Jawaharlal Nehru (जवाहरलाल नेहरू) (November 14, 1889 - May 27, 1964), also called Pandit ('Teacher') Nehru, was the leader of the (moderately) socialist wing of the Indian National Congress during and after India's struggle for independence from the British Empire. He became the first Prime Minister of India at independence on August 15, 1947, holding the office until his death.
The son of prominent Congress leader Motilal Nehru, Nehru returned from education in England at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge to practice law before following his father into politics. Nehru was married to Kamala Kaul in 1916. At the time of his wedding on 8 February 1916, Jawaharlal was twenty-six, a British educated Barrister, but curiously his was not a love marriage. The bride, Kamala Kaul, a girl of barely seventeen-pretty, slim and tender-was choosen by his parents, Kamala came of a well-known Kashmiri Kaul family of Delhi doing business. Jawaharlal was domineering; Kamala quiet and unobtrusive. She could produce little impact on her petulant husband. In the second year of the marriage, Kamala gave birth to her only child.
Kamala gave birth to Indira Priyadarshini in 1917. Politically, Nehru gradually emerged as a protege of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi entering the first rank in Indian nationalist politics as president of Congress (an annual post) for the first time in 1929. Nehru spent most of these years in prison writing books and letters; he lost his father and wife while incarcerated. Kamala Nehru was in suffering from tuberculosis and breathed her last in Switzerland
Imprisoned for 32 months after the Quit India movement of 1942, Nehru formed the country's first Indian government in July 1946 in the face of mounting opposition from the All-India Muslim League, whose campaign for a separate state led to the creation of a separate Pakistan in 1947.
Nehru's only rival as Mahatma Gandhi's successor in Congress was Sardar Vallabhai Patel. Considerably to the right of Nehru politically, the authoritarian Patel was popular within Congress - nine out of fifteen provincial councils voted for Patel on the one occasion he went up against Nehru - but was no match for him electorally. Gandhiji himself preferred Nehru in spite of being ideologically much closer to Patel.
Nehru served as the prime minister of India for these 18 years consecutively. Nehru died in 1964. India's heavy defeat in the war with China, which dimmed his public stature slightly, affected him greatly both physically and mentally. He died shortly thereafter, having achieved much, yet still - according to a quote from Robert Frost found at his bedside on the morning of his death - feeling he had so much more left to do.
Nehru was fascinated by the Soviet Union's Piatiletka or 5-year plan, though he wrote after a visit there in the 1920s that 'the human costs are unpayable'. A personal believer in the 'mixed economy' of Harold Laski and greatly influenced by the Fabians while in England, he wished the Indian Economy to be capitalist, but with the state occupying the 'commanding heights' of the economy.
Some critics of Indian economic development believe that the economy of the 1980s 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.
It is important to understand, however, that in setting a path for the economic policy after Independence he was choosing from a menu of options considerably more limited than those available today, and was following as far as possible the conventional wisdom among academic economists at the time. It is also worth noting that India's trend growth rate in GDP stayed above 4% for all the years that Nehru was PM; while not as good as the rates achieved in South Korea or Taiwan, this was better than most countries in the developing world at that point. It was not until 1966 that the economy slowed down.
Nehru's economic policies are often 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.) Nehru is often criticised by ill-informed commentators of the present-day, when transfers of capital are unhindered, easily channelled by recipient nations, and even encouraged for their high returns in emerging markets.
The Soviet Union was the only major power at the time to aid India in its attempts at developing independent capabilities in many spheres of heavy industry, engineering, and cutting-edge technologies. This, combined with Nehru's preference for state-led development, led to much suspicion of India's non-aligned foreign policy position.
Nehru was instrumental in creating a country with enduring and progressive civic institutions, a free press, a strong socially responsive judiciary, a commitment to civilian oversight of the army and overall egalitarianism.
Nehru's economic policies are credited with setting up India's infrastructure for scientific education, the nuclear programme, the space programme, the extensive Indian Railways network, and the pharmaceutical, steel and other heavy industries; though the same policies are criticised for correspondingly constraining private enterprise in those areas.
It is to his credit that he did not abuse his considerable power and constantly attempted to deepen the democratic nature and institutions of the newly independent India, even to the extent of constraining his own freedom of action. He is often, however, accused of holding on to the prime ministership for nearly 18 years (4 terms) ended only by his death (there are no term limits in the Indian Constitution). Detractors accuse him of trying to hold on to power until his daughter Indira was ready to take over.
Nehru's personal charisma extended to the world stage where, because of his leadership, India was often seen to be "punching above its weight." As prime minister, he pursued a foreign policy of non-alignment and became a founder and leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. He pursued India's claim to Kashmir in the face of Pakistani opposition, resulting in the First Kashmir War (1947-49). Military defeat at the hands of the People's Republic of China in the Sino-Indian War in October 1962 brought strong criticism of military unpreparedness and Nehru's policy of friendship with India's mighty neighbour.
During the Cold War on November 27, 1946, Prime Minister 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 humanity from the ultimate disaster."
Though professing distaste for armed force, in his administration the authoritarian Home Minister, Sardar Patel used India's army to secure the territories of Hyderabad in September 1948; later Portuguese-ruled Goa in December 1961 was incorporated into India through a bloodless military takeover.
Books written by Nehru
Nehru's letters to his daughter Indira during successive periods of imprisonment in 1930-34 were later compiled into a book called Glimpses of World History. His 1942-45 incarceration produced The Discovery of India, a history of India with digressions; subsequently, he wrote An Autobiography, which was a New York Times best seller. All of Nehru's writings bear the imprint of his intellectualism and sensitivity as well as of his scientific temperament, though his language increasingly sounds dated to modern ears. In a review of The Glimpses of World History, Tom Wrightington wrote that Indians should learn English not from Macaulay or Edward Gibbon, but from Nehru.
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.
His only daughter, Indira Gandhi, went on to become Prime Minister following the death of Nehru's immediate successor Lal Bahadur Shastri in January 1966. In an interview to an American magazine, "My legacy to India", Nehru had said, "is, hopefully, 400 million people capable of governing themselves".
Trivia about Nehru
- Nehru had a golden bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi and a hand of Abraham Lincoln on his office desk.
- in 1938, a letter was published anonymously in the official journal of the Congress party warning partymembers against Nehru, then party president, declaring that he had 'tendencies towards autocracy' and needed to be firmly checked. It emerged many years later that the letter was written by Nehru himself.
- Nehru popularized the Nehru jacket.
- Nehru's birthday, November 14, is celebrated as Children's day in India, in memory of his love of children.
- Shashi Tharoor (November 2003) Nehru: A BiographyArcade Books. ISBN 155970697X
- Jawaharlal Nehru (Edited by S. Gopal and Uma Iyengar) (July 2003) The Essential Writings of Jawaharlal Nehru Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195653246
- Autobiography, Toward freedom Oxford University Press
- A Tryst With Destiny historic speech made by Jawaharlal Nehru on August 14th, 1947. (http://sources.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Tryst_With_Destiny) Speech in the Constituent Assembly of India, on the eve of India's Independence