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Jawaharlal Nehru biography

Jawaharlal Nehru

(1889-1964)

biography

       Jawaharlal Nehru was born to Swarup Rani and on 14 November 1889 at Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. Their ancestors were Kashmiri Pandits who had migrated to the plains during the Mughal rule. Contrary to the general impression, Jawaharlal was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father was only a vakil, neither a bar-at-law nor a law graduate, and the family Jawaharlal Nehrulived in a dark and dingy house in the heart of Allahabad city, adjacent to the red light area. However, Motilal proved to be a quick-witted and an astute lawyer. His practice soared, and he became a very successful lawyer. The family first moved to the Civil Lines area, inhabited mostly by the Europeans. Soon Motilal bought a big colonial bungalow at Church Road, Allahabad, with an acre of land surrounding it. From Nishat Manzil its name was changed to Anand Bhawan. The house was extensively renovated and in time, became one of the most renowned houses in the country, because it played an important role during the freedom movement. Jawaharlal was eleven years old when the family moved to this house. Motilal’s monthly income was now in five figures and he could afford to live in a lavish, western style. He had become an admirer of Western culture from his college days at the Muir Central College, where the principal and several teachers were British; His admiration for Western culture was fortified by his visit to Europe in 1899 and again in 1900. The family’s life-style became completely westernized though Swarup Rani zealously guarded a separate ‘Indian kitchen’ with Brahmin cooks. A daughter, Sarup (later Vijay Lakshmi Pandit) was born in 1900. A European governess was employed for her and a European tutor for Jawaharlal, because Motilal did not want to send his son to an Indian school to be ‘polluted’ in the company of riff-raff. Thus, in early life, Jawahar led a lonely life without the company of his peers. His tutor F.T. Brooks, a young man of twenty-six, left certain indelible imprints on Jawaharlal’s mind. Brooks was a ­believer in Theosophy and he initiated his ‘shy and intellectually receptive pupil’ in to the Theosophical Society. Annie Besant, its president, came all the way from Adyar to initiate the young boy. Brook also inspired Jawaharlal to acquire a taste for serious reading, which never left him. It was Brooks who created in Jawaharlal an interest in science. A small laboratory was set up in one of the rooms where simple experiments were carried out in elementary physics and chemistry by the tutor-pupil duo. Brooks left after three years. Motilal now wanted his son to be educated in a British public school. The family, Motilal, Swamp Rani, Jawaharlal, and four-year-old sister sailed for England on 13 May 1905. With the help of some English friends, Motilal succeeded in getting his son admitted to Harrow, a prestigious public school. Jawaharlal spent two uneventful years at Harrow. From Harrow he went to Cambridge University, joined Trinity College and studied the natural sciences, chemistry, botany and geology. However, he read widely and developed interest in other subjects like English literature, history, politics and economics. He took his degree in 1910, a second class honours in the natural sciences tripos. The same year, he joined the Inner Temple to read for the Bar as advised by his father. Here, he lived like the son of a rich father. Motilal gave into all the monetary demands made by his son. Nehru frequented the night Clubs of London and its theatres. In his Autobiography Jawaharlal is Silent about his relations with women which should have come naturally to a handsome, rich young man in the free society of London. It was two years of frivolous life for Jawaharlal. He never visited the India House, which had become the abode of freedom fighters like SavarkarMadam Cama and others. He was called to the Bar in 1912 and sailed back to India, carrying several English traits in his character. Facts about nehru 

               On his return, Jawaharlal joined the chamber of Tej Bahadur Sapru, one of the prominent lawyers of Allahabad. But Tej Bahadur found him wanting in the necessary qualities required for becoming a successful lawyer. He was not a good speaker and lacked the vibrant personality of his father. My profession did not fill me with a wholehearted enthusiasm," Nehru writes in his Autobiography. Gradually, he was drawn to politics, aggressive politics. He joined the two Home Rule Leagues started by Annie Besant and Tilak, but worked especially for the former, who had started taking an ever increasing part in Indian politics. This was in 1916, the year which was important for Jawaharlal for another reason. He was married on 8 February 1916 at Delhi to Kamala Kaul who was barely seventeen, while Jawaharlal was twenty-seven. Jawaharlal had had no say in the choice of the girl and as a consequence, Jawaharlal was not, it seems, emotionally attached to his wife. After marriage, the couple went to Kashmir, along with some other members of the Nehru clan. Jawaharlal went on a long hiking trip, with one of his cousins, in the mountains up the Ladakh road. Kamala waited for her husband at Srinagar. When the couple returned to Allahabad, Kamala was a physical and mental wreck. Her father in-law, who dabbled in homoeopathy, diagnosed her illness as nervousness and hysteria. She never fully recovered. She was a misfit in a Westernized home, coming from a traditional middleclass Hindu family. Kamala gave birth to a girl, afterwards named Indira Priyadarshini.
