Profession Barrister Writer Politician
Jawaharlal Nehru Jawaharlal Nehru was the first Prime Minister of independent India. He was a member the Congress Party that led the freedom movement against British Empire. Nehru was one of the architects who had the opportunity to steer the newly freed-nation. He was also the chief framer of domestic and international policies between 1947 and 1964. It was under Nehru’s supervision that India launched its first Five-Year Plan in 1951. Nehru’s predominant roles in substantiating India’s role in the foundation of institutions like NAM had surprised the then stalwarts of international politics. He advocated the policy of Non-Alignment during the cold war and India, subsequently, kept itself aloof from being in the process of “global bifurcation”.
Nehru was born to a family of Kashmiri Brahmans, noted for their administrative aptitude and scholarship, who had migrated to Delhi early in the 18th century. He was a son of Motilal Nehru, a renowned lawyer and one of Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi’s prominent lieutenants. Jawaharlal was the eldest of four children, two of whom were girls. A sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, later became the first woman president of the United Nations General Assembly.
Until the age of 16, Nehru was educated at home by a series of English governesses and tutors. Only one of these, a part-Irish, part-Belgian theosophist, Ferdinand Brooks, appears to have made any impression on him. Jawaharlal also had a venerable Indian tutor who taught him Hindi and Sanskrit. In 1905 he went to Harrow, a leading English school, where he stayed for two years. Nehru’s academic career was in no way outstanding. From Harrow he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he spent three years earning an honours degree in natural science. On leaving Cambridge he qualified as a barrister after two years at the Inner Temple, London, where in his own words he passed his examinations “with neither glory nor ignominy.”
Four years after his return to India, in March 1916, Nehru married Kamala Kaul, who came from a Kashmiri family settled in Delhi. Their only child, Indira Priyadarshini, was born in 1917; she would later (under her married name of Indira Gandhi) also serve as prime minister of India.
Jawaharlal Nehru was born on 14 November 1889, to a wealthy Kashmiri Brahmin family in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. His father Motilal Nehru was a renowned advocate and also an influential politician.
The atmosphere in the Nehru family was different from that of other prominent families of that society. English was spoken and encouraged. His father, Motilal Nehru had appointed some English and Scottish teachers at home.
For higher education, young Nehru was sent to Harrow school and then later to Cambridge University in England. After spending two years at the Inner Temple, London, he qualified as a barrister. During his stay in London, Nehru was attracted by the ideas of liberalism, socialism and nationalism. In 1912, he had returned to India and joined the Allahabad High Court Bar.
Kamala, his wife
Upon his return to India, Nehru’s marriage was arranged with Kamala on 8 February, 1916. Brought up in a traditional Hindu Brahmin family, Kamala felt alienated amongst the progressive Nehrus. During the Non Cooperation movement of 1921, Kamala played a vital role. In Allahabad, she organized groups of women and picketed shops selling foreign cloth and liquor. On19 November, 1917 she gave birth to Indira Priyadarshini, popularly known as Indira Gandhi. Kamala died from tuberculosis in Switzerland while Jawaharlal Nehru was languishing in Indian prison.
In 1916, Nehru participated in the Lucknow Session of the Congress. There, after a very long time, member of both the extremist and moderate factions of the Congress party had come. All the members equivocally agreed to the demand for “swaraj” (self rule). Although the means of the two sections were different, the motive was “common” – freedom.
In 1921 Nehru was imprisoned for participating in the first civil disobedience campaign as general secretary of the United Provinces Congress Committee. The life in the jail helped him in understanding the philosophy followed by Gandhi and others associated with the movement. He was moved by Gandhi’s approach of dealing with caste and “untouchablity”. With the passing of every minute, Nehru was emerging as a popular leader, particularly in Northern India.
In 1922, some of the prominent members including his father Motilal Nehru had left the congress and launched the “Swaraj Party”. The decision, no doubt upset Jawahar but he rejected the possibility of leaving the Congress party. He was also elected as the president of the Allahabad municipal corporation in 1920.
Jawaharlal Nehru In 1926, he along with his wife Kamala and daughter India, traveled to the flourished European nations like Germany, France and the Soviet Union. Here, Nehru got an opportunity to meet various Communists, Socialists, and radical leaders from Asia and Africa. Nehru was also impressed with the economic system of the communist Soviet Union and wished to apply the same in his own country. In 1927, he became a member of the League against Imperialism created in Brussels, the capital city of Belgium.
