Mountain View

Overview

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (14 November 1889 – 27 May 1964) was an Indian independence activist, and subsequently, the first Prime Minister of India and a central figure in Indian politics before and after independence. He emerged as an eminent leader of the Indian independence movement and served India as Prime Minister from its establishment as an independent nation in 1947 until his death in 1964. He has been described by the Amar Chitra Katha as the architect of India.¬†He was also known as Pandit Nehru due to his roots with the Kashmiri Pandit community while Indian children knew him as Chacha Nehru (Hindi, lit., “Uncle 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 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 severely compromised in the aftermath of the Quit India Movement in 1942, which saw the British effectively crush the Congress as a political organisation. Nehru, who had reluctantly heeded Gandhi’s call for immediate independence, for he had desired to support the Allied war effort during World War II, came out of a lengthy prison term to a much altered political landscape. The Muslim League under his old Congress colleague and now opponent, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had come to dominate Muslim politics in India. Negotiations between Congress and Muslim League 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 colony to a republic, while nurturing a plural, multi-party system. In foreign policy, he took a leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement 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 Bal Diwas (Children’s Day).

Vision and governing policies

According to Bhikhu Parekh, Nehru can be regarded as the founder of the modern Indian state. Parekh attributes this to the national philosophy for India that Nehru formulated. For Nehru, modernization was the national philosophy, with seven goals: national unity, parliamentary democracy, industrialization, socialism, development of the scientific temper, and non-alignment. In Parekh’s opinion, the philosophy and the policies that resulted from that benefited a large section of society such as the public sector workers, industrial houses, middle and upper peasantry. It failed, however, to benefit the urban and rural poor, the unemployed and the Hindu fundamentalists.

Economic policies

Nehru meeting with Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Deutsche Bank chairman Hermann Josef Abs during a state visit to West Germany in June 1956.

Nehru implemented policies based on import substitution industrialization and advocated a mixed economy where the government controlled public sector would co-exist with the private sector. He believed that the establishment of basic and heavy industry was fundamental to the development and modernisation of the Indian economy. The government, therefore, directed investment primarily into key public sector industries Рsteel, iron, coal, and power Рpromoting their development with subsidies and protectionist policies.

The policy of non-alignment during the Cold War meant that Nehru received financial and technical support from both power blocs in building India’s industrial base from scratch.¬†Steel mill complexes were built at Bokaro and Rourkela with assistance from the Soviet Union and West Germany. There was substantial industrial development.¬†Industry grew 7.0 percent annually between 1950 and 1965 – almost trebling industrial output and making India the world’s seventh largest industrial country.¬†Nehru’s critics, however, contended that India’s import substitution industrialisation, which was continued long after the Nehru era, weakened the international competitiveness of its manufacturing industries.¬†India’s share of world trade fell from 1.4 per cent in 1951-1960 to 0.5 per cent over 1981-1990.¬†On the other hand, India’s export performance is argued to have actually showed sustained improvement over the period. The volume of exports went up at an annual rate of 2.9 per cent in 1951-1960 to 7.6 per cent in 1971-1980.

GDP and GNP grew 3.9 and 4.0 per cent annually between 1950-51 and 1964-65.¬†It was a radical break from the British colonial period.¬†But, in comparison to other industrial powers in Europe and East Asia, the growth rates were considered anemic at best.¬†India lagged behind the miracle economies (Japan, West Germany, France, and Italy).¬†State planning, controls, and regulations were argued to have impaired economic growth.¬†While India’s economy grew faster than both the United Kingdom and the United States – low initial income and rapid population increase – meant that growth was inadequate for any sort of catch-up with rich income nations.

Nehru’s preference for big state controlled enterprises created a complex system of quantitative regulations, quotas and tariffs, industrial licenses and a host of other controls. This system, known in India as Permit Raj, was responsible for economic inefficiencies that stifled entrepreneurship and checked economic growth for decades until the liberalization policies initiated by Congress government in 1991 under P. V. Narasimha Rao.