Jawaharlal never practiced seriously at the Bar. Exciting and tragic things were happening elsewhere in the country. The most tragic was what happened at Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar in April 1919. After the relaxation of marshal law in Punjab, many Congress leaders descended on Amritsar to get details about the tragedy. Among those leaders were Jawaharlal’s father Motilal, C.R. Das, Gandhi, Malaviya and several others. Jawaharlal also joined them and worked as assistant to C.R. Das. Jawaharlal started getting involved in the political goings-on. The emergence of Gandhi in 1918 (Champaran campaign) and later as a guiding spirit of the Non-Cooperation movement (1920-22) attracted Nehru and he became the follower of this queer and saintly leader of the Congress. He joined the Congress party and became a serious worker. He found the work much more exhilarating than working at the Bar. Though Gandhi could not get freedom in one year as promised by him in 1920, he had transformed the Congress party from an elite body into a mass movement. Nehru took active part in the Non-Cooperation movement. He went to villages with other Congress workers and learnt the first lesson of public speaking. By now Motilal had also joined the Congress and was constantly in touch with Gandhi. Later that year, the Prince of Wales visited India. The Congress party boycotted and staged demonstrations against the Royal visit. The government responded by arresting Congress workers. Among the thousands arrested were Motilal and Jawaharlal. They were arrested on 6 December 1921 at Anand Bhawan and sentenced to six months imprisonment. Jawaharlal was, however, released after three months. This was his first imprisonment. Several more were to follow, nine in all. He was arrested again after six weeks for picketing shops selling foreign goods and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison. The prison for people like Nehru and Gandhi and his close associates, was quite different from those of ‘dangerous’ freedom fighters like the Savarkar brothers, Bhai ParmanandBhagat Singh and his comrades and thousands others. The latter were kept in isolation on a killer diet. Many of them died unnoticed in prisons or in the Cellular jail in the Andamans. Those who survived were complete physical and mental wrecks. But the ‘safe’ freedom fighters were treated differently in ‘A’ class prisons. Jail diet for them could be supplemented by home diet including fruits and other nourishing items. They could spend their time doing gardening, reading newspapers and books and even writing books. Nehru, in his Autobiography, has written in several places, that he liked prison life, where he could meditate and indulge in creative activities away from the humdrum of daily routine. The British were quick to realize- and retained that belief - that they had nothing to fear from Congressmen like Gandhi and Nehru and as long as they controlled the Congress they had an unofficial ally. ‘As long as civil disobedience remained non-violent, the Government had little to worry about. Who was hurt by non-cooperation anyway’? Therefore, not much should be read in Jawaharlal’s going to prison.
By this time, it was clear to Motilal that unlike him his son was not going to be a success at the Bar. Motilal let him find his destiny in politics. He himself became a follower of Gandhi; started wearing homespun clothes, relinquishing his western style of life. It did not take much time for Motilal and Jawaharlal to earn name and fame. Gandhi took them under his wings and became not only their political but also family adviser; Jawaharlal started climbing the political ladder. To begin with, he became general secretary of the United Provinces Provincial Congress Committee and conducted the official business, including visits to various places. Later, he became general secretary of the All India Congress Committee. But as the Congress work did not offer him any money, he was unable to support himself and his family – wife and daughter. He was living on the largesse of his rich father. He was distressed. In a state of despondency, he wrote to Gandhi in 1924 about his predicament. In reply, Gandhi wrote a letter to his father and another to Jawaharlal. To Motilal, Gandhi wrote (2 September 1924): This letter like the former is meant to be a plea for Jawaharlal. He is one of the loneliest young men of my acquaintance in India. The idea of your mental desertion of him hurts me. To Jawaharlal, Gandhi wrote (15 September 1924): Shall I try to arrange for some money for you? Why you may not take up remunerative work? After all you must live by the sweat of your brow even though you may be under father’s foot. Will you be correspondent to some newspapers? Or will you take up a professorship. Things did not change. However, Jawaharlal was elected chairman of the Allahabad Municipality in 1923 and he served there for almost two years. In the meanwhile, Motilal, along with C.R. Das, had founded the Swaraj Party, fought the elections, won and entered the Central Legislature. He was elected the leader of the opposition. Motilal had given up much of his law practice but by no means all of it.
