Date of Birth : Nov 14, 1889
Date of Death : May 27, 1964
Place of Birth : Uttar Pradesh
Political party : Indian National Congress
Took Office : Aug 15, 1947
Left Office : May 27, 1964
Successor : Lal Bahadur Shastri
Jawaharlal Nehru also called Pandit Nehru, was an important leader of the Indian Independence Movement and the Indian National Congress, and became the first Prime Minister of India when India won its independence on August 15, 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru was born on November 14, 1889, to Swaroop Rani, the wife of Motilal Nehru, a wealthy Allahabad based barrister and political leader himself. He was Nehru’s only son amongst three younger daughters. The Nehru family is of Kashmiri lineage and of the Saraswat Brahmin caste. Educated in the finest Indian schools of the time, Nehru returned from education in England at Harrow, Trinity College, Cambridge and the Inner Temple to practice law before following his father into politics. By his parents’ arrangement, Nehru married Kamala Nehru, then seventeen in 1916. At the time of his wedding on 8 February 1916, Jawaharlal was twenty-six, a British-educated barrister. Kamala came from a well-known business family of Kashmiris in Delhi. His father Motilal Nehru was already a prominent figure in the Indian National Congress and had served as its president. Nehru did not share Motilal’s moderate-liberal line.
He began to draw 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 for active but peaceful, civil disobedience. Gandhi himself saw promise and India’s future in the young Jawaharl Nehru. The Nehru family transformed their lifestyle according to Gandhi’s teachings. Jawaharlal and Motilal Nehru abandoned western clothes and tastes for expensive possessions and pastimes, and adopted Hindi, or Hindustani as their common language of use. Young Jawaharlal now wore a khadi kurta and a Gandhi cap, all white – the new uniform of the Indian nationalist. Nehru was first arrested by the British during the Non-Cooperation Movement (1920-1922), but released after a few months. After Gandhi suspended civil resistance in 1922 as a result of the killing of policemen in Chauri Chaura, thousands of Congressmen were disillusioned.
When Gandhi opposed participation in the newly created legislative councils, many followed leaders like Chittaranjan Das and Motilal Nehru to form the Swaraj Party, which advocated entry but only to sabotage government from within, as a tool to extracting concessions from the British to ensure stability. But Nehru did not join his father and stayed with Gandhi and the Congress. Jawaharlal was elected President of the Allahabad Municipal Corporation in 1924, and served for two years as the city’s chief executive. Upon his release from prison in 1924, Gandhi succeeded in re-uniting the Congress Party and increasing discipline of Congressmen by expanding activities for social reform and the alleviation of India’s poor. From 1926 to 1928, Jawaharlal served as the General Secretary of the All India Congress Committee, an important step in his rise to Congress national leadership. With the Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928, led by the rising nationalist leader Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Congress was back in the business of revolution. In 1928-29, the Congress’s annual session under President Motilal Nehru considered the next step. Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose backed a call for full political independence, 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 British did not respond. When the Congress convened its session in 1929, Gandhi backed the young Jawaharlal for the Congress presidency. Although confessing embarrassment at his hurried ascent, President Nehru declared India’s independence on January 26, 1930 in Lahore, raised free India’s flag in a large public convention on the banks of the Ravi and inaugurated the struggle. Nehru was arrested in 1930, and during the Salt Satyagraha of 1931 for a number of years. The revolt was an astounding national success. Millions of Indians had participated, and the British were ultimately forced to acknowledge that there was a need for major political reform. When the British promulgated the Government of India Act 1935, the Congress Party decided to contest elections. Nehru stayed out of the elections, but campaigned vigorously nationwide for the party.
The Congress formed governments in almost every province, 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. Nehru was elected again to the Congress Presidency in 1936, and again in 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. But the effort was strongly criticized by major Congress leaders, including Gandhi and Sardar Patel, though for different reasons. Nehru transformed his position to commit that the resolution did not in fact bind Congress to socialism, and that the Congress Party’s main goal was independence, not socialism. However, Nehru had grown politically closer to Congress socialists like Jaya Prakash Narayan, Narendra Dev and the liberal-socialist Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. During this period, Nehru also wrote his autobiography in which he vividly describes his struggle for (political) freedom, noting that ‘This book was written entirely in prison’.
It is a very readable and honest account that contains many anecdotes and insights in the political and social circumstances of pre-war India. When World War II broke out, Nehru and the Congress condemned the unilateral decision made by the British viceroy to enter India, but were divided as to what to do about it. Nehru and Patel made an offer of cooperation with the British, promising whole-hearted support if after the war, the British would deliver India’s political freedom. This was opposed by Gandhi, but marked the first occasion when Nehru, and indeed 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 the British ruled out any political reform. The Congress Party ordered all of its elected members in the Central and provincial assemblies to resign, and another national struggle seemed inevitable. Nehru and Maulana Azad were lukewarm to Gandhi’s call for revolt, still considering it a good possibility that the British would ultimately concede independence for Indian support. Although many other Indian political parties opposed the call, Gandhi and Sardar Patel convinced Nehru and Azad, and the entire Indian National Congress to a final showdown with the British Empire.
The Quit India Movement was launched on August 13, 1942. The Congress made an open call for complete independence immediately. Only an independent India would 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. Gandhi and the entire Congress Working Committee were immediately arrested. 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 firings. Upon the end of the war, Nehru and the Congress leadership were released. The new Labour Party government of Clement Attlee in the United Kingdom was preparing plans for India’s independence. Imprisoned for a total of over 13 years, he was President of the Congress in 1929, 1936, 1937 and 1947.
He became the Vice President of the Interim Government on September 2, 1946 and later the Prime Minister of Independent India on August 15, 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru served as India’s Prime Minister from August 15, 1947, to May 27, 1964 – the day he died. Nehru loved children; therefore his birthday is observed as Children’s Day. For children, he was Chacha (uncle) Nehru. In 1946, Nehru had moved into the former residence of the British Commander in Chief of the Indian Army on York Road, in Delhi. With independence, this became the official residence of the PM, and after Nehru’s death in 1964, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. Nehru lived alone initially, but was later joined by his daughter Indira Gandhi, who despite having a young family of her own felt a need to take care of her father’s personal needs. Over the years she became his virtual chief of staff – managing his schedule and appointments, instructing the staff of the residence and often accompanying him on foreign trips and in meetings with world leaders. 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 also sired the most powerful political dynasty in India’s modern history. His daughter Indira Gandhi would become Prime Minister within two years of his death in 1966, and would serve for 15 years and 3 terms.
His grandson Rajiv Gandhi would hold that office from 1984 to 1989. Today, Rajiv’s widow Sonia Gandhi is Congress President.
– 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’.
– His 1942-1945 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.
– 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.