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Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964
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Jawaharlal Nehru

Nehru in 1947
Prime Minister of the Republic of India
In office
26 January 1950 – 27 May 1964
  • Rajendra Prasad
  • Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
Deputy Vallabhbhai Patel
(until 15 December 1950)
Preceded by post established;

Himself as Prime Minister of the Dominion

Succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri
Prime Minister of the Dominion of India
In office
15 August 1947 – 26 January 1950
Monarch George VI
Governors General
  • Lord Mountbatten
  • C Rajagopalachari
Deputy Vallabhbhai Patel
Preceded by Dominion established
Succeeded by Dominion abolished;

Himself as Prime Minister of the Republic

Vice-President of the Viceroy’s Executive Council
In office
2 September 1946 – 15 August 1947
Monarch George VI
Governors General
  • Earl Wavell
  • Lord Mountbatten
Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha
In office
17 April 1952 – 27 May 1964
Preceded by constiency established
Succeeded by Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
Constituency Phulpur, Uttar Pradesh
Personal details
Born (1889-11-14)14 November 1889
Allahabad, North-Western Provinces, British India
Died 27 May 1964(1964-05-27) (aged 74)
New Delhi, India
Resting place Shantivan
Political party Indian National Congress
Kamala Kaul

(m 1916; died 1936)

Children Indira Gandhi
  • Motilal Nehru (father)
  • Swarup Rani Nehru (mother)
Relatives Nehru–Gandhi family
Alma mater
  • Harrow School
  • Trinity College, Cambridge
  • Inner Temple (Barrister-at-Law)
Awards Bharat Ratna (1955)
This article is part of
a series about

Jawaharlal Nehru

Former Prime Minister of India

Life and events

  • Indian National Congress
  • Champaran Satyagraha
  • Indian independence movement
  • Non-cooperation movement
  • Purna Swaraj
  • Salt March
  • Aundh Experiment
  • Quit India Movement
  • Tryst with Destiny
  • The light has gone out of our lives
  • Constituent Assembly of India
  • Interim Government of India
  • 1950 Cambridge election
  • Liaquat–Nehru Pact
  • Political integration of India
  • International trips by Nehru
  • Non-Aligned Movement
  • First Nehru ministry
  • Second Nehru ministry
  • Third Nehru ministry
  • Fourth Nehru ministry
  • Accession of Jammu and Kashmir
  • Annexation of Junagarh
  • Annexation of Hyderabad
  • Annexation of Goa
  • Annexation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli
  • First Kashmir War
  • Sino-Indian War
  • Death and state funeral of Jawaharlal Nehru


  • Gandhian socialism
  • Scientific temper
  • Secular humanism
  • Secularism


  • An Autobiography
  • Before Freedom: Nehru’s Letters to His Sister 1909–1947
  • The Discovery of India
  • Glimpses of World History
  • Letters from a Father to His Daughter
  • National Herald


  • Theosophy
  • G M Trevelyan
  • Giuseppe Garibaldi
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • Motilal Nehru
  • Hindu agnosticism
  • Socialism


  • Abul Kalam Azad
  • Subhas Chandra Bose
  • V K Krishna Menon
  • Panjabrao Deshmukh
  • Vallabhbhai Patel
  • Jagjivan Ram
  • Morarji Desai
  • Govind Ballabh Pant
  • C D Deshmukh


  • Gandhi cap
  • Nehru jacket
  • Nehru vest
  • Nehru Brigade
  • List of things named after Jawaharlal Nehru
  • Jawaharlal Nehru Award
  • Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship
  • Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya
  • Jawaharlal Nehru University