Meanwhile, Kamala’s health had begun to deteriorate. Doctors diagnosed her illness as tuberculosis and advised the family to get her treated in Switzerland. In March 1926, Jawaharlal, Kamala and their daughter Indira sailed for Europe. While Kamala battled with her illness in a sanatorium near Geneva, Jawaharlal found time to explore Europe. In February 1927, he attended, as a delegate of the Indian National Congress, the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities at Brussels. There he met leading communists and socialists from various countries. In September 1927, Motilal arrived in Europe. Both father and son went on a tour of Europe staying at the very best hotels. The tour included a trip to the Soviet Union. They stayed there for only four days but it left a lasting impression upon Jawaharlal which came to the fore in the shape of the Five Year Plans when he became the prime minister. Kamala’s health in the meanwhile, had been improving and the couple sailed back for India in December 1927. They had been away from India for nearly two years.
In 1929, Gandhi opened his political cards and showed his preference for Jawaharlal against everyone else. Although he himself and Sardar Patel had got more votes than Jawaharlal had, Gandhi insisted that Jawaharlal be made president of the Congress party for the 1929 session and lead the Congress during the crucial year of 1930. Those who objected to this undemocratic attitude were silenced by Gandhi with the description of qualities which Jawaharlal possessed. ‘Pandit Jawaharlal has everything to recommend him. He has for years discharged, with singular ability and devotion, the once of Secretary of the Congress. He has come in touch with labour and peasantry. His close acquaintance with European politics is a great asset to enabling him to assess others’. After two months, he again wrote in Young India, ‘In bravery he is not to be surpassed. Who can excel him in the love of the country? He is rash and impetuous, say some. This quality is an additional qualification at the present moment. And if he has the dash and the rashness of a Warrior, he has also the prudence of statesman. He is the knight sans peur sans reproche (without fear and without reproach). The nation is safe in his hands’. To Nehru’s detractors in the Congress, Gandhi assured that ‘it would be like having himself in the chair’ _ a revealing statement. Gandhi went even a step further later by nominating Jawaharlal as his political heir, thus eliminating Vallabbhai Patel, who was favoured by more Congressmen, for the race of primacy.
The Congress session of 1929-30 at Lahore proved to be a historic one. January 26 was declared as Independence Day and a pledge to that effect was taken on the banks of the river Ravi and repeated at gatherings throughout the country. The freedom movement had entered a new phase and Jawaharlal had emerged as an important Congress leader next only to Gandhi. During his Congress presidentship several important events were witnessed. Among them were Gandhi’s ‘Salt March’ April 1930) and immediately afterwards, the Civil Disobedience movement. Jawaharlal took part in these political developments (though he was not one of the companions of Gandhi during his march). He was in and out of prison several times during the next five years. Motilal Nehru died on 6 February 1931, at the age of seventy. As long as his father was alive, Jawaharlal was frequently torn between the two dynamic figures of Motilal and Gandhi. Now he was entirely dependent on Gandhi. Not that their relationship was always cordial and smooth. Nehru criticized Gandhi several times for his medieval mindset and out-moded economic ideas. But soon there would be reconciliation and each time the sacrifices were made by Nehru, who knew where his interest lay. ‘His acceptance of Gandhi’s leadership was without reservation. Nehru’s entire political career was built on the basis of that enigmatic relationship between two personalities which apparently had so very little in common. Nehru was (a) man of modern education and culture, endowed with refinement and personal charm. But all the merits and assets might not have raised him to the high pedestal of the ‘Tribune of the People’ and subsequently to political power, but for his mystic and mysterious relations with Gandhi. It can reasonably be doubted if Nehru could become the hero of the Indian nationalism except as the spiritual son of Gandhi’.
