Saturday, July 14, 2018

Japan, Fabians, and Nehru’s Economic Ideas

Nehru in London, 1911
(From the Selected Works of Nehru)
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru leaned towards socialism in hope to solve India’s dire poverty situation. His premiership saw government taking the commanding heights of the the economy through series of five year plans to promote industrialization. This belief towards state ownership, planning, and socialism traced its roots from his years studying in England.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, born in November 14, 1889, came from a Kashmiri Brahmin family. Brahmins were a caste in Hindu society famous for being professionals. His father Motilal Nehru made a name for himself as a shrewd lawyer. In the midst of his Brahmin background, Nehru’s upbringing coursed towards becoming an intellectual. The young Jawaharlal Nehru received western style education under the supervision of several British tutor growing up more British than Indian.

Nonetheless, Indian nationalism laid strong within Jawaharlal Nehru. Though his father raised his children with western style education, he supported Indian independence. Even though the young Nehru studied western subjects under foreign tutors, his father hired for them Indian teachers to teach him the Hindu language and script. His father also instilled to his children the importance of nationalism and their future contributions to the country.
Thus, as a young man sharing his father’s desire for an Indian nation, he curiously looked for a path what he thought would help India develop. He soon had the time to seek the answer when he sailed for England in 1905 to pursue his higher education.
Motilal Nehru

Only 15, Nehru arrived in England to study in Harrow to further his education. His stay in England opened his eyes to the fact that the secret to the British Empire’s success laid in its industries. Months before, he had already witnessed the success of an Asian country against the western Russian in a war. Japan’s success in the Russo-Japanese War sparked an interest within Nehru about the East Asian country. He wondered how an Asian country like Japan defeated a prominent western country. And so, Nehru read books about Japan’s history and culture. He especially grew fond of the works of Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yakumo). He also found that Japan’s rise came also his policy of industrialization and its famous slogan Fukoku Kyohei (strong army, strong country). He became further convince of industrialization’s contribution in creating a great power when he finally saw with his own eyes India’s colonial master’s industrial might.
Japan's industrialization allowed the East Asian country to develop its military capability and preserve its indepdence
But as he saw industrialization as a means to gain power for a country, he also witnessed the pit falls. The income inequality and abuse of workers exposed Nehru to the negative side of industrialization. This made him think of ways to avoid such condition befalling India if it were to industrialize.

He found a solution in form of socialism. Britain industrialization gave rise to the socialist movements. Nehru admired in particular the socialist ideals of the writer and playwright George Bernard Shaw. On October, 1907, Nehru attended one of Shaw’s lectures titled “Socialism and the University Man.” Shaw interested Nehru and the young Indian began to read much of his works, learning about the inequalities in opportunities and in fruits of labor that the workers suffered from the capitalist. Nehru became so influenced by Shaw that in 1948 he wrote the man a letter, stating:
"…like many of my generation, we have grown up in company with your writings and books. I suppose a part of myself, such as I am today, has been moulded by that reading.”

Shaw was also once a member of the most prominent socialist group in Britain, the Fabian Society. Nehru began also to take an interest in the society during his study for the bar in 1910 at Inner Temple. His fascination of socialism, capitalism, and industrialization led to his decision to seek courses in economics, along with his study of law, in the London School of Economics. Though he never fully took the courses due to difficult circumstances, it showed the interest of the young Nehru to understand the workings of an economy.

In 1912, Nehru returned to India. His learnings from his childhood and England made deep imprint to the future Prime Minister of India. He would continue to develop his economic ideas until he finally put his thoughts into practice during his time as Premier of India from 1948 until 1942.

See also:

Nehru, Jawaharlal. Toward Freedom: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru. New York, New York: The John Day Company, 1941.

Gopal, S. (ed.). Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru V. 1. New Delhi, B.R. Publishing Corporation, 1988.

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