Sunday, July 8, 2018

Who was Jawaharlal Nehru? - Part 2

"We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell."
- Jawaharlal Nehru

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru

In 1947, India declared independence in the midst of bloody sectarian violence between Muslims and Hindus. The country suffered partition into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. The divide enraged Indian nationalists who in January of 1948 assassinated the revered Mahatma Gandhi.

In light of this, the process of nation building and reconciliation went into Nehru’s utmost priority. Secularism became Nehru’s solution for India’s diverse religion. His cosmopolitan upbringing led to his vision of an India open to all religion. Moreover, he saw the freedom of worship as a main tenant in establishing a successful democracy in India.

Part of his secularism led to improvements in Indian society. For example, Indian widows gained same rights as men, such as owning properties. Nehru also sought to improve the social status of those who ranked the lowest within the strict Hindu Caste System, which included the so-called “Untouchables.”

Then, he also addressed the administrative and cultural issue of regional borders. In 1956, the Indian Parliament passed the State Reorganization Act that redrew India’s map. Regions formed based on the language of the region. During its implementation, some province were divided while others increased in size. Under the Act, regional language flourished as it became part of the administration of the region alongside with Hindu and English.

In addition to division, the British also left the country impoverished which Nehru wanted to solve immediately. He then began to realize the policies he saw helped the Soviet Union to become an industrialized nation. He laid the foundations in creating a planned economy for India that gave birth to the notorious license raj – a series of bureaucratic licenses that demonstrated the government’s supervision of the economy. In 1950, Nehru established the Planning Commission that drafted plans for India’s industrialization. This gave way to the inauguration of the 1st Five Year Plan in 1951. Under the Five Year Plan, Indian government invested tremendous amounts of money in developing India’s heavy industry – such as steel and iron.
Jawaharlal Nehru at Rihand Dam
Nehru also launched the Community Development Program aiming to improve the standards of living in the countryside. Though it showed Nehru’s concerns for those who suffered in the countryside, his program met limited success.

In foreign affairs, Nehru played a great role. He took for himself the position of foreign minister and shaped India’s foreign policy for decades to come. During his tenure, he pursued the policy of non-alignment amidst intensifying rivalry between 2 superpowers and their ideology – the United States’ capitalism and Soviet Union’s communism. In Nehru’s view, such competition led to violence and poverty among the population of newly independent countries.
Nehru with US President Dwight D. Eisenhower
In 1954, he promoted the Panchsheel or 5 Principles of Peaceful Co-existence as the cornerstone of his foreign policy. This became embodied with a treaty between India and the People’s Republic of China with regards to Tibet in 1954. On the same year, he also met with 4 other leaders of newly independent countries – Burma, Ceylon, Indonesia, and Pakistan – forming the so-called Colombo Powers.
Nehru with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai
The Colombo Powers decided to gather more support for the non-alignment or neutralist foreign policy movement by organizing the first Asia-Africa Conference of 1955 held in Bandung. In the Bandung Conference, Nehru failed to silence calls for collective defense, which in his view, a means for superpowers to gain influence militarily. Nonetheless, the Bandung Conference led eventually to another conference of neutralist countries in Belgrade in 1961 and the formal establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement or NAM.
Nehru during the Bandung Conference
Nehru’s foreign policy and prestige in the international community also had its pitfalls. Although Nehru presented himself as a peaceful and nonviolent politician, an extension of Gandhi’s non-violence in the international stage, critics called him a hypocrite. In 1947, he waged war against Pakistan to get Kashmir. Then in 1961, he surprised the west with India’s invasion of Portuguese controlled Goa.

Another moment of failure for Nehru’s foreign policy came in 1962. For almost a decade, Nehru fostered a partnership between India and China even saying “Indians and Chinese are brothers.” On that year, however, Nehru felt betrayed as China’s People’s Liberation Army attacked Indian borders to settle a territorial dispute between the 2 countries with force. The unresolved border issues and Nehru’s decision to give refuge to Tibet’s Dalai Lama said to have been the cause of the rift between the 2 countries.

In 1962, Nehru’s health deteriorated, many believed due to his shock and disbelief of the conflict between China and India after fostering with so much effort a partnership between the 2 countries. In 1964, he suffered a heart attack and finally succumbing on May 27, 1964. Indian once again uttered what Nehru said during the death of Gandhi to describe his: “The light is out, and there is darkness everywhere.”

Nehru Legacy

Nehru left a mixed legacy for India. He left an impression in India’s society, economy, politics, and diplomacy that his successors worked on. It dictated India’s history for the next decades after its independence.

For Indian society, Nehru worked to heal the wounds of partition and establish unity among the people after centuries of mistrust and amidst great diversity in language, culture, and religion. He made an effort to create a secular society that welcomed all religions and improve the welfare of India’s many oppressed and marginalized sectors.

Economically, however, Nehru’s records also had mixed blessings as the Soviet’s case. His regime achieved to lay down the ground work for industrialization and development of science and technology without the pains of millions of death as the case of the Soviet Union. But his policy of government interference in the economy left tremendous of amount of debts and budget imbalances. Furthermore, his policy led to a bloated bureaucracy dedicated in monitoring the economy. Government extent of control over businesses led to difficulties in setting up new enterprises. Thus, Nehru’s License Raj led to economic difficulties that prevented to solve India’s acute poverty problem – a desire that first Prime Minister wished to solve.

In foreign policy, Nehru faced difficulties in the last years of his life and premiership. His hope for India-China cooperation failed and culminated in a war in 1962. His image as a peaceful leader tarnished by the west after his invasion of Goa. Even though he faced criticisms, Nehru established India as a leader among neutralist governments. He fought for the right of newly independent countries to be free to establish relations and trade with any country regardless of whether communist or capitalist. His non-alignment policy became the cornerstone of Indian foreign policy for the next decades after his death.
Indira Gandhi with President Richard Nixon
In politics, Nehru’s name gained so much respect and popularity from Indians, that his daughter and grandson, Indira and Rajiv, became Prime Ministers – establishing the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. The Congress Party, Nehru’s party, remained also in power for many years.

In summary, Nehru’s life had been a struggle. He struggled for freedom, for unity, for prosperity, and for true independence. His intentions had been nationalistic, but the result came mixed. Nonetheless, his efforts had been respected by Indians, more than just because he became the first Prime Minister, but he established the foundation from which India progressed after it gained its independence.

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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