Nehru was undergoing one of his imprisonments when he was suddenly released on 4 September 1935 because his wife, Kamala, was seriously ill and was taken to Europe for treatment. Nehru flew and joined his wife who had been admitted in a Sanatorium in Germany. In his absence, Nehru was elected as president of the Congress for the 1936 session. However, Kamala died on 28 February 1936 and Nehru returned to India with her ashes in an urn, which he kept in his room as long as he lived. As president of the Congress party, he sponsored the formation of the Left wing in the Congress which came to be known as the Congress Socialist Party but was careful not to join it formally. That would have annoyed Gandhi. In the 1937 elections to the provincial assemblies, the Congress had won absolute majority in five out of eleven provinces and was the largest single party in three others. Nehru is often blamed for not agreeing to the formation of a coalition government with the Muslim League as agreed upon before the elections. However, there was no such official written agreement. The whole story is based on the ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ supposedly made by the Congress leaders with Khaliquzzaman, a senior Muslim League leader of U.P. It is difficult to prove the authenticity of that statement. Nehru is also blamed for his statement that there are only two parties in the country – the Congress and the British government. After some haggling with the British, the Congress formed ministries in eight provinces and had emerged as a strong contender for the takeover after freedom was granted. However, in September 1939, Gandhi unwisely asked the Congress ministries to resign, because the British authorities did not consult the Indian representatives while dragging India into the war with Germany The Churchill government sent Sir Stafford Cripps (March 1942) to negotiate with the Indian leaders to explore the possibility of participating in the war effort. The negotiations failed and Gandhi launched the Quit India movement in August 1942. The Congress leaders, including Gandhi and Nehru, were arrested. While Gandhi was kept in the Agha Khan Palace near Pune, Nehru was sent to the Ahmednagar Fort. This was his ninth and the longest period of imprisonment. He was released in June 1945. By the time the Congress leaders came out of prison, things had changed. There was no need to continue the freedom struggle. The British were in a hurry to leave India. Though they had won the war, their country had almost been vanquished. Their finest manpower had been decimated, their industry had been crippled, their debt was running into billions and there was a shortage of almost everything in their country. In India, the number of civil servants (the steel frame) was not even one-third of what it was before the war. Above all, they could not depend on the Indian army anymore, with the help of which they had been ruling India. Subhas Chandra Bose, by raising a formidable Indian National Army, had shown that the Indian soldiers could change sides and were no more loyal to the Crown. The British now could not govern India, they had enough problems at home. To wind up the Empire, the British sent the Cabinet Mission in March 1946 to negotiate the final settlement with Indian leaders. After long drawn discussions, two decisions were to be implemented without delay: there would be an Interim Government to run the country till the final handover by the British; and a constituent assembly would draw up the constitution for free India. In September 1946, an Interim Government was formed, headed by Nehru, with an equal number of Congress and Muslim League ministers. But the Muslim League members saw to it that the government did not function properly. Large scale communal riots took place at several places, from Peshawar to Noakhali in east Bengal. The British feared a civil war. To hasten the exit, Wavell was replaced by Lord Mountbatten as the last Viceroy of India. In June 1947, it was decided that the British would hand over power to the Indians on 15 August 1947. It was also decided to partition the country into two dominions _ Hindustan and Pakistan, forming the Muslim majority areas. Nehru became the first prime minister of India on the night of 14-15 August 1947 and a new chapter began in his life. Sardar Patel became the deputy prime minister. By this time, Mountbatten and his wife Edwina had befriended Nehru and some other Congress leaders. Mountbatten was requested to stay on as the first governor-general of independent India.
Independence and the partition of the country created several problems. The most serious one was the arrival of millions of refugees who were forced to leave their hearth and home in Pakistan. It took several years to rehabilitate those unfortunate families, taxing the scanty resources of the government. It is ironic that Nehru did not show any sympathy for the Hindu and Sikh refugees. He was more concerned and active in saving the Muslims in Delhi and surrounding areas. He is reported to have said. ‘I think the major issue in this country today is to solve satisfactorily our own minority problems. What happens in Pakistan is not my primary Concern’. Such views of Nehru brought him in conflict with Sardar Patel who had heartfelt compassion for the refugees and took great pains towards their rehabilitation. Their conflict came into the open at the time of the election of the first president of India. Nehru’s choice was Rajagopalachari, but the overwhelming majority of Congressmen including Patel, supported Rajendra Prasad whom Nehru considered an orthodox Hindu but who had been president of the Constituent Assembly. Rajendra Prasad became the first president of free India. Soon after came another election, that president of the Congress. Nehru’s choice was Kriplani (no friend of Nehru, but ‘lesser evil’) but Patel supported the candidacy of Purushottam Das Tandon, who won, to the extreme discomfiture of Nehru, and whom he had called a symbol of communal and revivalist outlook. Nehru refused to cooperate with Tandon, and after the death of Patel in December 1950, forced him to resign, and he took over the Congress presidentship.
The more serious problem was faced by India in Kashmir, which Nehru did not allow Patel to deal with, though he was in charge of the States Department. Pakistani tribal’s invaded Kashmir in October 1947. Maharaja Hari Singh’s forces could not check their advance. He panicked, and in a hurry, acceded to India on 26 October. While accepting the accession, Governor General Mountbatten stipulated that the Indian government’s acceptance of the Maharajas act of accession was conditional on the will of the people being ascertained as soon as law and order were restored. When the Indian army was advancing to clear the area of invaders, Nehru unwisely, on the advice of the Mountbatten’s, took the matter to the UNO where the matter still stands. In the meantime, Nehru’s government did everything to make the whole world believe that Kashmir was not an integral part of India.