During the Guwahati Session in 1928, Mahatma Gandhi announced that the Congress would launch a massive movement if the British authority did not grant dominion status of India within next two years. It was believed that under the pressure of Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose, the deadline was reduced to one year. Jawaharlal Nehru criticized the famous “Nehru Report” prepared by his father Motilal Nehru in 1928 that favored the concept of a “dominion status for India within the British rule”.
In 1930 Mahatma Gandhi advocated Nehru as the next president of the Congress. The decision was also an attempt to abate the intensity of “communism” in the Congress. The same year, Nehru was arrested for the violation of the Salt Law.
In 1936, Nehru was re-elected as the president of the Indian National Congress. Sources suggest that a heated argument between the classical and young leaders had taken place in the Lucknow Session of the party. The young and “new-gen” leaders of the party had advocated for an ideology, based on the concepts of Socialism.
Nehru as PM
Fifteen years after the Guwahati Session, on 15 August, 1947, the congress succeeded to overthrow the influential British Empire. Nehru was recognized as the first Prime Minister of independent India. He was the first PM to hoist the national flag and make a speech from the ramparts of Lal Quila (Red Fort). The time had come to implement his ideas and construct a healthy nation.
Following Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru felt very much alone. All the time he would contemplate over the issues pertaining to the economic sector of the country. In the year 1949, Jawaharlal Nehru made his first visit to the United States, seeking a solution to India’s urgent food shortage. In 1951, Jawaharlal Nehru launched the country’s “First Five-Year Plan” emphasizing on the increase in the agricultural output.
On his return to India, Nehru at first tried to settle down as a lawyer. But, unlike his father, he had only a desultory interest in his profession and did not relish either the practice of law or the company of lawyers. At this time he might be described, like many of his generation, as an instinctive nationalist who yearned for his country’s freedom, but, like most of his contemporaries, he had not formulated any precise ideas on how it could be achieved.
Nehru’s autobiography discloses his lively interest in Indian politics. His letters to his father over the same period reveal their common interest in India’s freedom. But not until father and son met Mahatma Gandhi and were persuaded to follow in his political footsteps did either of them develop any definite ideas on how freedom was to be attained. The quality in Gandhi that impressed the two Nehrus was his insistence on action. A wrong, Gandhi argued, should not only be condemned, it should be resisted. Earlier, Nehru and his father had been contemptuous of the run of contemporary Indian politicians, whose nationalism, with a few notable exceptions, consisted of interminable speeches and long-winded resolutions. Jawaharlal was also attracted by Gandhi’s insistence on fighting Great Britain without fear or hate.
Nehru met Gandhi for the first time in 1916 at the annual meeting of the Indian National Congress (Congress Party) in Lucknow. Gandhi was 20 years his senior. Neither seems to have made any initially strong impression on the other. Nehru did not assume a leadership role in Indian politics, however, until his election as Congress president in 1929, when he presided over the historic session at Lahore (now in Pakistan) that proclaimed complete independence as India’s political goal. Until then the objective had been dominion status.
Nehru’s close association with the Congress Party dates from 1919 in the immediate aftermath of World War I. This period saw a wave of nationalist activity and governmental repression culminating in the Massacre of Amritsar in April 1919; 379 persons were reported killed and at least 1,200 wounded when the local British military commander ordered his troops to fire on a crowd of unarmed Indians assembled for a meeting.
When, late in 1921, the prominent leaders and workers of the Congress Party were outlawed in some provinces, Nehru went to prison for the first time. Over the next 24 years he was to serve another eight periods of detention, the last and longest ending in June 1945, after an imprisonment of almost three years. In all, Nehru spent more than nine years in jail. Characteristically, he described his terms of incarceration as normal interludes in a life of abnormal political activity.
His political apprenticeship with the Congress lasted from 1919 to 1929. In 1923 he became general secretary of the party for two years and again, in 1927, for another two years. His interests and duties took him on journeys over wide areas of India, particularly in his native United Provinces, where his first exposure to the overwhelming poverty and degradation of the peasantry had a profound influence on his basic ideas for solving these vital problems. Though vaguely inclined toward socialism, Nehru’s radicalism had set in no definite mold. The watershed in his political and economic thinking was his tour of Europe and the Soviet Union during 1926–27. Nehru’s real interest in Marxism and his socialist pattern of thought stem from that tour, even though it did not appreciably increase his knowledge of communist theory and practice. His subsequent sojourns in prison enabled him to study Marxism in more depth. Interested in its ideas but repelled by some of its methods, he could never bring himself to accept Karl Marx’s writings as revealed scripture. Yet from then on, the yardstick of his economic thinking remained Marxist, adjusted, where necessary, to Indian conditions.
