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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Nehru, Jawaharlal (1889-1964)
The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organized religion, in India and elsewhere, has filled us with horror, and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it.

-- Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru also called Pandit (Scholar or Teacher) Nehru, was one of the most important leaders of the Indian Independence Movement and, as the head of the Indian National Congress, became the first Prime Minister of India when India won its independence on August 15, 1947.

Jawaharlal Nehru was born in Allahabad on November 14, 1889, to Swaroop Rani, the wife of Motilal Nehru, a wealthy Allahabad-based barrister prominent in the Indian National Congress. He was Motilal Nehru's only son; he had three younger sisters including Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit. The Nehru family is of Kashmiri lineage and of the Saraswat Brahmin caste.

Educated in the finest schools in India and abroad, Nehru returned from education in England at Harrow, Trinity College, Cambridge and the Inner Temple to practice law before following his father into politics. By his parents' arrangement, Nehru married Kamala Nehru, then seventeen in 1916. At the time of his wedding on 8 February 1916, Jawaharlal was twenty-six, a British-educated barrister. Kamala came from a well-known business family of Kashmiris in Delhi.

Gandhi and the 1920s
His father Motilal Nehru was already a prominent figure in the Indian National Congress and had served as its president. Thus when a young and glamorous Jawaharlal entered the Congress, much was expected of him.

It soon became clear that the younger Nehru did not share his father's moderate-liberal line. He began to grow closer to the rising leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a former barrister who had won battles for equality and political rights for Indians in South Africa, and had emerged a national hero with the successful struggles in Champaran, Bihar and Kheda in Gujarat. Nehru was instantly attracted to Gandhi's commitment to active, but peaceful, civil disobedience. Gandhi himself saw promise in the young man.

The Nehru family transformed their lifestyle according to Gandhi's teachings. Jawaharlal and Motilal Nehru abandoned western clothes and tastes for expensive possessions and pastimes, and adopted Hindustani as their common language of use. Young Jawaharlal now wore a khadi kurta and a Gandhi cap, all in white - the new uniform of the Indian nationalist. Nehru was first arrested by the British during the Non-Cooperation Movement of 1920-1922, but released after a few months.

After Gandhi suspended civil resistance in 1922 as a result of the killing of policemen in Chauri Chaura, thousands of Congressmen were disillusioned. When Gandhi opposed participation in the newly created legislative councils, many followed Chittaranjan Das and Motilal Nehru into the Swaraj Party, which advocated entry but only to sabotage government from within, as a tool to extracting concessions from the British to ensure stability. But Nehru did not join his father and stayed with Gandhi and the Congress.

Jawaharlal was elected President of the Allahabad Municipal Corporation in 1924, and served for two years as the city's chief executive. This would be valuable but the only administrative experience Nehru would have before taking on India's whole government in 1947. He used his tenure to expand public education, health care and sanitation. He resigned citing lack of cooperation from civil servants and obstruction from British authorities. From 1926 to 1928, Jawaharlal served as the General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee, an important step in his rise to Congress national leadership.

Political Attitudes
Jawaharlal's break with his father cemented his position as the leader of a new generation of Congressmen, with political beliefs that were more radical than those held by their fathers. He, like many others, had been exposed to socialism in England and Europe; following freedom struggles in Ireland and the revolution in Russia, Nehru became one of the first major Indian political figures to embrace the idea of full political independence from the British Empire. Even Gandhi and Motilal Nehru had not yet committed to this, but Nehru's vision was shared by many among the younger generation, including Subhas Chandra Bose, and a growing number of Indians not in public life.

Rise to Leadership
Upon his release from prison in 1924, Gandhi succeeded in re-uniting the Congress Party. He chose to increase the internal discipline of the party by expanding its activities that promoted social reform and the alleviation of India's poor.

In 1928-29, the Congress's annual session under the presidency of Motilal Nehru considered the next step. Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose backed a call for full political independence or swaraj, while Motilal Nehru and others wanted dominion status within the British Empire. To resolve the point, Gandhi said that the British would be given two years to grant India dominion status. If they did not, the Congress would launch a national struggle for full, political independence. Nehru and Bose reduced the time of opportunity to one year. The Government in Whitehall did not respond.

