Sunday, July 1, 2018

Who was Jawaharlal Nehru? - Part 1

He stood as one of the respected leaders of India. Jawaharlal Nehru fought for independence from the British alongside the Mahatma for decades before turning against his country’s problems, asserting India’s right to choose its own path towards progress.

Early Life

Born in November 14, 1889, Jawaharlal Nehru came from Allahabad, India to a family of Kashmiri Brahmans. His father, Motilal Nehru earned a reputation as a brilliant lawyer and a staunch advocate of Indian independence. Though his father fought for independence, it did not stop the young Jawaharlal Nehru’s upbringing to be heavily influence by British culture. Until the age of 15, Jawaharlal studied under the auspices of English tutors. Even though he also studied Hindi, he grew up more British than Indian.

In 1905, Nehru went abroad to study in Harrow for 2 years. Then, he attended Trinity College in Cambridge for another 3 years before studying in Inner Temple in London to become a barrister. During his time studying in England, he became influence by socialist writing, especially of George Bernard Shaw, which later affected his policies as Prime Minister.

Motilal Nehru
In 1912, he returned to India and began to practice law alongside his father. In 1916, Nehru got married and the relationship bore him a daughter, Indira, who later became Prime Minister of India as well. During his practice of law, he never relished the prospect of staying in the field. His interest laid in politics.

In 1916, in the annual meeting of the Indian National Congress (the Congress Party) in Lucknow, Nehru saw for the first time a rising star in the independence movement of India – Mohandas K. Gandhi – the Mahatma. Nehru found Gandhi’s nonviolent means interesting and attracted him to the Mahatma. And so the relation between the 2 titans of Indian independence movement began.

Nehru the Independence Fighter

In 1919, the independence movement gained momentum as news of the Amritsar Massacre spread far and wide. The killing of hundreds or even thousands of peaceful unarmed Indians during a nonviolent assembly gave impetus for the need of independence. This inspired Nehru to work hard for independence.

With new vigor for his crusade, he toured India to get to know the majority of Indians – the peasants. The conditions and poverty of Indian peasants abhorred him. He listened to the abuses and the hardships of the peasants under British colonial rule. From the scenes he saw and words he heard, he leaned further towards looked back to the socialist principles from his days in England and viewed it as a solution for the ills of the peasants.

In 1921, Nehru received his first ever prison sentence. For the rest of his struggle for Indian independence, Nehru went to prison 9 times. Between 1931 and 1935, he went back and forth to prison due to the Salt March and only free for 6 months. His final and longest incarceration came in 1942 for the Quit India campaign that led him to be imprisoned until June 1945, being in prison during the development of World War II.

He rose to the ranks of the Congress Party, much to the credit of his influential and highly regarded father. He became the Secretary-General of the Congress Party in 1923 until 1925 then again in 1927 until 1929.

In between his 2 terms, in 1926 and 1927, Nehru and his family, to take a respite from their activities, toured Europe. In Brussels, he attended the Congress for Oppressed Nationalities, becoming the Congress Party’s representative. Then he visited Moscow and witnessed the developments, especially in the field of industrialization, of Russia. Though he abhorred Communism’s authoritarian tendencies, he applauded its rapid development of industries and its social welfare system. His trip to the Soviet Union inspired him to imitate the economic policies he saw and implement them in India later on.

Nehru’s trip to the Soviet Union placed him in the center left. Socialist economic policies such as government-led industrialization and economic planning enticed Nehru, he disliked the brutal and undemocratic means of the political aspect of communism. He believed in democracy and secularism, thus his moderate views led him to win the support of Mahatma Gandhi in 1929.

On that year, Nehru became the President of the Congress Party during its annual meeting in Lahore. Nehru received the Mahatma’s support to drive the Indian youth away from the violent and radical Marxist disposition into a more moderate and peaceful means of attaining independence. As the new President of the Congress Party and close follower of Gandhi, Nehru began to call for India’s complete independence and not a status of dominion which would align the country to same situation as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Gandhi making the Salt March
Nehru and Gandhi led the party to further non-violent activism against British colonial rule. In the early 1930’s, the Salt March opposed British monopoly on salt that led Nehru and other Congress Party leaders to jail. In 1935, the Government of India Act passed the House of Commons. The act allowed for provincial legislative elections where the Congress Party won in most of the provinces of India.

World War II, however, limited Nehru, Gandhi, and Congress Party’s activities. They rejected the offer from the British the status of dominion in exchange for their support to fight in the World War. Then they passed the resolution called Quit India. This led to their arrest by the British colonial authorities, only to be released in 1945.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Gandhi
After their release, they worked with the new Viceroy Lord Louis Mountbatten for the independence of India after the new Clement Attlee government in London decided to reduce the size of the Empire due to financial constraints. The issue of partition of India became the hot issue during the transition process. Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League desired a separate state – Pakistan – to prevent a majority rule of Hindus. Gandhi and Nehru tried to prevent this partition, even offering Jinnah the position of first Prime Minister, but to no avail. Secular violence rose and Muslims and Hindus started killing each other by the thousands. Chaos and violence clouded major cities. Partition seemed to be inevitable.

In August 15, 1947, India and Pakistan became independent. During the eve of Independence Day, Nehru made his famous speech – the tryst with destiny.

First Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru

As India’s first Prime Minister, Nehru had a difficult task at hand. He inherited from the British an India deeply divided – filled with anger, hatred, and vengeance. The nation that just recently suffered partition, saw the displacement and mass exodus of 10 million Hindus and Muslims, and the death of millions in the process of migration. Secular violence and mistrust between different ethnic groups, animosity had become one of British India’s legacy and a challenge for the new Prime Minister of India.

Then in 1948, his mentor and father figure, Mahatma Gandhi, fell to an assassin’s bullet due to the partition of India. Nehru described Gandhi’s death: “The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere.” Nehru and other Congress Party leaders then had to face the challenges without the Mahatma.

See also:

"Jawaharlal Nehru." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . (June 3, 2018).  

Moraes, Frank et. al. “Jawaharlal Nehru.” In Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on June 10, 2018. URL:

Allchin, Frank et. al. “India.” In Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on June 10, 2018. URL:

General References:
Sonnad, Subhash. “Nehru, Jawaharlal.” In Encyclopedia of the Developing World. Edited by Thomas Leonard. New York, New York: Routledge, 2006.

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