  • Raj Kaul
  • Gangadhar Nehru
  • Nandlal Nehru
  • Motilal Nehru
  • Swarup Rani Nehru
  • Brijlal Nehru
  • Rameshwari Nehru
  • Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
  • Uma Nehru
  • Krishna Hutheesing
  • Kamala Nehru
  • Indira Gandhi
  • Braj Kumar Nehru
  • Nayantara Sahgal
  • Feroze Gandhi
  • Rajiv Gandhi
  • Sanjay Gandhi
  • Arun Nehru
  • Sonia Gandhi
  • Maneka Gandhi
  • Rahul Gandhi
  • Priyanka Vadra
  • Varun Gandhi
  • Robert Vadra


  • Nelson Mandela
  • Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Places related

  • Anand Bhavan
  • Teen Murti Bhavan
  • Nehru Planetarium
  • Jawahar Planetarium
  • Shantivan
  • Nehru Memorial Museum and Library
  • Nehru: A Contemporary’s Estimate
  • Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Chennai)
  • Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Delhi)
  • Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Kochi)

Gallery: Picture, Sound, Video

  • v
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  • e

Jawaharlal Nehru (/ˈnru, ˈnɛru/; Hindi:  (listen); juh-WAH-hurr-LAHL NE-hǝ-ROO; 14 November 1889 – 27 May 1964) was an Indian anti-colonial nationalist, secular humanist, 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 Upon India’s independence in 1947, he served as the country’s prime minister for 16 years Nehru promoted parliamentary democracy, secularism, and science and technology during the 1950s, powerfully influencing India’s arc as a modern nation In international affairs, he steered India clear of the two blocs of the Cold War A well-regarded author, his books written in prison, such as Letters from a Father to His Daughter (1929), An Autobiography (1936) and The Discovery of India (1946), have been read around the world During his lifetime, the honorific Pandit was commonly applied before his name in India

The son of Motilal Nehru, a prominent lawyer and Indian nationalist, Jawaharlal Nehru was educated in England—at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge, and trained in the law at the Inner Temple He became a barrister, returned to India, enrolled at the Allahabad High Court and gradually began to take an interest in national politics, which eventually became a full-time occupation He joined the Indian National Congress, rose to become the leader of a progressive faction during the 1920s, and eventually of the Congress, receiving 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 and the 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, 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 organisation 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 hesitancy in October 1946

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 embarked on 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, the 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, 286 days—which is, to date, 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

Early life and career (1889–1912)

Birth and family background

Anand Bhawan the Nehru family home in Allahabad

Jawaharlal Nehru was born on 14 November 1889 in Allahabad in British India His father, Motilal Nehru (1861–1931), a self-made wealthy barrister who belonged to the Kashmiri Pandit community, served twice as president of the Indian National Congress, in 1919 and 1928 His mother, Swarup Rani Thussu (1868–1938), who came from a well-known Kashmiri Brahmin family settled in Lahore, was Motilal’s second wife, his first having died in childbirth Jawaharlal was the eldest of three children His 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 with his parents Swarup Rani Nehru (left) and Motilal Nehru in the 1890s

Nehru described his childhood as a “sheltered and uneventful one” He grew up in an atmosphere of privilege at wealthy homes, including a palatial estate called the Anand Bhavan His father had him educated at home by private governesses and tutors Influenced by the Irish theosophist Ferdinand T Brooks’ teaching, Nehru became interested in science and theosophy A family friend, Annie Besant subsequently initiated him into the Theosophical Society at age thirteen However, his interest in theosophy did not prove to be enduring, and he left the society shortly after Brooks departed as his tutor He wrote: “for nearly three years was with me and in many ways, he influenced me greatly”

Nehru’s theosophical interests had induced him to the study of the Buddhist and Hindu scriptures According to B R Nanda, these scriptures were Nehru’s “first introduction to the religious and cultural heritage of   provided Nehru the initial impulse for long intellectual quest which culminated…in The Discovery of India