Agriculture policies

Under Nehru’s leadership, the government attempted to develop India quickly by embarking on agrarian reform and rapid industrialisation. A successful land reform was introduced that abolished giant landholdings, but efforts to redistribute land by placing limits on landownership failed. Attempts to introduce large-scale cooperative farming were frustrated by landowning rural elites, who formed the core of the powerful right-wing of the Congress and had considerable political support in opposing the efforts of Nehru. Agricultural production expanded until the early 1960s, as additional land was brought under cultivation and some irrigation projects began to have an effect. The establishment of agricultural universities, modelled after land-grant colleges in the United States, contributed to the development of the economy. These universities worked with high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice, initially developed in Mexico and the Philippines, that in the 1960s began the Green Revolution, an effort to diversify and increase crop production. At the same time a series of failed monsoons would cause serious food shortages despite the steady progress and increase in agricultural production.

Social policies

Education

Jawaharlal Nehru was a passionate advocate of education for India’s children and youth, believing it essential for India’s future progress. His government oversaw the establishment of many institutions of higher learning, including the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Management and the National Institutes of Technology.¬†Nehru also outlined a commitment in his five-year plans to guarantee free and compulsory primary education to all of India’s children. For this purpose, Nehru oversaw the creation of mass village enrollment programs and the construction of thousands of schools. Nehru also launched initiatives such as the provision of free milk and meals to children to fight malnutrition. Adult education centers, vocational and technical schools were also organised for adults, especially in the rural areas.

Hindu Marriage law

Under Nehru, the Indian Parliament enacted many changes to Hindu law to criminalize caste discrimination and increase the legal rights and social freedoms of women.

Nehru with schoolchildren at the Durgapur Steel Plant. Durgapur, Rourkela and Bhilai were three integrated steel plants set up under India’s Second Five-Year Plan in the late 1950s.

Nehru specifically wrote Article 44 of the Indian constitution under the Directive Principles of State Policy which states¬†: ‘The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.’ The article has formed the basis of secularism in India.¬†However, Nehru has been criticized for the inconsistent application of the law. Most notably, Nehru allowed Muslims to keep their personal law in matters relating to marriage and inheritance. Also in the small state of Goa, a civil code based on the old Portuguese Family Laws was allowed to continue, and Muslim Personal law was prohibited by Nehru. This was the result of the annexation of Goa in 1961 by India, when Nehru promised the people that their laws would be left intact. This has led to accusations of selective secularism.

While Nehru exempted Muslim law from legislation and they remained unreformed, he did pass the Special Marriage Act in 1954. The idea behind this act was to give everyone in India the ability to marry outside the personal law under a civil marriage. As usual the law applied to all of India, except Jammu and Kashmir (again leading to accusations of selective secularism). In many respects, the act was almost identical to the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, which gives some idea as to how secularised the law regarding Hindus had become. The Special Marriage Act allowed Muslims to marry under it and thereby retain the protections, generally beneficial to Muslim women, that could not be found in the personal law. Under the act polygamy was illegal, and inheritance and succession would be governed by the Indian Succession Act, rather than the respective Muslim Personal Law. Divorce also would be governed by the secular law, and maintenance of a divorced wife would be along the lines set down in the civil law.

Reservations for socially oppressed communities

A system of reservations in government services and educational institutions was created to eradicate the social inequalities and disadvantages faced by peoples of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Nehru also championed secularism and religious harmony, increasing the representation of minorities in government.

Language policy

Nehru led the faction of the Congress party which promoted Hindi as the lingua-franca of the Indian nation. After an exhaustive and divisive debate with the non-Hindi speakers, Hindi was adopted as the official language of India in 1950 with English continuing as an associate official language for a period of fifteen years, after which Hindi would become the sole official language. Efforts by the Indian Government to make Hindi the sole official language after 1965 were not acceptable to many non-Hindi Indian states, who wanted the continued use of English. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a descendant of Dravidar Kazhagam, led the opposition to Hindi.¬†To allay their fears, Nehru enacted the Official Languages Act in 1963 to ensure the continuing use of English beyond 1965. The text of the Act did not satisfy the DMK and increased their scepticism that his assurances might not be honoured by future administrations.The Official Languages Act was eventually amended in 1967 by the Congress Government headed by Indira Gandhi to guarantee the indefinite use of Hindi and English as official languages. This effectively ensured the current “virtual indefinite policy of bilingualism” of the Indian Republic.