When the Congress convened its session in 1929, Gandhi backed the young Jawaharlal for the Congress presidency. Although confessing embarrassment at his hurried ascent, President Nehru declared India's independence on January 26, 1930 in Lahore, raised free India's flag in a large public convention on the banks of the Ravi and inaugurated the struggle. Nehru was arrested in 1930, and during the Salt Satyagraha of 1931; he was interned for a number of years.

The movement was an astounding national success. Millions of Indians had participated, and the government was ultimately forced to acknowledge that there was a need for major political reform, which the British Parliament attempted in the form of the Government of India Act 1935. The Act set up a bicameral structure of authority, with provision for popular elections. The Congress Party decided to contest elections, but Nehru personally did not stand.

He, however, campaigned vigorously nationwide for the party, further raising his profile with the Indian public. The Congress formed governments in 7 of the 11 provinces, and won the largest number of seats in the Central Assembly, which the Congress had denounced as powerless. But it was able to exercise control of provincial affairs, giving India its first taste of democratic self-government.

Socialism and Quit India
Nehru was elected again to the Congress Presidency in 1936 and 1937. In his famous speech to the session in Lucknow in 1936, he pushed the passage of the Avadi Resolution which committed the Congress to socialism as the basis of the future agenda of a free India's government. In this matter he successfully overcame the opposition of major Congress leaders, including Gandhi and Sardar Patel, though for different reasons. Nehru transformed his position to commit that the resolution did not in fact bind Congress to socialism, and that the Congress Party's main goal was independence, not socialism.

However, Nehru had grown politically closer to Congress socialists like Jaya Prakash Narayan, Narendra Dev and the liberal-socialist Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Nehru's victory over the right wing of Congress in 1936 and the chaos of the Tripura session of 1939, following which his only serious rival on the left of Congress, Subhash Chandra Bose, left the party, ensured his pre-eminence among the nationalist leaders of his generation.

When World War II broke out, Nehru and the Congress condemned the Government of India's decision to enter the war; they were angered that the decision had been taken by the Viceregal Council without consulting the nationaist leadership, but were divided as to what to do about it. Nehru and Patel made an offer of cooperation with the British, promising whole-hearted support if after the war, the British would deliver India's political freedom.

This was opposed by Gandhi, but marked the first occasion when a majority of Congress leaders went against his advice. Several British politicians and British officials backed the offer, considering Indian support valuable, but the bid failed when a new government under a hostile Winston Churchill ruled out any political reform.

The Congress Party ordered all of its elected members in the Central and provincial assemblies to resign, and another national struggle seemed inevitable. Nehru and Maulana Azad were lukewarm to Gandhi's call for revolt, still considering it a good possibility that the British would ultimately concede independence for Indian support, and concerned about the timing of the initiative. Although many other Indian political parties opposed the call, Gandhi and Sardar Patel convinced Nehru and Azad, and the entire Indian National Congress towards what they believed would be a final confrontation with a weakened British Empire.

The Quit India Movement was launched on August 13, 1942. The Congress made an open call for complete independence immediately. Only an independent India, they said, should decide whether India would participate in the war. The Congress asked all Indians to boycott British goods, the institutions and factories run by the British, public services and government programs. Major strikes, protests and demonstrations broke out all over India, and although other political parties did not participate, it proved to be the most forceful revolt in the history of British rule.

This was in spite of the fact that Gandhi and the entire Congress Working Committee were arrested practically immediately. The Committee was imprisoned in a fort-turned-prison in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, separate from Gandhi, who was imprisoned in Pune. The British had made arrangements to deport the leaders if necessary, but felt that then any chance of regaining order would be lost due to public outrage. Outside, hundreds of thousands of Indian freedom fighters were imprisoned, and thousands were killed in police firing.

Incarcerated for 32 months with his fellow Congress leaders, Nehru focused on writing the Discovery of India, a tour through Indian history and culture.

Congress Presidency
Upon the end of the war, Nehru and the Congress leadership were released. In the landmark 1945 General Elections in Britain Winston Churchill, a long-time opponent of Indian independence, was defeated by the Labour Party of Clement Attlee; the new government began preparing plans for India's independence.

In 1946, the Congress convened its session for a presidential election, knowing fully that this leader would become the head of India's government.

