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Jawaharlal Nehru

 Jawaharlal NehruJawaharlal Nehru (14 November 1889 – 27 May 1964) was the first Prime Minister of India and a central figure in Indian politics before and after independence. He emerged as the paramount leader of the Indian independence movement under the tutelage of Mahatma Gandhi and ruled India from its establishment as an independent nation in 1947 until his death in 1964. He is considered to be the architect of the modern Indian nation-state: a sovereign, socialist, secular, and democratic republic. He was also known as Pandit Nehru due to his roots with Kashmiri Pandit community while many Indian children knew him as “Uncle Nehru” (Chacha Nehru).

The son of Motilal Nehru, a prominent lawyer and nationalist statesman and Swaroop Rani, Nehru was a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge and the Inner Temple, where he trained to be a barrister. Upon his return to India, he enrolled at the Allahabad High Court, and took an interest in national politics, which eventually replaced his legal practice. A committed nationalist since his teenage years, he became a rising figure in Indian politics during the upheavals of the 1910s. He became the prominent leader of the left-wing factions of the Indian National Congress during the 1920s, and eventually of the entire Congress, with the tacit approval of his mentor, Gandhi. As Congress President in 1929, Nehru called for complete independence from the British Raj and instigated the Congress’s decisive shift towards the left.

Nehru and the Congress dominated Indian politics during the 1930s as the country moved towards independence. His idea of a secular nation-state was seemingly validated when the Congress, under his leadership, swept the 1937 provincial elections and formed the government in several provinces; on the other hand, the separatist Muslim League fared much poorer. But these achievements were seriously compromised in the aftermath of the Quit India Movement in 1942, which saw the British effectively crush the Congress as a political organization. Nehru, who had reluctantly heeded Gandhi’s call for immediate independence, for he had desired to support the Allied war effort during the Second World War, came out of a lengthy prison term to a much altered political landscape. The Muslim League under his old Congress colleague and now bête noire, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had come to dominate Muslim politics in India. Negotiations between Nehru and Jinnah for power sharing failed and gave way to the independence and bloody partition of India in 1947.

Nehru was elected by the Congress to assume office as independent India’s first Prime Minister, although the question of leadership had been settled as far back as 1941, when Gandhi acknowledged Nehru as his political heir and successor. As Prime Minister, he set out to realise his vision of India. The Constitution of India was enacted in 1950, after which he embarked on an ambitious program of economic, social and political reforms. Chiefly, he oversaw India’s transition from a monarchy to a republic, while nurturing a plural, multi-party democracy. In foreign policy, he took a leading role in Non-Alignment while projecting India as a regional hegemon in South Asia.

Under Nehru’s leadership, the Congress emerged as a catch-all party, dominating national and state-level politics and winning consecutive elections in 1951, 1957, and 1962. He remained popular with the people of India in spite of political troubles in his final years and failure of leadership during the 1962 Sino-Indian War. In India, his birthday is celebrated as Children’s Day.

Early life and career (1889–1912)

Nehru in khaki uniform as a member of Seva Dal.

Jawaharlal Nehru was born on 14 November 1889 in Allahabad in British India. His father, Motilal Nehru (1861–1931), a wealthy barrister who belonged to the Kashmiri Pandit community,[4] served twice as President of the Indian National Congress during the Independence Struggle. His mother, Swaruprani Thussu (1868–1938), who came from a well-known Kashmiri Brahmin family settled in Lahore, was Motilal’s second wife, the first having died in child birth. Jawaharlal was the eldest of three children, two of whom were girls. The elder sister, Vijaya Lakshmi, later became the first female president of the United Nations General Assembly. The youngest sister, Krishna Hutheesing, became a noted writer and authored several books on her brother.

The Nehru family ca. 1890s

Nehru described his childhood as a “sheltered and uneventful one”. He grew up in an atmosphere of privilege at wealthy homes including a large palatial estate called the Anand Bhawan. His father had him educated at home by private governesses and tutors.[8] Under the influence of a tutor, Ferdinand T. Brooks, he became interested in science and theosophy. He was subsequently initiated into the Theosophical Society at age thirteen by family friend Annie Besant. However, his interest in theosophy did not prove to be enduring and he left the society shortly after Brooks departed as his tutor. He wrote: “for nearly three years [Brooks] was with me and in many ways he influenced me greatly”.