A young Nehru dressed in a cadet’s uniform at Harrow School in England

Nehru became an ardent nationalist during his youth The Second Boer War and the Russo-Japanese War intensified his feelings Of the latter he wrote, ” Japanese victories stirred up my enthusiasm Nationalistic ideas filled my mind  I mused of Indian freedom and Asiatic freedom from the thraldom of Europe” Later, in 1905, when he had begun his institutional schooling at Harrow, a leading school in England where he was nicknamed “Joe”, G M Trevelyan’s Garibaldi books, which he had received as prizes for academic merit, influenced him greatly He viewed Garibaldi as a revolutionary hero He wrote: “Visions of similar deeds in India came before, of gallant fight for freedom and in my mind, India and Italy got strangely mixed together”


Swarup Rani and Motilal Nehru in England with their children from l to r Krishna (b November 1907), Vijaya Lakshmi (b August 1900) and Jawaharlal

Nehru went to Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1907 and graduated with an honours degree in natural science in 1910 During this period, he studied politics, economics, history and literature with interest The writings of Bernard Shaw, H G Wells, John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, Lowes Dickinson and Meredith Townsend moulded 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

Advocate practice

Jawaharlal Nehru, Barrister-at-Law

After returning to India in August 1912, 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 gradually replace his legal practice

Nationalist movement (1912–1938)

Britain and return to India: 1912–1913

Nehru had developed an interest in Indian politics during his time in Britain as a student and a barrister Within months of his return to India in 1912, Nehru attended an annual session of the Indian National Congress in Patna Congress in 1912 was the party of moderates and elites, and he was disconcerted by what he saw as “very much an English-knowing upper-class affair” Nehru doubted the effectiveness of Congress but agreed to work for the party in support of the Indian civil rights movement led by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa, collecting funds for the movement in 1913 Later, he campaigned against indentured labour and other such discrimination faced by Indians in the British colonies

World War I: 1914–1915

When World War I broke out, sympathy in India was divided Although educated Indians “by and large took a vicarious pleasure” in seeing the British rulers humbled, the ruling upper classes sided with the Allies Nehru confessed he viewed the war with mixed feelings As Frank Moraes writes, “f sympathy was with any country it was with France, whose culture he greatly admired” During the war, Nehru volunteered for the St John Ambulance and worked as one of the organisation’s provincial secretaries Allahabad He also spoke out against the censorship acts passed by the British government in India

Nehru emerged from the war years as a leader whose political views were considered radical Although the political discourse at the time had been dominated by the moderate, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who said that it was “madness to think of independence,” Nehru had spoken, “openly of the politics of non-cooperation, of the need of resigning from honorary positions under the government and of not continuing the futile politics of representation” He ridiculed the Indian Civil Service for supporting British policies He noted someone had once defined the Indian Civil Service, “with which we are unfortunately still afflicted in this country, as neither Indian, nor civil, nor a service” Motilal Nehru, a prominent moderate leader, acknowledged the limits of constitutional agitation, but counselled his son that there was no other “practical alternative” to it Nehru, however, was dissatisfied with the pace of the national movement He became involved with aggressive nationalists leaders demanding Home Rule for Indians

The influence of moderates on Congress’ politics waned after Gokhale died in 1915 Anti-moderate leaders like Annie Besant and Bal Gangadhar Tilak took the opportunity to call for a national movement for Home Rule However, in 1915, the proposal was rejected because of the reluctance of the moderates to commit to such a radical course of action

Home rule movement: 1916–1917

Nehru and Kamala Kaul at their wedding in Delhi, 1916

Nehru in 1919 with wife Kamala and daughter Indira

Nehru married Kamala Kaul in 1916 Their only daughter Indira was born a year later in 1917 Kamala gave birth to a boy in November 1924, but he lived for only a week