Nehru, unlike Patel, was nominated by no state unit, but the Working Committee made a tentative nomination. It is believed that Gandhi asked Patel to withdraw himself from the election, allowing Nehru's election, and that Patel promptly did so. This relatively undocumented episode is deeply controversial to contemporary historians.

Partition and Independence
Elections were held in 1946 to the Constituent Assembly of India. The Congress swept the vote at the central level and most of British India's provinces.

The All India Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah had become the prime political opponent of the Congress. The League demanded a separate Muslim state, and enjoyed the support of many of India's Muslims.

Nehru and the Congress Party strongly opposed India's partition, or any excessive political concessions to the League to prevent this. The party accepted the May 16 Plan proposed by the Cabinet Mission led by Sir Stafford Cripps as the only resort to preventing India's division as proposed in the June 16 plan. Although the May 16 plan envisioned communal grouping of India's provinces, the Congress accepted to keep the League from usurping control of the new interim government. When the League pulled out from the process, Congress was left in complete control of the new government. Nehru became the Vice President of the Viceroy's Executive Council, de facto head of government.

But Jinnah's Direct Action Day to protest this left over 10,000 Hindus and Muslims dead in the following months. Fearing communal chaos, the Congress decided to allow the League to enter the council. However, Nehru's leadership was rejected by the new League ministers, and the council stalled over every policy decision.

Considering a political coalition unworkable and the communal situation dangerous enough to lead to full civil war between Hindus and Muslims, Nehru and Sardar Patel backed the plan of Lord Louis Mountbatten, India's last viceroy to partition the country into India and Pakistan. Nehru and Patel managed to convince Gandhi, who was fearful about partition but even more fearful of civil war. The AICC adopted the resolution in June, 1947. Nehru served on the Partition Council that finalized the separation of government institutions and provincial resources between the two new dominions.

On August 15th, 1947, India became an independent nation. At the age of 58, Jawaharlal Nehru became the Prime Minister of India. Lord Louis Mountbatten became the Governor General of the Dominion, and the Constituent Assembly began work to draft the Constitution of India and transition to a sovereign Republic.

Prime Minister of India
Jawaharlal Nehru served as India's Prime Minister from August 15, 1947, to May 27, 1964 - the day he died.

1947 to 1952
Prime Minister Nehru headed a Cabinet that included leaders from across the political spectrum like Syama Prasad Mookerjee and B.R. Ambedkar. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was the Deputy Prime Minister of India and the Union Home Minister. Although Patel was powerful in the Congress Party and enjoyed far more of the respect and support of party bureaucrats than Nehru did, he could not match Nehru's popularity with the masses, his youth and dynamism. But India's first administration was a duumvirate, and Nehru did not dominate. Whenever the two faced a dispute, they would ask Gandhi to arbitrate and decide the matter.

Nehru and Patel spent their first weeks in strenuous efforts to restore peace to Punjab and Bengal after partition, and rehabilitating over 10 million incoming refugees from Pakistan. When Pakistani raiders attacked the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, Nehru insisted upon the state's immediate accession before the aiding of military assistance. While the state complied, in December 1947 Nehru declared a unilateral cease-fire and asked the UN to arbitrate the Kashmir dispute. This move is today largely criticised for the failure to evict Pakistani militants from Kashmir, 3 successive wars and the continuation of this dispute till present day.

Gandhi's assassination on January 30, 1948 was a major blow to India. Nehru wept as did many millions of Indians, and he and Patel embraced together. Many called for Patel's resignation following the murder, blaming his Home Ministry for failing to protect Gandhi, but Nehru rejected Patel's resignation, and gave an unusual and personal vote of confidence, and a commitment to work together. Patel was also bound by a promise to Gandhi to stay in government, but was prepared to resign if Nehru did not desire for his continuance.

However, Nehru and Patel still disagreed on the issue of Hyderabad, which had resisted annexation. Nehru and Mountbatten engaged in strenuous diplomacy in the months when Patel was recuperating from a heart attack, but with their failure Nehru was forced to concede the need for military action. Patel undertook Operation Polo as Acting Prime Minister while Nehru was in Europe, and Hyderabad was merged into the Union. But Nehru resisted similar action on Goa, occupied by the Portuguese and resisted sending military aid to Tibet, which was invaded by Communist China in 1950.

