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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
for 32 months with his fellow Congress leaders, Nehru focused
on writing the Discovery of India, a tour through Indian history
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.
1946, the Congress convened its session for a presidential election,
knowing fully that this leader would become the head of India's
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.
Elections were held in 1946 to the Constituent Assembly of India.
The Congress swept the vote at the central level and most of British
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Minister of India
Jawaharlal Nehru served as India's Prime Minister from August
15, 1947, to May 27, 1964 - the day he died.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Patel had died at the end of 1950, and the real Nehru era was
about to begin.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Nehru's neutrality was strongly criticized when he failed to condemn
the USSR's invasion of Hungary in 1956-58.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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