Nehru’s theosophical interests had induced him to the study of the Buddhist and Hindu scriptures. According to B.R. Nanda, these scriptures were Nehru’s “first introduction to the religious and cultural heritage of [India]….[they] provided Nehru the initial impulse for [his] long intellectual quest which culminated…in The Discovery of India.”

Nehru became an ardent nationalist during his youth. The Boer War and the Russo-Japanese War intensified his feelings. About the latter he wrote, “[The] Japanese victories [had] stirred up my enthusiasm … Nationalistic ideas filled my mind … I mused of Indian freedom and Asiatic freedom from the thraldom of Europe.”[9] Later when he had begun his institutional schooling in 1905 at Harrow, a leading school in England, he was greatly influenced by G.M. Trevelyan’s Garibaldi books, which he had received as prizes for academic merit.[12] He viewed Garibaldi as a revolutionary hero. He wrote: “Visions of similar deeds in India came before, of [my] gallant fight for [Indian] freedom and in my mind India and Italy got strangely mixed together.”

Nehru dressed in cadet uniform at Harrow School in England

Nehru went to Trinity College, Cambridge in October 1907 and graduated with an honours degree in natural science in 1910. During this period, he also studied politics, economics, history and literature desultorily. Writings of Bernard Shaw, H.G Wells, J.M. Keynes, Bertrand Russell, Lowes Dickinson and Meredith Townsend moulded much of his political and economic thinking.

Nehru at the Allahabad High Court

After completing his degree in 1910, Nehru went to London and stayed there for two years for law studies at the Inns of Court School of Law (Inner Temple). During this time, he continued to study the scholars of the Fabian Society including Beatrice Webb. He passed his bar examinations in 1912 and was admitted to the English bar.

After returning to India in August 1912, Nehru enrolled himself as an advocate of the Allahabad High Court and tried to settle down as a barrister. 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. He wrote: “Decidedly the atmosphere was not intellectually stimulating and a sense of the utter insipidity of life grew upon me.” His involvement in nationalist politics would gradually replace his legal practice in the coming years.

Jawaharlal Nehru2Internationalising the struggle

Nehru played a leading role in the development of the internationalist outlook of the Indian independence struggle. He sought foreign allies for India and forged links with movements for independence and democracy all over the world. In 1927, his efforts paid off and the Congress was invited to attend the congress of oppressed nationalities in Brussels in Belgium. The meeting was called to co-ordinate and plan a common struggle against imperialism. Nehru represented India and was elected to the Executive Council of the League against Imperialism that was born at this meeting.

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 in early 1936, visiting his ailing wife, shortly before she died in a sanitarium in Switzerland. Even at this time, he emphasised 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.

Nehru closely worked with Subhash Bose in developing good relations with governments of free countries all over the world. However, the two split in the late 1930s, when Bose agreed to seek the help of fascists in driving the British out of India. At the same time, Nehru had supported the Republicans who were fighting against Francisco Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War. Nehru along with his aide V.K. Krishna Menon visited Spain and declared support for the Republicans. HE refused to meet Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy when the latter expressed his desire to meet him.

Declaration of Independence

Nehru was one of the first leaders to demand that the Congress Party should resolve to make a complete and explicit break from all ties with the British Empire. He introduced a resolution demanding “complete national independence” in 1927, which was rejected because of Gandhi’s opposition.[32]

In 1928, Gandhi agreed to Nehru’s demands and proposed a resolution that called for the British to grant dominion status to India within two years. If the British failed to meet the deadline, the Congress would call upon all Indians to fight for complete independence. Nehru was one of the leaders who objected to the time given to the British – he pressed Gandhi to demand immediate actions from the British. Gandhi brokered a further compromise by reducing the time given from two years to one. Nehru agreed to vote for the new resolution.

Demands for dominion status was rejected by the British in 1929. Nehru assumed the presidency of the Congress party during the Lahore session on 29 December 1929 and introduced a successful resolution calling for complete independence.

