Today, celebrating “Children’s Day” on his birthday, India takes a glance back to look at the incredible life of Jawaharlal Nehru.
Jawaharlal Nehru known as the architect of modern India brought change that revolutionized India into a progressive, scientific nation. He was an Indian anti-colonial nationalist, secular humanist, and social democrat. and author who was a central figure in India during the middle of the 20th century. Nehru was a principal leader of the Indian nationalist movement in the 1930s and 1940s who would go on to be appointed as the first prime minister of India, serving as the country’s prime minister for 16 years. He promoted parliamentary democracy, secularism, and science and technology during the 1950s, strongly influencing India’s turn of the road as a modern nation.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s Early Life and Family
Jawaharlal Nehru was born on 14 November 1889 in Allahabad in British India. His father, Motilal Nehru (1861–1931), was a self-made man, and a rich barrister belonging to the Kashmiri Pandit community. He had performed twice as president of the Indian National Congress, in 1919 and 1928. Nehru’s mother, Swarup Rani Thussu (1868–1938), came from a well-known Kashmiri Brahmin family settled in Lahore, and she was Motilal’s second wife, his first having died in childbirth. Jawaharlal was the eldest of three children.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s elder sister, Vijaya Lakshmi, later became the first female president of the United Nations General Assembly. His youngest sister, Krishna Hutheesing, became a noted writer and authored several books on her brother.
Jawaharlal Nehru married Kamala Nehru (1 August 1899 – 28 February 1936) who was an Indian independence activist. His daughter Indira Gandhi was the first female Prime Minister of India and she had two sons, Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. She was assassinated in 1984 and her son, Rajiv Gandhi went on to become the prime minister of India, and was assassinated in 1991. Rajiv Gandhi’s wife Sonia Gandhi became the President of the Indian National Congress. They have two children Rahul Gandhi, who was the President of the Indian National Congress, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Jawaharlal Nehru had expressed his childhood as a “sheltered and uneventful one”. He grew up in an atmosphere of privilege in affluent homes in a magnificent estate called the Anand Bhavan. His father had him educated at home by private governesses and tutors.
He suddenly became interested in science and theosophy Irish theosophist Ferdinand T. Brooks who was a family friend, Annie Besant later introduced him to the Theosophical Society at age thirteen.
Nehru’s theosophical interests influenced him to study the Buddhist and Hindu scriptures. According to B. R. Nanda, these scriptures were Nehru’s “first introduction to the religious and cultural heritage of India and provided Nehru the initial impulse for his long intellectual quest which culminated…in The Discovery of India.”
Youth Movement and Studies
Jawaharlal Nehru became an intense nationalist during his youth. The Second Boer War and the Russo-Japanese War intensified his feelings. Of the latter he wrote, The Japanese victories had stirred up my enthusiasm. …Nationalistic ideas filled my mind. … I mused of Indian freedom and Asiatic freedom from the thraldom of Europe.”
In 1905, when he had begun his institutional schooling at Harrow, a leading school in England where he was nicknamed “Joe”. He considered Garibaldi a revolutionary hero. He wrote: “Visions of similar deeds in India came before, of my gallant fight for Indian freedom and in my mind, India and Italy got strangely mixed together.”
Higher Studies -Graduation
Nehru went to Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1907 and graduated with an honours degree in natural science in 1910. He studied politics, economics, history, and literature. The famous works of Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, Lowes Dickinson, and Meredith Townsend molded much of his political and economic thinking.
After completing his degree in 1910, Nehru moved to London and studied law at the Inner Temple Inn. During this time, he continued to study Fabian Society scholars including Beatrice Webb. He was called to the Bar in 1912.
Law and Advocate Practice
After returning to India in August 1912, Jawaharlal Nehru enrolled as an advocate of the Allahabad High Court and tried to settle down as a barrister. But, unlike his father, he had very little interest in his profession and relished neither the practice of law nor the company of lawyers: “Decidedly the atmosphere was not intellectually stimulating and a sense of the utter insipidity of life grew upon me.” His involvement in nationalist politics was to slowly replace his legal practice.
Freedom Fighter Bringing Global Attention to the Fight for Indian Independence
Nehru played a huge role in the development of the internationalist outlook of the Indian independence struggle. He sought foreign backers for India and forged ties with movements for independence and democracy around the world.