More than 900,000 Hindu refugees had flooded out of East Pakistan, fearing intimidation and violence from Muslims. There were many allegations of government-forced evictions, and since over 1 million people had died since partition, it was a political firestorm. Nehru invited Pakistan's Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan to Delhi to discuss the matter, against the advice of Sardar Patel and many other Indian politicians. Although aware of military options, Nehru wanted to make his best effort for peace.

The Delhi Pact of 1949 guaranteed minority rights in both countries, creating minority commissions in the Punjab and Bengal provinces of both countries. It was strongly condemned as appeasement in West Bengal by Hindus, and several Cabinet ministers resigned in protest. Nehru became a hated figure overnight. Although Patel had firmly criticized it, he now publicly defended it. Visiting West Bengal, he talked to the common people and a variety of Hindu and Muslim citizen groups, asking the people to give peace a last try. As a result of Patel's efforts, the pact was approved and around 800,000 Hindus returned to East Pakistan.

Nehru was embarrassed when he tried to impose his preference on the Congress presidential election of 1950, lobbying against conservative Purushottam Das Tandon and again trying to approve Governor General Chakravarti Rajgopalachari as the first President of the forthcoming Indian Republic. Going against the will of the majority of Congressmen and rejecting Patel's aid, Nehru was strongly criticized within the party. Tandon won his election, and the party backed its favorite Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who became the first President of India.

At this point, Nehru considered resignation, believing his support in the party fragile. Patel rebuked him for ignoring the party membership but assured him there was no need to resign. With Patel's support, Nehru continued in office.

The Constitution of India was signed on January 26, 1949, and came into effect the next year. In 1952, India held its first democratic national elections, and Nehru led the Congress Party to a sweeping majority in the Parliament of India.

Sardar Patel had died at the end of 1950, and the real Nehru era was about to begin.

The Personal Life of the Prime Minister
In 1946, Nehru had moved into the former residence of the British Commander in Chief of the Indian Army on York Road, in Delhi. With independence, this became the official residence of the PM, and after Nehru's death in 1964, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

Nehru lived alone initially, but was later joined by his daughter Indira Gandhi, who despite having a young family of her own felt a need to take care of her father's personal needs. Over the years she became his virtual chief of staff - managing his schedule and appointments, instructing the staff of the residence and often accompanying him on foreign trips and in meetings with world leaders.

The iconic image of Nehru with a rose in the breast pocket of his achkan arose from a daily act of remembrance; his wife gave him a rose on her death-bed and, after her passing, he began picking a fresh rose every morning in her memory.

Nehru's policies
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's administration created the policies that formed the backbone of India's social and economic development, national defense and position in world affairs for decades, although many times are criticized as very much wrong policies.

Economic policy
Nehru was fascinated by the Soviet Union's Piatiletka or 5-year plans. But he wrote after a visit there in the 1920s that 'the human costs are unpayable'. A believer in the 'mixed economy' of Harold Laski and influenced by the Fabian Society, Nehru wished the economy of India to be partially capitalist, but with the state occupying a large role, especially in the commanding heights of the economy.

In setting a path for the economic policy after Independence, he chose from a set of options considerably more limited than those available today, and followed to a large degree the conventional wisdom among Indian academic economists of the time. India's growth rate in GDP stayed moderately above 4% during all the years that Nehru was Prime Minister. It is hard to say definitively how much growth there might have been with different economic policies: predominantly capitalist Western Europe grew slightly faster than India during the Nehru years (especially during the decade after World War II); but so did the command economies of communist China and the Soviet Union. The strongly capitalist USA grew somewhat more slowly, as did most of the newly independent nations that followed WWII (with the exception of oil-producing nations).

Some recent (but isolated) studies influenced by Chicago School economists—such as one by Goldman Sachs—have claimed that India had the potential to grow faster than it did in the post-Nehru 1960-1980 timeframe. According to this thinking, that opportunity was wasted out of a misplaced faith in the power of economic planning. Economist Jagdish Bhagwati has remarked that India's problem has been that it has too many brilliant economists; Bhagwati believes the stalwarts of Nehru's Planning Commissions began to believe in their own infallibility, to the detriment of the Indian nation. B. R. Shenoy a contemporary opponent of Nehru's Second Five-Year Plan, notably, is now considered a significant theorist in the Austrian School of Economics.