Foreign policy

Throughout his long tenure as the prime minister, Nehru also held the portfolio of External Affairs. As such, he has been credited as the sole architect of Indian foreign policy by many including Rajendra prasad Dubey. His idealistic approach focused on giving India a leadership position in nonalignment. He sought to build support among the newly independent nations of Asia and Africa in opposition to the two hostile superpowers contesting the Cold War. The war with China in 1962 caused a radical shift. After that he became more realistic and defense-minded.

The Commonwealth

Queen Elizabeth II with Nehru and other Commonwealth leaders, taken at the 1960 Commonwealth Conference, Windsor Castle

After independence, Nehru wanted to maintain good relations with Britain and other British commonwealth countries and signed the London Declaration, under which India agreed that, when it becomes a republic in January 1950, it would join the Commonwealth of Nations and accept the British monarch as a “symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth.”¬†The other nations of the Commonwealth recognised India’s continuing membership of the association. The reaction back home was favourable; only the far-left and the far-right criticised Nehru’s decision.

Non-aligned movement

Nehru with North Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi; 1954

Nehru with Gamal Abdel Nasser and Josip Broz Tito in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1961

Nehru with Otto Grotewohl, the Prime Minister of East Germany

On the international scene, Nehru was an opponent of military action and of military alliances. He was a strong supporter of the United Nations, except when it tried to resolve the Kashmir question. He pioneered the policy of non-alignment and co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement of nations professing neutrality between the rival blocs of nations led by the US and the USSR. Recognising the People’s Republic of China soon after its founding (while most of the Western bloc continued relations with Taiwan), Nehru argued for its inclusion in the United Nations and refused to brand the Chinese as the aggressors in their conflict with Korea.¬†He sought to establish warm and friendly relations with China in 1950, and hoped to act as an intermediary to bridge the gulf and tensions between the communist states and the Western bloc.

Nehru was a key organizer of the Bandung Conference of April 1955, which brought 29 newly independent nations together from Asia and Africa, and was designed to galvanize the nonalignment movement under Nehru’s leadership. He envisioned it as his key leadership opportunity on the world stage, where he would bring together the emerging nations.¬†Instead, he was upstaged by the Chinese representative, Zhou Enlai, who downplayed revolutionary communism and acknowledged the right of all nations to choose their own economic and political systems, including even capitalism. Nehru and his top foreign-policy aide V.K. Krishna Menon by contrast gained an international reputation as rude and undiplomatic. Zhou said, “I’ve never met a more arrogant man than Mr. Nehru.” A senior Indian foreign office official characterize Menon as “an outstanding world statesman but the world’s worst diplomat,” adding that he was often “overbearing, churlish and vindictive”

Defence and nuclear policy

Nehru, while adverse to war, led the preparations and actual campaigns against Pakistan with regard to Kashmir. He used overwhelming military force to seize Hyderabad In 1948 and Goa In 1961. He was keenly sensitive regarding the geostrategic and military strengths and weaknesses of India in 1947. While laying the foundation stone of the National Defence Academy in 1949, he stated: “We, who for generations had talked about and attempted in everything a peaceful way and practised non-violence, should now be, in a sense, glorifying our army, navy and air force. It means a lot. Though it is odd, yet it simply reflects the oddness of life. Though life is logical, we have to face all contingencies, and unless we are prepared to face them, we will go under. There was no greater prince of peace and apostle of non-violence than Mahatma Gandhi…but yet, he said it was better to take the sword than to surrender, fail or run away. We cannot live carefree assuming that we are safe. Human nature is such. We cannot take the risks and risk our hard-won freedom. We have to be prepared with all modern defense methods and a well-equipped army, navy and air force.”

Nehru envisioned the development of nuclear weapons and established the Atomic Energy Commission of India in 1948.¬†Nehru also called Dr. Homi J. Bhabha, a nuclear physicist, who was entrusted with complete authority over all nuclear-related affairs and programs and answered only to Nehru himself. Indian nuclear policy was set by unwritten personal understanding between Nehru and Bhabha.¬†Nehru famously said to Bhabha, “Professor Bhabha take care of Physics, leave international relation to me”.¬†From the outset in 1948, Nehru had high ambition to develop this program to stand against the industrialised states, and to establish a nuclear weapons capability as part of India’s regional superiority to other South-Asian states, most particularly Pakistan.¬†Nehru also told Bhabha, and later it was told by Bhabha to Raja Rammanna, that: “We must have the capability. We should first prove ourselves and then talk of Gandhi, non-violence and a world without nuclear weapons.