Nehru’s Foreign Policy
Jawaharlal Nehru was supporter of the anti-imperialist policy. He extended his support for the liberation of small and colonized nations of the world. He was also one of the prominent architects of the Non-Aligment Movement. Following the policies of NAM, India decided stay away from being a part of the global bifurcation.
In 1957, despite of the major victory attained the elections, the Nehru led central government faced rising problems and criticism. The election of his daughter Indira as Congress President in 1959 was viewed by many, as Nepotism.
In 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru suffered a stroke and a heart attack. On 27 May 1964, Nehru passed away. Nehru was cremated at the Shantivana on the banks of the Yamuna River, Delhi.
After his father’s death in 1931, Jawaharlal moved into the inner councils of the Congress Party and became closer to Gandhi. Although Gandhi did not officially designate Nehru his political heir until 1942, the country as early as the mid-1930s saw in Nehru the natural successor to Gandhi. The Gandhi-Irwin pact of March 1931, signed between Gandhi and the British viceroy, Lord Irwin (later Lord Halifax), signalized a truce between the two principal protagonists in India. It climaxed one of Gandhi’s more effective civil disobedience movements, launched the year before, in the course of which Nehru had been arrested.
Hopes that the Gandhi-Irwin pact would be the prelude to a more relaxed period of Indo-British relations were not borne out; Lord Willingdon (who replaced Irwin as viceroy in 1931) jailed Gandhi in January 1932, shortly after Gandhi’s return from the second Round Table Conference in London. He was charged with attempting to mount another civil disobedience movement; Nehru was also arrested and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
The three Round Table Conferences in London, held to advance India’s progress to self-government, eventually resulted in the Government of India Act of 1935, giving the Indian provinces a system of popular autonomous government. Ultimately, it provided for a federal system composed of the autonomous provinces and princely states. Although federation never came into being, provincial autonomy was implemented. During the mid-1930s Nehru was much concerned with developments in Europe, which seemed to be drifting toward another world war. He was in Europe early in 1936, visiting his ailing wife, shortly before she died in a sanitarium in Switzerland. Even at this time he emphasized that in the event of war India’s place was alongside the democracies, though he insisted that India could only fight in support of Great Britain and France as a free country.
When the elections following the introduction of provincial autonomy brought the Congress Party to power in a majority of the provinces, Nehru was faced with a dilemma. The Muslim League under Mohammed Ali Jinnah (who was to become the creator of Pakistan) had fared badly at the polls. Congress, therefore, unwisely rejected Jinnah’s plea for the formation of coalition Congress-Muslim League governments in some of the provinces, a decision on which Nehru had not a little influence. The subsequent clash between the Congress and the Muslim League hardened into a conflict between Hindus and Muslims that was ultimately to lead to the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan.
Imprisonment during World War II
When, at the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, committed India to war without consulting the autonomous provincial ministries, the Congress Party’s high command withdrew its provincial ministries as a protest. Congress’s action left the political field virtually open to Jinnah and the Muslim League. Nehru’s views on the war differed from those of Gandhi. Initially, Gandhi believed that whatever support was given to the British should be given unconditionally and that it should be of a nonviolent character. Nehru held that nonviolence had no place in defense against aggression and that India should support Great Britain in a war against Nazism, but only as a free nation. If it could not help, it should not hinder.
In October 1940, Gandhi, abandoning his original stand, decided to launch a limited civil disobedience campaign in which leading advocates of Indian independence were selected to participate one by one. Nehru was arrested and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. After spending a little more than a year in jail, he was released, along with other Congress prisoners, three days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. When the Japanese carried their attack through Burma (now Myanmar) to the borders of India in the spring of 1942, the British government, faced by this new military threat, decided to make some overtures to India. Prime Minister Winston Churchill dispatched Sir Stafford Cripps, a member of the war Cabinet who was politically close to Nehru and also knew Jinnah, with proposals for a settlement of the constitutional problem. Cripps’s mission failed, however, for Gandhi would accept nothing less than independence.
The initiative in the Congress Party now passed to Gandhi, who called on the British to leave India; Nehru, though reluctant to embarrass the war effort, had no alternative but to join Gandhi. Following the Quit India resolution passed by the Congress Party in Bombay (now Mumbai) on August 8, 1942, the entire Congress working committee, including Gandhi and Nehru, was arrested and imprisoned. Nehru emerged from this—his ninth and last detention—only on June 15, 1945.
Within two years India was to be partitioned and free. A final attempt by the viceroy, Lord Wavell, to bring the Congress Party and the Muslim League together failed. The Labour government that had meanwhile displaced Churchill’s wartime administration dispatched, as one of its first acts, a Cabinet mission to India and later also replaced Lord Wavell with Lord Mountbatten. The question was no longer whether India was to be independent but whether it was to consist of one or more independent states. While Gandhi refused to accept partition, Nehru reluctantly but realistically acquiesced. On August 15, 1947, India and Pakistan emerged as two separate, independent countries. Nehru became independent India’s first prime minister.