Nehru drafted the Indian declaration of independence, which stated:

“We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth. We believe also that if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them the people have a further right to alter it or abolish it. The British government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually. We believe therefore, that India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj or complete independence.”

At midnight on New Year’s Eve 1929, Nehru hoisted the tricolour flag of India upon the banks of the Ravi in Lahore. A pledge of independence was read out, which included a readiness to withhold taxes. The massive gathering of public attending the ceremony was asked if they agreed with it, and the vast majority of people were witnessed to raise their hands in approval. 172 Indian members of central and provincial legislatures resigned in support of the resolution and in accordance with Indian public sentiment. The Congress asked the people of India to observe 26 January as Independence Day. The flag of India was hoisted publicly across India by Congress volunteers, nationalists and the public. Plans for a mass civil disobedience were also underway.

After the Lahore session of the Congress in 1929, Nehru gradually emerged as the paramount leader of the Indian independence movement. Gandhi stepped back into a more spiritual role. 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.

Jawaharlal Nehru1Civil disobedience

Nehru and most of the Congress leaders were initially ambivalent about Gandhi’s plan to begin civil disobedience with a satyagraha aimed at the British salt tax. After the protest gathered steam, they realised the power of salt as a symbol. Nehru remarked about the unprecedented popular response, “it seemed as though a spring had been suddenly released”. He was arrested on 14 April 1930 while entraining from Allahabad for Raipur. He had earlier, after addressing a huge meeting and leading a vast procession, ceremoniously manufactured some contraband salt. He was charged with breach of the salt law, tried summarily behind prison walls and sentenced to six months of imprisonment. He nominated Gandhi to succeed him as Congress President during his absence in jail, but Gandhi declined, and Nehru then nominated his father as his successor. With Nehru’s arrest the civil disobedience acquired a new tempo, and arrests, firing on crowds and lathi charges grew to be ordinary occurrences.

The Salt Satyagraha succeeded in drawing the attention of the world. Indian, British, and world opinion increasingly began to recognise the legitimacy of the claims by the Congress party for independence. Nehru considered the salt satyagraha the high-water mark of his association with Gandhi, and felt that its lasting importance was in changing the attitudes of Indians:

   “Of course these movements exercised tremendous pressure on the British Government and shook the government machinery. But the real importance, to my mind, lay in the effect they had on our own people, and especially the village masses. … Non-cooperation dragged them out of the mire and gave them self-respect and self-reliance. … They acted courageously and did not submit so easily to unjust oppression; their outlook widened and they began to think a little in terms of India as a whole. … It was a remarkable transformation and the Congress, under Gandhi’s leadership, must have the credit for it.”

Sino-Indian War of 1962

From 1959, in a process that accelerated in 1961, Nehru adopted the “Forward Policy” of setting up military outposts in disputed areas of the Sino-Indian border, including in 43 outposts in territory not previously controlled by India.[90] China attacked some of these outposts, and thus the Sino-Indian War began, which India lost, and China withdrew to pre-war lines in eastern zone at Tawang but retained Aksai Chin which was within British India and was handed over to India after independence. Later, Pakistan handed over some portion of Kashmir near Siachen controlled by Pakistan since 1948 to China. The war exposed the unpreparedness of India’s military which could send only 14,000 troops to the war zone in opposition to the many times larger Chinese army, and Nehru was widely criticised for his government’s insufficient attention to defence. In response, Nehru sacked the defence minister Krishna Menon and sought US military aid. Nehru’s improved relations with USA under John F. Kennedy proved useful during the war, as in 1962, President of Pakistan (then closely aligned with the Americans) Ayub Khan was made to guarantee his neutrality in regards to India, who was threatened by “communist aggression from Red China”. The Indian relationship with the Soviet Union, criticised by right-wing groups supporting free-market policies was also seemingly validated. Nehru would continue to maintain his commitment to the non-aligned movement despite calls from some to settle down on one permanent ally.