Nehru was hailed by many for working to defuse global tensions and the threat of nuclear weapons after the Korean War (1950-1953).¬†He commissioned the first study of the effects of nuclear explosions on human health, and campaigned ceaselessly for the abolition of what he called “these frightful engines of destruction”. He also had pragmatic reasons for promoting de-nuclearisation, fearing that a nuclear arms race would lead to over-militarisation that would be unaffordable for developing countries such as his own.

Defending Kashmir

At Lord Mountbatten’s urging Nehru had promised in 1948 to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir under the auspices of the UN.¬†Kashmir was a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, the two having gone to war with each other over the state in 1947. However, as Pakistan failed to pull back troops in accordance with the UN resolution, and as Nehru grew increasingly wary of the UN, he declined to hold a plebiscite in 1953. His policies on Kashmir and the integration of the state into India were frequently defended in front of the United Nations by his aide, V. K. Krishna Menon, who earned a reputation in India for his passionate speeches.

Nehru orchestrated the ouster and arrest of Sheikh Abdullah, the then prime minister of Kashmir in 1953, whom he had previously supported but now suspected of harbouring separatist ambitions; Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad replaced him.

In 1957, Menon was instructed to deliver an unprecedented eight-hour speech defending India’s stand on Kashmir; to date, the speech is the longest ever delivered in the United Nations Security Council, covering five hours of the 762nd meeting on 23 January, and two hours and forty-eight minutes on the 24th, reportedly concluding with Menon’s collapse on the Security Council floor.¬†During the filibuster, Nehru moved swiftly and successfully to consolidate Indian power in Kashmir (then under great unrest). Menon’s passionate defence of Indian sovereignty in Kashmir enlarged his base of support in India, and led to the Indian press temporarily dubbing him the “Hero of Kashmir”. Nehru was then at the peak of his popularity in India; the only (minor) criticism came from the far-right.

China

Nehru and Mao Zedong in Beijing, China, October 1954

In 1954, Nehru signed with China the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, known in India as the Panchsheel (from the Sanskrit words, panch: five, sheel: virtues), a set of principles to govern relations between the two states. Their first formal codification in treaty form was in an agreement between China and India in 1954 which recognized Chinese sovereignty over Tibet.¬†They were enunciated in the preamble to the “Agreement (with exchange of notes) on trade and intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India”, which was signed at Peking on 29 April 1954. Negotiations took place in Delhi from December 1953 to April 1954 between the Delegation of the PRC Government and the Delegation of the Indian Government on the relations between the two countries with respect to the disputed territories of Aksai Chin and South Tibet. By 1957, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai had also succeeded in persuading Nehru to accept the Chinese position on Tibet, thus depriving Tibet of a possible ally, and of the possibility of receiving military aid from India.¬†The treaty was disregarded in the 1960s, but in the 1970s, the Five Principles again came to be seen as important in China-India relations, and more generally as norms of relations between states. They became widely recognised and accepted throughout the region during the premiership of Indira Gandhi and the 3-year rule of the Janata Party (1977-1980).¬†Although the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence were the basis of the 1954 Sino-Indian border treaty, in later years, Nehru’s foreign policy suffered from increasing Chinese assertiveness over border disputes and Nehru’s decision to grant asylum to the 14th Dalai Lama.

United States

Nehru receiving US President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Parliament House, 1959

In 1956, Nehru had criticised the joint invasion of the Suez Canal by the British, French and Israelis. The role of Nehru, both as Indian Prime Minister and a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement was significant; he tried to be even-handed between the two sides, while denouncing Eden and co-sponsors of the invasion vigorously. Nehru had a powerful ally in the US president Dwight Eisenhower who, if relatively silent publicly, went to the extent of using America’s clout in the International Monetary Fund to make Britain and France back down.During the Suez crisis, Nehru’s right-hand man, Menon attempted to persuade a recalcitrant Gamal Nasser to compromise with the West, and was instrumental in moving Western powers towards an awareness that Nasser might prove willing to compromise.

The US had hoped to court Nehru after its intervention in favour of Nasser during the Suez crisis. However, Cold War suspicions and the American distrust of Nehruvian socialism cooled relations between India and the US, which suspected Nehru of tacitly supporting the Soviet Union. Nehru maintained good relations with Britain even after the Suez Crisis. Nehru accepted the arbitration of the UK and World Bank, signing the Indus Waters Treaty in 1960 with Pakistani ruler Ayub Khan to resolve long-standing disputes about sharing the resources of the major rivers of the Punjab region.

