Jawaharlal Nehru, born on November 14, 1889, in Allahabad, India, and passing away on May 27, 1964, in New Delhi, was the initial prime minister of independent India from 1947 to 1964. He played a crucial role in shaping parliamentary government and gained recognition for his neutral stance in foreign affairs, aligning with nonalignment policies. Additionally, Nehru was a key figure in India’s struggle for independence during the 1930s and ’40s.
Jawaharlal Nehru Early life
Jawaharlal Nehru, a significant figure in Indian history, was born into a distinguished family of Kashmiri Brahmans on November 14, 1889. Renowned for their administrative acumen and scholarly pursuits, his family had migrated to Delhi in the early 18th century. His father, Motilal Nehru, was not only a prominent lawyer but also a leader in the Indian independence movement, aligning himself closely with Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi.
Jawaharlal, the eldest of four siblings, including two sisters, embarked on a unique educational journey. Until the age of 16, he received his education at home under the guidance of various English governesses and tutors. Notably, one tutor, Ferdinand Brooks, a part-Irish, part-Belgian theosophist, left a lasting impression on him. Additionally, he had an Indian tutor who imparted knowledge of Hindi and Sanskrit.
In 1905, Nehru ventured to Harrow, a prestigious English school, where he spent two years. His academic pursuits continued at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he dedicated three years to earn an honors degree in natural science. Following this, he pursued legal studies at the Inner Temple in London, qualifying as a barrister after two years. In his own words, Nehru passed his examinations “with neither glory nor ignominy.”
However, the seven years Nehru spent in England had a profound impact on his sense of identity. He found himself in a nebulous half-world, feeling neither entirely at home in England nor India. Reflecting on this period later in life, he wrote, “I have become a queer mixture of East and West, out of place everywhere, at home nowhere.” His return to India marked the beginning of a journey to rediscover his homeland, but the complex interplay of influences from his time abroad continued to shape his personality, presenting ongoing challenges that were never fully resolved.
Four years after coming back to India, in March 1916, Nehru entered into matrimony with Kamala Kaul. Kamala hailed from a Kashmiri family that had made Delhi their home. The couple welcomed their only child, Indira Priyadarshini, into the world in 1917. Indira, who later assumed the name Indira Gandhi upon marriage, went on to serve as the Prime Minister of India during two separate terms, from 1966 to 1977 and then from 1980 to 1984. Furthermore, carrying on the family legacy, Indira’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, succeeded her as the Prime Minister, holding the position from 1984 to 1989.
Nehru’s Early Years in the Political Landscape
Upon returning to India, Nehru initially attempted to establish himself as a lawyer. In stark contrast to his father, he showed only a casual interest in the legal profession, finding neither fulfillment in its practice nor camaraderie among fellow lawyers. At this juncture, Nehru, much like many of his contemporaries, harbored an instinctive longing for India’s freedom. However, like most of them, he lacked well-defined ideas on how this liberation could be achieved.
Nehru’s autobiography unveils his keen interest in Indian politics during his time studying abroad. His letters to his father from that period indicate a shared passion for India’s freedom. It was only when both father and son encountered Mahatma Gandhi and were influenced to follow his political path that they began to formulate concrete ideas on attaining freedom. What captivated the Nehrus about Gandhi was his emphasis on action—condemning a wrong was not enough; it must be actively resisted. Previously, both Nehru and his father had viewed contemporary Indian politicians with disdain, criticizing their penchant for lengthy speeches and resolutions. Jawaharlal was particularly drawn to Gandhi’s call to resist British rule without fear or hatred.
The first meeting between Nehru and Gandhi occurred in 1916 at the annual gathering of the Indian National Congress in Lucknow. Gandhi, two decades senior to Nehru, made no significant initial impression on him, and vice versa. Nehru’s role in Indian politics remained secondary until 1929 when he was elected president of the Congress Party. At the historic Lahore session, he proclaimed complete independence as India’s political objective, departing from the previous goal of dominion status.
Nehru’s association with the Congress Party began in earnest in 1919, following World War I. This period witnessed heightened nationalist activity and governmental repression, culminating in the infamous Amritsar Massacre of April 1919. Nehru’s first imprisonment occurred in late 1921 when Congress leaders were outlawed in certain provinces. This marked the beginning of a series of incarcerations, with the last and longest ending in June 1945, after nearly three years behind bars. Throughout his life, Nehru spent over nine years in prison, viewing these terms as normal intervals in an otherwise abnormal political journey.
His political apprenticeship with the Congress Party spanned from 1919 to 1929. In 1923 and 1927, he assumed the role of general secretary of the party, undertaking journeys across India, particularly in his native United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh). Witnessing the profound poverty and degradation of the peasantry during these travels left an indelible mark on his foundational ideas for addressing these pressing issues. Although inclined toward socialism, Nehru’s radicalism had not yet solidified.