The Soviet Union was the only major power during Nehru's tenure to aid India in developing independent capabilities areas of heavy industry, engineering, and technology. This political fact, combined with Nehru's preference for state-led development, promoted suspicion about the sincerity of India's non-aligned foreign policy positions. In hindsight, the Nehruvian model failed in many of its objectives; however, many Indian economists—particularly among Nehru's contemporaries—believe Nehru's emphasis on central planning was the right policy for India of that time.

Some critics of Indian economic development believe that the economy of the Nehruvian and post-Nehruvian era, with inefficient public sector entities on the one hand, and crony-capitalist private sector entities that used the so-called license raj to carve out lucrative niches for themselves on the other, was a product of economic policy foundations laid during Nehru's tenure.

Nehru's economic policies are sometimes confused by critics with those of his daughter, Indira Gandhi, which were more statist and dirigiste in orientation. Nehru's economics of state intervention and investment were conceived at a time when transfers of capital and technology important to India were not easily forthcoming from the developed world (which at the time also had plenty of state-sponsored capital controls.)

Foreign Policy
Nehru's foreign policy was supportive of anti-colonialism, and the freedom movements in Tanzania, Algeria, Indochina and the abolition of apartheid in South Africa. Nehru was also one of the founding statesmen of the Non Aligned Movement, of Asian and African nations seeking to stay away from the pressures of the alliances created by the USA and USSR. Nehru also condemned the invasion of Suez in 1956 by Israel, the United Kingdom and France.

However, Nehru's neutrality was strongly criticized when he failed to condemn the USSR's invasion of Hungary in 1956-58.

On November 27, 1946, Nehru appealed to the United States and the Soviet Union to end nuclear testing and to start nuclear disarmament, stating that such an action would "save humanil dynasty in India's modern history. His daughter Indira Gandhi would become Prime Minister within two years of his death in 1966, and would serve for 15 years and 3 terms. His grandson Rajiv Gandhi would hold that office from 1984 to 1989.

Today, Rajiv's widow Sonia Gandhi, is the Congress Party's president, though not Prime Minister. Her son Rahul Gandhi entered Parliament in the 2004 General Elections, in which a Congress-led coalition gained a plurality, and it is speculated that he is being groomed as a future Prime Minister.

Books and Trivia
1. Nehru's letters to his daughter Indira during successive periods of imprisonment in 1930-1934 were later compiled into a book called Glimpses of World History.
2. His 1942-1945 incarceration produced The Discovery of India, a history of India with digressions.
3. Subsequently, while in prison following the Quit India Movement, he wrote An Autobiography (ISBN 014303104X), which was a New York Times best seller.
4. The words of Nehru's famous Tryst with Destiny speech on the eve of Indian Independence is as familiar, and indeed significant, to Indian ears as the Gettysburg Address is to Americans.
5. Nehru had a golden bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi and a hand of Abraham Lincoln on his office desk.
6. In 1937, Modern Review of Calcutta carried a letter, under the pen-name Chanakya, that warned members of the Congress Party against Nehru, then party president, declaring that he had "tendencies towards autocracy" and needed to be firmly checked before he "turns into Caesar". It emerged many years later that the letter was written by Nehru himself.
7. Nehru popularized the Nehru jacket.
8. Nehru's birthday, 14 November, is celebrated as Children's Day in India, in memory of his love of children.


"I want nothing to do with any religion concerned with keeping the masses satisfied to live in hunger, filth, and ignorance. I want nothing to do with any order, religious or otherwise, which does not teach people that they are capable of becoming happier and more civilized, on this earth, capable of becoming true man, master of his fate and captain of his soul. To attain this I would put priests to work, also, and turn the temples into schools."

"The light has gone out of our lives.... Yet I am wrong, for the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light.... and a thousand years later that light will still be seen in this country and the world will see it.... For that light represented the living truth."

The information on which this page is based has been drawn from research on the Internet. For example, much use has been made of, to whom we are greatly indebted. Since the information recording process at Wikipedia is prone to changes in the data, please check at Wikipedia for current information. If you find something on this page to be in error, please contact us.
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