Goa

After years of failed negotiations, Nehru authorised the Indian Army to invade Portuguese-controlled Goa in 1961, and then he formally annexed it to India. It increased his popularity in India, but he was criticised by the communist opposition in India for the use of military force.

Dag Hammarskjld, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that while Nehru was superior from a moral point of view, Zhou Enlai was more skilled in realpolitik.

Sino-Indian War of 1962

Prime Minister Nehru talks with United Nations General Assembly President Romulo (October 1949)

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.¬†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 V. K. Krishna Menon and sought US military aid. Nehru’s improved relations with the US 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 the US 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.

Map showing disputed territories of India

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’.

Assassination attempts and security

There were four known assassination attempts on Nehru. The first attempt on his life was during partition in 1947 while he was visiting North-West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan) in a car. The second one was by a knife-wielding rickshaw-puller near Nagpur in 1955. The third one happened in Bombay in 1956. The fourth one was a failed bombing attempt on train tracks in Maharashtra in 1961. Despite threats to his life, Nehru despised having too much security around him and did not like to disrupt traffic due to his movement.

Death

If any people choose to think of me, then I should like them to say: “This was the man who, with all his mind and heart, loved India and the Indian people. And they, in turn, were indulgent to him and gave him of their love most abundantly and extravagantly.”

– Jawaharlal Nehru

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 until 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.¬†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, witnessed by 1.5 million mourners who had flocked into the streets of Delhi and the cremation grounds.

Nehru’s death left India with no clear political heir to his leadership (later Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded him as the Prime Minister). The death was announced to the Indian parliament in words similar to Nehru’s own at the time of Gandhi’s assassination: “The light is out.”

Key cabinet members and associates

Nehru served as the prime minister for eighteen years. During his tenure he had many ministers in his cabinet who were heavy weights in their own right. Key members from his first cabinet include Vallabhbhai Patel who oversaw the integration of princely states in the Indian union but was also his greatest rival in the Congress party, and B.R. Ambedkar, the law minister in the interim cabinet who also chaired the Constitution Drafting Committee.

Vallabhbhai Patel

Vallabhbhai Patel served as home minister in the interim government. He was instrumental in getting the Congress party working committee to vote for partition. He is also credited with integrating peacefully most of the princely states of India. Patel was a strong rival to Nehru but died in 1950, leaving Nehru as the unchallenged leader of India until his own death in 1964.

Jagjivan Ram

Jagjivan Ram became the youngest minister in Nehru’s Interim government of India a Labour Minister and also a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, where, as a member from the dalit caste, he ensured that social justice was enshrined in the Constitution. He went on to serve as a minister with various portfolios during Nehru’s tenure and in Shastri and Indira Gandhi governments.

Govind Vallabh Pant

Govind Ballabh Pant (1887-1961) was a key figure in the Indian independence movement and later a pivotal figure in the politics of UP and later in the Indian Government.Pant served in Nehru’s cabinet as Union Home Minister from 1955 until Pant’s death in 1961.¬†As Home Minister, his chief achievement was the re-organisation of States along linguistic lines. He was also responsible for the establishment of Hindi as an official language of the central government and a few states.¬†During his tenure as the Home Minister, Pant was awarded the Bharat Ratna.

CD Deshmukh

C.D. Deshmukh was one of 5 members of the Planning Commission when it was constituted in 1950 by a cabinet resolution.¬†Deshmukh succeeded John Mathai as the Union Finance Minister in 1950 after Mathai resigned in protest over the transfer of certain powers to the Planning Commission.¬†As Finance Minister, Deshmukh continued to remain a member of the Planning Commission.¬†Deshmukh’s tenure – during which he delivered six budgets and an interim budget¬†– is noted for the effective management of the Indian economy and its steady growth which saw the economy recover from the impacts of the events of the 1940s.

During Deshmukh’s tenure the State Bank of India was formed in 1955 through the nationalisation and amalgamation of the Imperial Bank with several smaller banks.¬†The nationalisation of insurance companies and the formation of the Life Insurance Corporation of India was accomplished by him through the Life Insurance Corporation of India Act, 1956.

