Jawaharlal Nehru, India's Second Prime Minister

Jawaharlal Nehru, India's Second Prime Minister

Jawaharlal Nehru, India's Second Prime Minister

Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) was an Indian nationalist who campaigned for Indian Independence. Under the tutelage of Gandhi, Nehru became India’s first Prime Minister after India gained independence in 1947. Nehru held this position until his death in 1964.

Early Life

On November 14, 1889, a wealthy Kashmiri Pandit lawyer named Motilal Nehru and his wife Swaruprani Thussu welcomed their first baby, a boy they named Jawaharlal. The family lived in Allahabad, at that time in the Northwest Provinces of British India (now Uttar Pradesh). Little Nehru was soon joined by two sisters, both of whom also had illustrious careers.

Jawaharlal Nehru was educated at home, first by governesses and then by private tutors. He particularly excelled at science, while taking very little interest in religion. Nehru became an Indian nationalist quite early in life, and was thrilled by Japan's victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1905). That event prompted him to dream "of Indian freedom and Asiatic freedom from the thraldom of Europe."

Education

At the age of 16, Nehru went to England to study at the prestigious Harrow School (Winston Churchill's alma mater). Two years later, in 1907, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where in 1910 he took an honors degree in natural sciences - botany, chemistry and geology. The young Indian nationalist also dabbled in history, literature and politics, as well as Keynesian economics, during his university days.

In October of 1910, Nehru joined the Inner Temple in London to study law, at the insistence of his father. Jawaharlal Nehru was admitted to the bar in 1912; he was determined to take the Indian Civil Service exam and use his education to fight against discriminatory British colonial laws and policies.

By the time he returned to India, he had also been exposed to socialist ideas, which were popular amongst the intellectual class in Britain at the time. Socialism would become one of the foundation stones of modern India under Nehru.

Politics and the Independence Struggle

In the 1930s, Nehru was working with Subhas Chandra Bose but split with Bose when he sought Axis help to drive the British from India.

In 1942, Nehru followed Gandhi’s ‘Quit India Movement’. Nehru had misgivings as he supported the British War effort against Nazi Germany, but was torn as he also wanted the British to leave India. In 1942, he was arrested for protesting and was put in jail until 1945.

On release from jail, Nehru found the Muslim league of Jinnah were much stronger and although opposed to partition, under pressure from Lord Mountbatten he came to view it as an inevitability. Nehru was initially opposed to the plan to separate India into two. However, under pressure from Mountbatten (the last British Viceroy), Nehru reluctantly agreed.

On gaining independence on August 15th, 1947, Nehru became India’s first Prime Minister. On the eve of India’s independence, Nehru gave a speech to Congress and the nation – known as “Tryst with Destiny”

Nehru's Vision for India

During the early 1930s, Nehru emerged as the political leader of the Indian National Congress, while Gandhi moved into a more spiritual role. Nehru drafted a set of core principles for India between 1929 and 1931, called the "Fundamental Rights and Economic Policy," which was adopted by the All India Congress Committee. Among the rights enumerated were freedom of expression, freedom of religion, protection of regional cultures and languages, abolition of untouchable status, socialism, and the right to vote.

As a result, Nehru is often called the "Architect of Modern India." He fought hardest for the inclusion of socialism, which many other Congress members opposed. During the later 1930s and early 1940s, Nehru also had almost sole responsibility for drafting the foreign policy of a future Indian nation-state.

On the domestic front, Nehru was in the tradition of Fabian socialism – seeking to use state intervention to redistribute resources throughout society. He was sympathetic to aspects of Marxism, though critical of how it was implemented in countries like the Soviet Union. His government set up a system of universal education for children. This considerable achievement is marked annually on his birthdate (14 Nov) with a special anniversary – Bal Divas ‘Children’s day’

Nehru was a lifelong liberal and pursued policies to improve the welfare of the ‘untouchable class’ and Indian Women. Nehru was committed to secular ideas – once described as a Hindu agnostic. He was proud of India’s Hindu heritage but also feared religion could become ossified and hold back India’s development.

Nehru's Death

Nehru's party was reelected to the majority in 1962, but with smaller percentages of the vote than before. His health began to fail, and he spent a number of months in Kashmir during 1963 and 1964, trying to recuperate.

Nehru returned to Delhi in May of 1964, where he suffered a stroke and then a heart attack on the morning of May 27. He died that afternoon.