The turning point in his political and economic thinking came during his tour of Europe and the Soviet Union in 1926–27. It was during this period that Nehru’s genuine interest in Marxism and socialist ideals took root, laying the foundation for his economic thinking with a Marxist framework, adapted as necessary to suit Indian conditions.
Struggle for Indian Independence
Leadership Emergence After Lahore Session (1929)
Following the Lahore session of 1929, Jawaharlal Nehru rose as a prominent figure, particularly among the country’s intellectuals and youth. Mahatma Gandhi strategically appointed him as the president of the Congress Party, bypassing some senior leaders. Gandhi’s intention was clear—to engage India’s youth, who were leaning towards extreme leftist causes, in the mainstream Congress movement. Additionally, the added responsibility was expected to keep Nehru on a moderate path.
After the death of his father in 1931, Nehru deepened his involvement in the inner circles of the Congress Party and developed a closer bond with Gandhi. While Gandhi officially designated Nehru as his political heir in 1942, by the mid-1930s, the Indian populace already saw Nehru as the natural successor to Gandhi.
Gandhi-Irwin Pact and Civil Disobedience Movements
The Gandhi-Irwin Pact of March 1931 marked a truce between Gandhi and the British viceroy, Lord Irwin. This pact concluded one of Gandhi’s effective civil disobedience movements, the Salt March, during which Nehru had faced arrest. However, hopes for improved Indo-British relations post the pact were dashed, and both Gandhi and Nehru found themselves imprisoned under the viceroy Lord Willingdon in 1932.
The three Round Table Conferences in London led to the Government of India Act of 1935, providing Indian provinces with a system of popular autonomous government. Despite the Act not bringing about a federation, provincial autonomy was implemented. Nehru, during the mid-1930s, closely monitored European developments, foreseeing the looming threat of another world war.
Imprisonment During World War II
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, committed India to war without consulting the autonomous provincial ministries. Congress withdrew its provincial ministries in protest, leaving the political arena open to Jinnah and the Muslim League. Nehru’s views on the war differed from Gandhi’s, advocating conditional support to Great Britain. In 1940, Gandhi launched a limited civil disobedience campaign, leading to Nehru’s arrest and a four-year imprisonment.
When the Japanese advanced toward India in 1942, the British government sought a settlement, sending Sir Stafford Cripps with proposals. However, Gandhi’s insistence on independence led to the failure of Cripps’s mission. The Quit India resolution in 1942 prompted the arrest of the entire Congress working committee, including Gandhi and Nehru. Nehru was released in June 1945, after his ninth and final detention.
Partition and Independence (1947)
Post Nehru’s release, India’s destiny was marked by significant changes. The viceroy, Lord Wavell, failed in his attempt to bring the Congress Party and the Muslim League together. The Labour government, succeeding Churchill’s wartime administration, dispatched a Cabinet mission to India. Despite efforts, Hindu-Muslim antagonism and escalating clashes in 1946 made the partition of the subcontinent inevitable. On August 15, 1947, India and Pakistan emerged as two separate independent countries, with Nehru assuming the role of independent India’s first prime minister.
Achievements as Prime Minister: Jawaharlal Nehru’s Enduring Legacy
Political Stature and People’s Idol (1929–1964)
Over 35 years, from 1929 when he was chosen by Gandhi as the president of the Congress session in Lahore, to his death in 1964 as the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru remained a revered figure, despite the challenges, including the brief conflict with China in 1962. His secular approach to politics stood in contrast to Gandhi’s religious and traditionalist stance. While Gandhi may have appeared religiously conservative, his underlying goal was to secularize Hinduism. The true disparity between Nehru and Gandhi lay not in their views on religion but in their perspectives on civilization. Nehru embraced modernity, conversing in an increasingly modern idiom, while Gandhi harked back to the glories of ancient India.
Nehru played a pivotal role in shaping modern Indian values and thinking, adapting them to the country’s unique conditions. His emphasis on secularism, the unity of India amid its diverse ethnic and religious landscape, and his commitment to propelling India into the age of scientific and technological progress were hallmarks of his leadership. Additionally, he instilled in the populace an awareness of social responsibility towards the underprivileged and a respect for democratic principles. One of his significant achievements was the reform of the ancient Hindu civil code, ensuring equality for Hindu widows in matters of inheritance and property.