In 1927, Congress was invited to attend the congress of oppressed nationalities in Brussels, Belgium. The meeting was called to coordinate and plan a common struggle against imperialism. Nehru represented India and was elected to the Executive Council of the League against Imperialism which was born at this meeting.
Nehru increasingly witnessed the struggle for independence from British imperialism as a multinational effort by the various colonies and dominions of the Empire; some of his statements on this matter, however, were analyzed as a conspiracy with the rise of Hitler and his espoused intentions.
On charges of these allegations, Nehru responded: “We have sympathy for the national movement of Arabs in Palestine because it is directed against British Imperialism. Our sympathies cannot be weakened by the fact that the national movement coincides with Hitler’s interests.”
Nehru’s Big Role in the Noncooperation Movement: 1920–1927
Nehru’s first big national involvement came at the onset of the noncooperation movement in 1920 ushering in the movement in the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh). Nehru was arrested on charges of anti-governmental activities in 1921 and released a few months later. In the rift that formed within the Congress following Gandhi’s sudden halting of the non-Cooperation movement after the Chauri Chaura incident, Nehru remained loyal to him and did not join the Swaraj Party created by his father Motilal Nehru and CR Das. In 1923, Nehru was imprisoned in Nabha, a princely state, when he went there to see the struggle that was being waged by the Sikhs against the unscrupulous Mahants.
Nehru in Congress Dominated Indian politics During the 1930s
Nehru and Congress dominated Indian politics during the 1930s. Nehru promoted the idea of the secular nation-state in the 1937 Indian provincial elections, allowing the Congress to sweep the elections, … Nehru became the interim prime minister of India in September 1946, with the League joining his government
He joined the Indian National Congress, advanced to become the leader of a progressive faction during the 1920s, and eventually of the Congress, obtaining the support of Mahatma Gandhi who was to designate Nehru as his political heir.
As Congress president in 1929, Nehru called for complete independence from the British Raj. Nehru encouraged the idea of the secular nation-state in the 1937 Indian local elections, allowing Congress to sweep the elections, and to form governments in several provinces.
In September 1939, the Congress ministries resigned to protest Viceroy Lord Linlithgow’s decision to join the war without consulting them. After the All India Congress Committee’s Quit India Resolution of 8 August 1942, senior Congress leaders were imprisoned and for a time the organization was crushed.
Nehru, who had reluctantly heeded Gandhi’s call for immediate independence, and had desired instead to support the Allied war effort during World War II, came out of a lengthy prison term to a much altered political landscape. The Muslim League, under Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had come to dominate Muslim politics in the interim.
In the 1946 provincial elections, Congress won the elections but the League won all the seats reserved for Muslims, which the British interpreted to be a clear mandate for Pakistan in some form. Nehru became the interim prime minister of India in September 1946, with the League joining his government with some reluctance in October 1946.
Nehru was imprisoned Nine Times
Jawaharlal Nehru was imprisoned nine times during the freedom struggle and was in jail for 3259 days. He served the first term of 88 days at Lucknow District Jail From December 6, 1921, to March 3, 1922. A maximum of 1041 days were spent when he was imprisoned for the ninth time at Almora Jail from June 10, 1945, to June 15, 1945. He endured it silently, writing his famous books in prison, and never once wrote to the British begging for his freedom.
Nehru’s Famous “Tryst with Destiny”
Upon India’s independence on 15 August 1947, Nehru gave a critically acclaimed speech, “Tryst with Destiny”; he was sworn in as the Dominion of India’s prime minister and raised the Indian flag at the Red Fort in Delhi.
On 26 January 1950, when India became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations, Nehru became the Republic of India’s first prime minister. He launched an ambitious program of economic, social, and political reforms. Nehru promoted a pluralistic multi-party democracy. In foreign affairs, he played a leading role in establishing the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of nations that did not seek membership in the two main ideological blocs of the 1950s.
Under Nehru’s leadership, Congress emerged as a “catch-all” party, dominating national and state-level politics and winning elections in 1951, 1957, and 1962. Nehru remained popular with the Indian people despite India’s defeat in the Sino-Indian War of 1962 for which he was widely blamed. His premiership spanning 16 years, and 286 days—which is, to date, the longest in India—ended with his death on 27 May 1964 due to a heart attack.
His birthday is celebrated as Children’s Day in India. His legacy has been hotly debated by Indians and international observers alike. In the years following his death, Nehru was hailed as the “architect of Modern India”, who secured democracy in India and prevented an ethnic civil war.