Nevertheless, Besant formed a league for advocating Home Rule in 1916 Tilak, after releasing from a term in prison, had formed his own league in April 1916 Nehru joined both leagues, but worked primarily for the former He remarked later that ” had a very powerful influence on me in my childhood   even later when I entered political life her influence continued” Another development that brought about a radical change in Indian politics was the espousal of Hindu-Muslim unity with the Lucknow Pact at the annual meeting of the Congress in December 1916 The pact had been initiated earlier in the year at Allahabad at a meeting of the All India Congress Committee, which was held at the Nehru residence at Anand Bhawan Nehru welcomed and encouraged the rapprochement between the two Indian communities

Several nationalist leaders banded together in 1916 under the leadership of Annie Besant to voice a demand for self-governance, and to obtain the status of a Dominion within the British Empire as enjoyed at the time by Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Newfoundland Nehru joined the movement and rose to become secretary of Besant’s Home Rule League

In June 1917, the British government arrested and interned Besant The Congress and other Indian organisations threatened to launch protests if she was not freed Subsequently, the British government was forced to release Besant and make significant concessions after a period of intense protest

Non-co-operation: 1920–1927

Nehru’s first big national involvement came at the onset of the non-co-operation movement in 1920 He led 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 formed 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 corrupt Mahants

Internationalising the struggle for Indian independence: 1927

Nehru played a leading role in the development of the internationalist outlook of the Indian independence struggle He sought foreign allies for India and forged links with movements for independence and democracy around the world In 1927, his efforts paid off, and the Congress was invited to attend the congress of oppressed nationalities in Brussels, Belgium The meeting was called to co-ordinate and plan a common struggle against imperialism Nehru represented India and was elected to the Executive Council of the League against Imperialism that was born at this meeting

Increasingly, Nehru saw 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 interpreted as complicity with the rise of Hitler and his espoused intentions Faced with these allegations, Nehru responded:

Fundamental Rights and Economic Policy: 1929

Nehru, President-elect of the Lahore session of the Indian National Congress in 1929, with the outgoing President, his father Motilal

Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi in 1929

Nehru drafted the policies of the Congress and a future Indian nation in 1929 He declared the aims of the congress were freedom of religion; right to form associations; freedom of expression of thought; equality before law for every individual without distinction of caste, colour, creed, or religion; protection of regional languages and cultures, safeguarding the interests of the peasants and labour; abolition of untouchability; introduction of adult franchise; imposition of prohibition, nationalisation of industries; socialism; and the establishment of a secular India All these aims formed the core of the “Fundamental Rights and Economic Policy” resolution drafted by Nehru in 1929–1931 and were ratified in 1931 by the Congress party session at Karachi chaired by Vallabhbhai Patel

Declaration of independence

Nehru was one of the first leaders to demand that the Congress Party should resolve to make a complete and explicit break from all ties with the British Empire The Madras session of Congress in 1927, approved his resolution for independence despite Gandhi’s criticism At that time, he formed the Independence for India League, a pressure group within the Congress In 1928, Gandhi agreed to Nehru’s demands and proposed a resolution that called for the British to grant Dominion status to India within two years If the British failed to meet the deadline, the Congress would call upon all Indians to fight for complete independence Nehru was one of the leaders who objected to the time given to the British—he pressed Gandhi to demand immediate actions from the British Gandhi brokered a further compromise by reducing the time given from two years to one The British rejected demands for Dominion status in 1929 Nehru assumed the presidency of the Congress party during the Lahore session on 29 December 1929 and introduced a successful resolution calling for complete independence Nehru drafted the Indian declaration of independence, which stated:

At midnight on New Year’s Eve 1929, Nehru hoisted the tricolour flag of India upon the banks of the Ravi in Lahore A pledge of independence was read out, which included a readiness to withhold taxes The massive gathering of the public attending the ceremony was asked if they agreed with it, and the majority of people were witnessed raising their hands in approval 172 Indian members of central and provincial legislatures resigned in support of the resolution and in accordance with Indian public sentiment The Congress asked the people of India to observe 26 January as Independence Day Congress volunteers, nationalists, and the public hoisted the flag of India publicly across India Plans for mass civil disobedience were also underway