Achievements as prime minister
In the 35 years from 1929, when Gandhi chose Nehru as president of the Congress session at Lahore, until his death as prime minister in 1964, Nehru remained—despite the debacle of the brief conflict with China in 1962—the idol of his people. His secular approach to politics contrasted with Gandhi’s religious and traditionalist attitude, which during Gandhi’s lifetime had given Indian politics a religious cast—misleadingly so, for, although Gandhi might have appeared to be a religious conservative, he was actually a social nonconformist trying to secularize Hinduism. The real difference between Nehru and Gandhi was not in their attitude to religion but in their attitude to civilization. While Nehru talked in an increasingly modern idiom, Gandhi was harking back to the glories of ancient India.
The importance of Nehru in the perspective of Indian history is that he imported and imparted modern values and ways of thinking, which he adapted to Indian conditions. Apart from his stress on secularism and on the basic unity of India, despite its ethnic and religious diversities, Nehru was deeply concerned with carrying India forward into the modern age of scientific discovery and technological development. In addition, he aroused in his people an awareness of the necessity of social concern with the poor and the outcast and of respect for democratic values. One of the achievements of which he was particularly proud was the reform of the ancient Hindu civil code that finally enabled Hindu widows to enjoy equality with men in matters of inheritance and property.
Internationally, Nehru’s star was in the ascendant until October 1956, when India’s attitude on the Hungarian revolt against the Soviets brought his policy of nonalignment under sharp scrutiny. In the United Nations, India was the only nonaligned country to vote with the Soviet Union on the invasion of Hungary, and thereafter it was difficult for Nehru to command credence in his calls for nonalignment. In the early years after independence, anticolonialism had been the cornerstone of his foreign policy, but, by the time of the Belgrade conference of nonaligned countries in 1961, Nehru had substituted nonalignment for anticolonialism as his most pressing concern. In 1962, however, the Chinese threatened to overrun the Brahmaputra River valley as a result of a long-standing border dispute. Nehru called for Western aid, making virtual nonsense of his nonalignment policy, and China withdrew.
The Kashmir region—claimed by both India and Pakistan—remained a perennial problem throughout Nehru’s term as prime minister. His tentative efforts to settle the dispute by adjustments along the cease-fire lines having failed, Pakistan, in 1948, made an unsuccessful attempt to seize Kashmir by force. In solving the problem of the Portuguese colony of Goa—the last remaining colony in India—Nehru was more fortunate. Although its military occupation by Indian troops in December 1961 raised a furor in many Western countries, in the hindsight of history, Nehru’s action is justifiable. With the withdrawal of the British and the French, the Portuguese colonial presence in India had become an anachronism. Both the British and the French had withdrawn peacefully. If the Portuguese were not prepared to follow suit, Nehru had to find ways to dislodge them. After first trying persuasion, in August 1955 he had permitted a group of unarmed Indians to march into Portuguese territory in a nonviolent demonstration. Even though the Portuguese opened fire on the demonstrators, killing nearly 30, Nehru stayed his hand for six years, appealing meanwhile to Portugal’s Western friends to persuade its government to cede the colony. When India finally struck, Nehru could claim that neither he nor the government of India had ever been committed to nonviolence as a policy.
Nehru’s health showed signs of deteriorating not long after the clash with China. He suffered a slight stroke in 1963, followed by a more debilitating attack in January 1964. He died a few months later from a third and fatal stroke.
While assertive in his Indianness, Nehru never exuded the Hindu aura and atmosphere clinging to Gandhi’s personality. Because of his modern political and economic outlook, he was able to attract the younger intelligentsia of India to Gandhi’s movement of nonviolent resistance against the British and later to rally them around him after independence had been gained. Nehru’s Western upbringing and his visits to Europe before independence had acclimatized him to Western ways of thinking. Throughout his 17 years in office, he held up democratic socialism as the guiding star. With the help of the overwhelming majority that the Congress Party maintained in Parliament during his term of office, he advanced toward that goal. The four pillars of his domestic policies were democracy, socialism, unity, and secularism. He succeeded to a large extent in maintaining the edifice supported by these four pillars during his lifetime.
Nehru’s only child, Indira Gandhi, served as India’s prime minister from 1966 to 1977 and from 1980 to 1984. Her son, Rajiv Gandhi, was prime minister from 1984 to 1989.