Another problem India faced was the annexation of Tibet by the Chinese in 1950, which had been a buffer state for centuries. Nehru quietly accepted the Chinese act to the surprise of the world. Nehru did not want to displease China and busied himself to emerge as the undisputed leader of the Asian and African countries neglecting the problems, both internal and external, which India faced. Even when important events were taking place in India, Nehru had organized the first Asian Relations Conference in March 1947 in Delhi. But he had yet to as emerge the leader of the developing countries. In 1954, he enunciated the principle of Panchsheel (five principles of peaceful coexistence) in conjunction with the Chinese. Panchsheel became the cornerstone of India’s foreign policy. Soon after, came the Bandung Conference (April 1955) hosted by Indonesia with full cooperation of India, which was attended by twenty-nine countries. He advocated non-alignment, which meant not taking sides in the Cold War, in progress at that time between the two blocs led by Soviet Union and America. Nehru also attended almost every Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference during his seventeen years of prime ministership. Thus, he became an important actor on the international stage bringing laurels for the country and its people, and his image as world leader was recognized by every country. However, in 1962, his image was tarnished when China attacked India, subdued NEFA and almost reached the plains of India. Earlier, China had already annexed Aksai Chin and thousands of square kilometers of area in Ladakh and south of the McMahon Line on the western front. Regarding the China policy, Nehru was guided by two leftists, V.K. Krishna Menon (who had joined Nehru’s cabinet as Defence minister in 1957) and K.M. Panikkar, (who was India’s ambassador in China). Both had sympathy with China and had convinced Nehru that China would never invade India and that there was no need to deploy army on the high mountains facing China where not a blade of grass grew. But the great pragmatist, Sardar Patel, had warned Nehru in a letter from his deathbed (7 November 1950) that, Even though we regard ourselves as friends of China, the Chinese do not regard us as their friends." With uncanny foresight Patel added. In our calculations we shall now have to reckon with Communist China in the north and in the northeast, a Communist China which has definite ambitions and aims and which does not, in any way, seem friendly disposed towards us." Nehru completely ignored Patel’s friendly warning and had to suffer because of this lapse. To add to his agony, none of the non-aligned countries announced their support for India. The Chinese withdrew from Indian soil unilaterally, but left a deep scar on Nehru’s mind. His image as world leader, to which he had devoted much of his time and effort, had been eroded. His health deteriorated, and the end came only after eighteen months.
On the home front, Nehru is justly admired as nation builder. He is credited with the establishment of heavy industry; a chain of national scientific laboratories and strengthening the democratic institutions in India. He also introduced the controversial planned development, which left only a small patch of economy for private enterprise. It was termed as mixed-economy. However, his economic policies did not bear fruit as expected. India remained short of food grain and had to import wheat from U.S.A. The Planning Commission was set up in 1950 and during his life time two Five Year Plans were completed, and the third which was in progress, went awry and was followed by one year plans or no plans. Shortages of consumer goods led to quota and license raj, which inevitably led to corruption. Critics point out that Nehru’s stubborn faith in socialism froze individual entrepreneurship and stunted economic growth, and the nation had to wait for four decades to undo the damage done by Nehruvian economics. As the years rolled by the very foundations on which Nehru’s prestige and reputation rested began to weigh him down. At one time, he had a solution to every difficulty, later he faced difficulty in every solution."
In spite of his failures, Nehru has been recognized by many as a great man of world stature. He was the darling of the masses. At the same time, he was at ease with scientists like Einstein, literary giants like G.B. Shaw, pacifists and philosophers like Bertrand Russell, statesmen like Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy and historians like Arnold Toynbee. His confidence in himself is evident from the fact that he appointed in his cabinet antagonists like B.R. Ambedkar and S.P. Mukherjee. Nehru imparted dignity to the parliamentary proceedings by listening patiently to the opponent’s viewpoint.
As a memento for the coming generations, Nehru has left two of his bestsellers An Autobiography and Discovery of India. His letters to his daughter Indira have also been published in a book titled Glimpses of World History. also read quotes by pandit nehru
When Nehru entered his seventy-fifth year, he had already ruled India for almost seventeen years. Now he was a tired man, his strength was failing, and he retained control more by momentum of the past than by mastery of the present. He died in Delhi on 27 May 1964 and was cremated at the bank of Yamuna in the presence of several heads of states. The place is now called Shantivan. With Nehru’s death an era came to an end.

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