Deshmukh resigned over the proposal of the Government of India to move a bill in Parliament bifurcating Bombay State into Gujarat and Maharashtra while designating the city of Bombay a Union Territory.

Krishna Menon

Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon (1896-1974) was a close associate of Nehru, and had been described by some as the second most powerful man in India during Nehru’s tenure as prime minister.Under Nehru, he served as India’s high commissioner to UK, UN ambassador, and union minister of defence. He was forced to resign after the debacle of 1962 China war.

Indira Gandhi

In the years following independence, Nehru frequently turned to his daughter Indira to look after him and manage his personal affairs. Indira moved into Nehru’s official residence to attend to him and became his constant companion in his travels across India and the world. She would virtually become Nehru’s chief of staff.¬†Indira was elected as Congress party President in 1959 which aroused criticism for alleged nepotism, although actually Nehru had disapproved of her election, partly because he considered that it smacked of “dynasticism”; he said, indeed it was “wholly undemocratic and an undesirable thing”, and refused her a position in his cabinet.¬†Indira herself was at loggerheads with her father over policy; most notably, she used his oft-stated personal deference to the Congress Working Committee to push through the dismissal of the Communist Party of India government in the state of Kerala, over his own objections.¬†Nehru began to be frequently embarrassed by her ruthlessness and disregard for parliamentary tradition, and was “hurt” by what he saw as an assertiveness with no purpose other than to stake out an identity independent of her father.

Personal life

Prime Minister Nehru with Edwina Mountbatten in 1951


Nehru married Kamala Kaul in 1916. Their only daughter Indira was born a year later in 1917. Kamala gave birth to a boy in November 1924, but he lived for only a week.[217] Indira married Feroze Gandhi in 1942. They had two sons – Rajiv (b. 1944) and Sanjay (b. 1946).

After Kamala’s death in 1936, Nehru was rumoured to have relationships with several women. These included Shraddha Mata,¬†Padmaja Naidu ¬†and Edwina Mountbatten.¬†Edwina’s daughter Pamela acknowledged Nehru’s platonic relationship with Edwina.¬†Nehru sent an Indian Navy frigate to the sea burial of Edwina Mountbatten in 1960.

British historian Philip Ziegler, with access to the private letters and diaries, concludes the relationship:

was to endure until Edwina Mountbatten’s death: intensely loving, romantic, trusting, generous, idealistic, even spiritual. If there was any physical element it can only have been of minor importance to either party. Mountbatten’s reaction was one of pleasure….He liked and admired Nehru, it was useful to him that the Prime Minister should find such attractions in the Governor-General’s home, it was agreeable to find Edwina almost permanently in good temper: the advantages of the alliance were obvious.

Nehru’s sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit told Pupul Jayakar, Indira Gandhi’s friend and biographer, that Padmaja Naidu and Nehru lived together for many years.

During most of Nehru’s tenure as the prime minister, Indira served her father unofficially as a personal assistant.¬†Towards the end of the 1950s, Indira Gandhi served as the President of the Congress. In that capacity, she was instrumental in getting the Communist led Kerala State Government dismissed in 1959.

Religion and personal beliefs

Nehru distributes sweets among children at Nongpoh, Meghalaya

Described as Hindu Agnostic,¬†and styling himself as a “scientific humanist“,¬†Nehru thought that religious taboos were preventing India from going forward and adapting to modern conditions: “No country or people who are slaves to dogma and dogmatic mentality can progress, and unhappily our country and people have become extraordinarily dogmatic and little-minded.”

The spectacle of what is called religion, or at any rate organised religion, in India and elsewhere, has filled me with horror and I have frequently condemned it and wished to make a clean sweep of it. Almost always it seemed to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition, exploitation and the preservation of vested interests.

Toward Freedom: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru (1936); pp. 240-241.

In his autobiography, he analysed Christianity and Islam, and their impact on India. He wanted to model India as a secular country; his secularist policies remain a subject of debate.

Legacy

]Nehru was a great man… Nehru gave to Indians an image of themselves that I don’t think others might have succeeded in doing. – Sir Isaiah Berlin

Bust of Nehru at Aldwych, London

Statue of Nehru at Park Street, Kolkata

As India’s first Prime minister and external affairs minister, Jawaharlal Nehru played a major role in shaping modern India’s government and political culture along with sound foreign policy. He is praised for creating a system providing universal primary education, reaching children in the farthest corners of rural India. Nehru’s education policy is also credited for the development of world-class educational institutions such as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences,¬†Indian Institutes of Technology,¬†and the Indian Institutes of Management.