International Influence and Nonalignment (1929–1961)
On the international stage, Nehru’s influence was considerable until October 1956, when India’s stance on the Hungarian Revolution against the Soviets brought his policy of nonalignment into scrutiny. In the United Nations, India’s alignment with the Soviet Union on the invasion of Hungary raised doubts about Nehru’s commitment to nonalignment. Initially, anticolonialism had been the cornerstone of his foreign policy, but this waned after Zhou Enlai overshadowed him at the Bandung Conference in 1955. By the first conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Belgrade in 1961, Nehru had shifted his focus to nonalignment as his most pressing concern.
Nehru’s tenure as Prime Minister left an indelible mark on India, bridging the gap between tradition and modernity, championing secular values, and advocating for social justice and progress. Despite challenges and shifts in foreign policy dynamics, Nehru’s legacy as a visionary leader endured beyond his years in office.
Nehru’s Later Years and Enduring Impact
Sino-Indian War and Challenges on the Borders (1962)
The month-long Sino-Indian War in 1962 revealed the vulnerabilities in Nehru’s nonalignment policy. The border dispute with China, particularly concerning Arunachal Pradesh state, exposed the limitations of Nehru’s optimistic vision of “Hindu-Chini bhai bhai” (“Indians and Chinese are brothers”). His subsequent call for Western aid contradicted the principles of nonalignment. Although China withdrew its troops, the conflict left a mark on Nehru’s foreign policy legacy.
Kashmir and Persistent Tensions (1947–1964)
The Kashmir issue, a longstanding and contentious matter claimed by both India and Pakistan, persisted throughout Nehru’s tenure. After the partition in 1947, efforts to settle the dispute led to a UN-brokered cease-fire line, later becoming the Line of Control. The complex issue continued to be a source of tension and conflict in the region.
Goa Liberation and Assertive Action (1961)
Nehru’s assertive action in the liberation of the Portuguese colony of Goa in December 1961, the last foreign-controlled entity in India, raised international concerns but is viewed justifiably in hindsight. As the British and French had peacefully withdrawn, Nehru sought to dislodge the Portuguese colonial presence. Despite initial attempts at persuasion, military intervention became necessary, emphasizing the anachronism of colonial rule in post-independence India.
Nehru’s Health and Passing (1963–1964)
Nehru’s health deteriorated after the Sino-Indian War, with a slight stroke in 1963 and a more debilitating attack in January 1964. He succumbed to a fatal stroke a few months later, marking the end of an era.
Legacy and Political Outlook
While consciously rooted in his Indian identity, Nehru did not radiate the Hindu aura associated with Gandhi. His modern political and economic outlook attracted the younger intelligentsia to the nonviolent resistance movement against the British and later rallied them after independence. Nehru’s Western upbringing and exposure to European ways of thinking set him apart.
Nehru’s divergence from Gandhi on social, economic, and political issues was evident, particularly in his acceptance of industrialization. The early five-year plans under his leadership emphasized heavy manufacturing. Nehru viewed nonviolence pragmatically as a political weapon rather than a principled stance, aligning it with the prevailing political conditions in India.
As a leader who contemplated India’s place in the global community, Nehru not only educated Indians on foreign affairs before independence but also shaped Indian foreign policy post-independence. His image became synonymous with India on the world stage, emphasizing the global perspective he brought to the country.
Throughout his prime ministership, spanning 17 years, Nehru championed democratic socialism, emphasizing the need for India to achieve both democracy and socialism. The pillars of his domestic policies—democracy, socialism, unity, and secularism—formed the foundation of his governance. Nehru’s ability to maintain this edifice during his lifetime left a lasting impact on India’s political landscape.
FAQs about Jawaharlal Nehru:
Q1: What is Jawaharlal Nehru known for?
Ans-Jawaharlal Nehru is primarily known as the first Prime Minister of independent India, serving from 1947 to 1964. He played a crucial role in the Indian independence movement, was a key figure in the Indian National Congress, and is celebrated for his commitment to democracy, secularism, and modernization.
Q2: How was Jawaharlal Nehru educated?
Ans– Nehru’s early education involved home tutoring by English governesses and tutors. He attended Harrow, a prestigious English school, followed by Trinity College, Cambridge, where he earned an honors degree in natural science. Subsequently, he qualified as a barrister after studying at the Inner Temple, London.
Q3: What were Jawaharlal Nehru’s accomplishments?
Ans- Nehru’s notable accomplishments include being a leading figure in India’s independence movement, serving as the first Prime Minister of India, and shaping the nation’s political, economic, and foreign policies. He emphasized secularism, democracy, and modernization, initiating the first five-year plans focusing on industrialization.
Q4: How did Jawaharlal Nehru change the world?
Ans– Jawaharlal Nehru changed the world by playing a pivotal role in India’s independence, leading the country as its first Prime Minister, and contributing to global politics through nonalignment. He championed democratic socialism, worked towards social justice, and projected India’s image on the world stage, leaving a lasting impact on the international community.
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