The aftermath of the war saw sweeping changes in the Indian military to prepare it for similar conflicts in the future, and placed pressure on Nehru, who was seen as responsible for failing to anticipate the Chinese attack on India. Under American advice (by American envoy John Kenneth Galbraith who made and ran American policy on the war as all other top policy makers in USA were absorbed in coincident Cuban Missile Crisis) Nehru refrained, not according to the best choices available, from using the Indian air force to beat back the Chinese advances. The CIA later revealed that at that time the Chinese had neither the fuel nor runways long enough for using their air force effectively in Tibet. Indians in general became highly sceptical of China and its military. Many Indians view the war as a betrayal of India’s attempts at establishing a long-standing peace with China and started to question Nehru’s usage of the term “Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai” (meaning “Indians and Chinese are brothers”). The war also put an end to Nehru’s earlier hopes that India and China would form a strong Asian Axis to counteract the increasing influence of the Cold War bloc superpowers.

The unpreparedness of the army was blamed on Defence Minister Menon, who “resigned” his government post to allow for someone who might modernise India’s military further. India’s policy of weaponisation via indigenous sources and self-sufficiency began in earnest under Nehru, completed by his daughter Indira Gandhi, who later led India to a crushing military victory over rival Pakistan in 1971. Toward the end of the war India had increased her support for Tibetan refugees and revolutionaries, some of them having settled in India, as they were fighting the same common enemy in the region. Nehru ordered the raising of an elite Indian-trained “Tibetan Armed Force” composed of Tibetan refugees, which served with distinction in future wars against Pakistan in 1965 and 1971.

During the conflict, Nehru wrote two desperate letters to US President John F. Kennedy, requesting 12 squadrons of fighter jets and a modern radar system. These jets were seen as necessary to beef up Indian air strength so that air-to-air combat could be initiated safely from the Indian perspective (bombing troops was seen as unwise for fear of Chinese retaliatory action). Nehru also asked that these aircraft be manned by American pilots until Indian airmen were trained to replace them. These requests were rejected by the Kennedy Administration (which was involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis during most of the Sino-Indian War), leading to a cool down in Indo-US relations. According to former Indian diplomat G Parthasarathy, “only after we got nothing from the US did arms supplies from the Soviet Union to India commence”. Per Time Magazine’s 1962 editorial on the war, however, this may not have been the case. The editorial states, ‘When Washington finally turned its attention to India, it honoured the ambassador’s pledge, loaded 60 US planes with $5,000,000 worth of automatic weapons, heavy mortars and land mines. Twelve huge C-130 Hercules transports, complete with US crews and maintenance teams, took off for New Delhi to fly Indian troops and equipment to the battle zone. Britain weighed in with Bren and Sten guns, and airlifted 150 tons of arms to India. Canada prepared to ship six transport planes. Australia opened Indian credits for $1,800,000 worth of munitions’.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8b/Carlos_Nehru.jpg/220px-Carlos_Nehru.jpgDeath

Nehru’s health began declining steadily after 1962, and he spent months recuperating in Kashmir through 1963. Some historians attribute this dramatic decline to his surprise and chagrin over the Sino-Indian War, which he perceived as a betrayal of trust. Upon his return from Dehradun on 26 May 1964 he was feeling quite comfortable and went to bed at about 23:30 as usual, he had a restful night till about 06:30 soon after he returned from bathroom, Nehru complained of pain in the back. He spoke to the doctors who attended on him for a brief while and almost immediately Nehru collapsed. He remained unconscious until he died. His death was announced to Lok Sabha at 14:00 local time on 27 May 1964 (same day); cause of death is believed to be heart attack (dissecting aneurysm of the aorta). Draped in the Indian national Tri-colour flag the body of Jawaharlal Nehru was placed for public viewing. “Raghupati Raghava Rajaram” was chanted as the body was placed on the platform. On 28 May, Nehru was cremated in accordance with Hindu rites at the Shantivan on the banks of the Yamuna River, witnessed by many hundreds of thousands of mourners who had flocked into the streets of Delhi and the cremation grounds.

Nehru, the man and politician made such a powerful imprint on India that his death on 27 May 1964, left India with no clear political heir to his leadership (although his daughter was widely expected to succeed him before she turned it down in favour of Shastri). Indian newspapers repeated Nehru’s own words of the time of Gandhi’s assassination: “The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere.

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