In addition, Nehru’s stance as an unfailing nationalist led him to also implement policies which stressed commonality among Indians while still appreciating regional diversities. This proved particularly important as post-Independence differences surfaced since British withdrawal from the subcontinent prompted regional leaders to no longer relate to one another as allies against a common adversary. While differences of culture and, especially, language threatened the unity of the new nation, Nehru established programs such as the National Book Trust and the National Literary Academy which promoted the translation of regional literatures between languages and also organised the transfer of materials between regions. In pursuit of a single, unified India, Nehru warned, “Integrate or perish.”

Historian Ramachandra Guha writes, ” Nehru retired in 1958 he would be remembered as not just India’s best prime minister, but as one of the great statesmen of the modern world.”¬†Nehru, thus, left behind a disputed legacy, being “either adored or reviled for India’s progress or lack of it”.

Commemoration

Jawaharlal Nehru on a 1989 USSR commemorative stamp

In his lifetime, Jawaharlal Nehru enjoyed an iconic status in India and was widely admired across the world for his idealism and statesmanship.¬†His birthday, 14 November is celebrated in India as Bal Divas (“Children’s Day“) in recognition of his lifelong passion and work for the welfare, education and development of children and young people. Children across India remember him as Chacha Nehru (Uncle Nehru).¬†Nehru remains a popular symbol of the Congress Party which frequently celebrates his memory. Congress leaders and activists often emulate his style of clothing, especially the Gandhi cap and the “Nehru jacket“, and his mannerisms.¬†Nehru’s ideals and policies continue to shape the Congress Party’s manifesto and core political philosophy.¬†An emotional attachment to his legacy was instrumental in the rise of his daughter Indira to leadership of the Congress Party and the national government.

In 2012, Nehru was ranked number 4 in Outlook‘s poll of The Greatest Indian.

Nehru’s personal preference for the sherwani ensured that it continues to be considered formal wear in North India today; aside from lending his name to a kind of cap, the Nehru jacket is named in his honour because of his preference for that style.

Numerous public institutions and memorials across India are dedicated to Nehru’s memory. The Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi is among the most prestigious universities in India. The Jawaharlal Nehru Port near the city of Mumbai is a modern port and dock designed to handle a huge cargo and traffic load. Nehru’s residence in Delhi is preserved as the Teen Murti House now has Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, and one of five Nehru Planetariums that were set in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Allahabad and Pune. The complex also houses the offices of the ‘Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund’, established in 1964 under the Chairmanship of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, then President of India. The foundation also gives away the prestigious ‘Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fellowship’, established in 1968.¬†The Nehru family homes at Anand Bhavan and Swaraj Bhavan are also preserved to commemorate Nehru and his family’s legacy.

In popular culture

Many documentaries about Nehru’s life have been produced. He has also been portrayed in fictionalised films. The canonical performance is probably that of Roshan Seth, who played him three times: in Richard Attenborough‘s 1982 film Gandhi, Shyam Benegal‘s 1988 television series Bharat Ek Khoj, based on Nehru’s The Discovery of India, and in a 2007 TV film entitled The Last Days of the Raj.¬†In Ketan Mehta‘s film Sardar,¬†Nehru was portrayed by Benjamin Gilani. Girish Karnad‘s historical play, Tughlaq (1962) is an allegory about the Nehruvian era. It was staged by Ebrahim Alkazi with National School of Drama Repertory at Purana Qila, Delhi in the 1970s and later at the Festival of India, London in 1982.

Writings

Nehru was a prolific writer in English and wrote a number of books, such as The Discovery of India, Glimpses of World History, and his autobiography, Toward Freedom. He had written 30 letters to his daughter Indira Gandhi, when she was 10 years old and in a boarding school in Mussoorie, teaching about natural history and the story of civilisations. The collection of these letters was later published as a book Letters from a Father to His Daughter.

Awards

In 1955, Nehru was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour.¬†President Rajendra Prasad awarded him the honour without taking advice from the Prime Minister as would be the normal constitutional procedure.