After the Lahore session of the Congress in 1929, Nehru gradually emerged as the paramount leader of the Indian independence movement Gandhi stepped back into a more spiritual role Although Gandhi did not explicitly designate Nehru as his political heir until 1942, as early as the mid-1930s, the country saw Nehru as the natural successor to Gandhi

Salt March: 1930

Nehru and most of the Congress leaders were ambivalent initially about Gandhi’s plan to begin civil disobedience with a satyagraha aimed at the British salt tax After the protest had gathered steam, they realised the power of salt as a symbol Nehru remarked about the unprecedented popular response, “it seemed as though a spring had been suddenly released” He was arrested on 14 April 1930 while on a train from Allahabad for Raipur Earlier, after addressing a huge meeting and leading a vast procession, he had ceremoniously manufactured some contraband salt He was charged with breach of the salt law and sentenced to six months of imprisonment at Central Jail

He nominated Gandhi to succeed him as the Congress president during his absence in jail, but Gandhi declined, and Nehru nominated his father as his successor With Nehru’s arrest, the civil disobedience acquired a new tempo, and arrests, firing on crowds and lathi charges grew to be ordinary occurrences

Salt satyagraha success

The salt satyagraha (“pressure for reform through passive resistance”) succeeded in attracting world attention Indian, British, and world opinion increasingly recognised the legitimacy of the claims by the Congress party for independence Nehru considered the salt satyagraha the high-water mark of his association with Gandhi, and felt its lasting importance was in changing the attitudes of Indians:

Electoral politics, Europe, and economics: 1936–1938

Nehru in Karachi after returning from Lausanne, Switzerland with the ashes of his wife Kamla Nehru in March 1936

Nehru with Indian Nobel-prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore in 1936

Nehru in a procession at Peshawar, North-West Frontier Province, 14 October 1937

Nehru on a visit to Egypt in June 1938

Nehru’s trip to Europe in 1936 happened to be the turning point in his political and economic mindset It’s the visit that sparked his interest in Marxism and his socialist thought pattern Time later spent incarcerated enabled him to research Marxism more deeply Appealed by its ideas but repelled by some of its tactics, he never could bring himself to buy Karl Marx’s words as revealed gospel However, from that time on, the benchmark of his economic view remained Marxist, adapted, where necessary, to Indian circumstances

Nehru spent the early months of 1936 in Switzerland visiting his ailing wife in Lausanne, where she died in March While in Europe, he became very concerned with the possibility of another world war At that time, he emphasised that, in the event of war, India’s place was alongside the democracies, though he insisted India could only fight in support of Great Britain and France as a free country

At its 1936 Lucknow session, despite opposition from the newly elected Nehru as the party president, the Congress party agreed to contest the provincial elections to be held in 1937 under the Government of India Act 1935 The elections brought the Congress party to power in a majority of the provinces with increased popularity and power for Nehru Since the Muslim League under Muhammad Ali Jinnah (who was to become the creator of Pakistan) had fared badly at the polls, Nehru declared that the only two parties that mattered in India were the British colonial authorities and the Congress Jinnah’s statements that the Muslim League was the third and “equal partner” within Indian politics were widely rejected Nehru had hoped to elevate Maulana Azad as the preeminent leader of Indian Muslims, but Gandhi, who continued to treat Jinnah as the voice of Indian Muslims, undermined him in this

In the 1930s, under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan, Narendra Deo, and others, the Congress Socialist Party group was formed within the INC Though Nehru never joined the group, he acted as a bridge between them and Gandhi He had the support of left-wing Congressmen Maulana Azad and Subhas Chandra Bose The trio combined to oust Rajendra Prasad as the Congress president in 1936 Nehru was elected in his place and held the presidency for two years (1936–37) His socialist colleagues Bose (1938–39) and Azad (1940–46) succeeded him During Nehru’s second term as general secretary of the Congress, he proposed certain resolutions concerning the foreign policy of India From then on, he was given carte blanche (“blank cheque”) in framing the foreign policy of any future Indian nation Nehru worked closely with Bose in developing good relations with governments of free countries all over the world

Nehru was one of the first nationalist leaders to realise the sufferings of the people in the states ruled by Indian princes The nationalist movement had been confined to the territories under direct British rule He helped to make the struggle of the people in the princely states a part of the nationalist movement for independence Nehru was also given the responsibility of planning the economy of a future India and appointed the National Planning Commission in 1938 to help frame such policies However, many of the plans framed by Nehru and his colleagues would come undone with the unexpected partition of India in 1947

The All India States Peoples Conference (AISPC) was formed in 1927 and Nehru, who had supported the cause of the people of the princely states for many years, was made the organisation’s president in 1939 He opened up its ranks to membership from across the political spectrum AISPC was to play an important role during the political integration of India, helping Indian leaders Vallabhbhai Patel and V P Menon (to whom Nehru had delegated integrating the princely states into India) negotiate with hundreds of princes

Nationalist movement (1939–1947)

Gandhi, Nehru, and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan at the Congress Working Committee meeting in Wardha in September 1939

When World War II began, Viceroy Linlithgow had unilaterally declared India a belligerent on the side of Britain, without consulting the elected Indian representatives Nehru hurried back from a visit to China, announcing that, in a conflict between democracy and fascism, “our sympathies must inevitably be on the side of democracy,  I should like India to play its full part and throw all her resources into the struggle for a new order”

After much deliberation, the Congress under Nehru informed the government that it would co-operate with the British but on certain conditions First, Britain must give an assurance of full independence for India after the war and allow the election of a constituent assembly to frame a new constitution; second, although the Indian armed forces would remain under the British Commander-in-chief, Indians must be included immediately in the central government and given a chance to share power and responsibility When Nehru presented Lord Linlithgow with these demands, he chose to reject them A deadlock was reached: “The same old game is played again,” Nehru wrote bitterly to Gandhi, “the background is the same, the various epithets are the same and the actors are the same and the results must be the same”

On 23 October 1939, the Congress condemned the Viceroy’s attitude and called upon the Congress ministries in the various provinces to resign in protest Before this crucial announcement, Nehru urged Jinnah and the Muslim League to join the protest, but Jinnah declined

As Nehru had firmly placed India on the path of democracy and freedom at a time when the world was under the threat of Fascism, he and Bose split in the late 1930s when the latter agreed to seek the help of Fascists in driving the British out of India At the same time, Nehru had supported the Republicans who were fighting against Francisco Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War Nehru and his aide V K Krishna Menon visited Spain and declared support for the Republicans When Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy, expressed his desire to meet, Nehru refused him

Civil disobedience, Lahore Resolution, August Offer: 1940

Nehru with the Seva Dal volunteer corps in Allahabad, 1940

In March 1940, Muhammad Ali Jinnah passed what came to be known as the Pakistan Resolution, declaring that, “Muslims are a nation according to any definition of a nation, and they must have their homelands, their territory and their State” This state was to be known as Pakistan, meaning ‘Land of the Pure’ Nehru angrily declared that “all the old problems  pale into insignificance before the latest stand taken by the Muslim League leader in Lahore” Linlithgow made Nehru an offer on 8 October 1940, which stated that Dominion status for India was the objective of the British government However, it referred neither to a date nor a method to accomplish this Only Jinnah received something more precise: “The British would not contemplate transferring power to a Congress-dominated national government, the authority of which was denied by various elements in India’s national life”

In October 1940, Gandhi and Nehru, abandoning their original stand of supporting Britain, decided to launch a limited civil disobedience campaign in which leading advocates of Indian independence were selected to participate one by one Nehru was arrested and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment On 15 January 1941, Gandhi had stated:

After spending a little more than a year in jail, Nehru was released, along with other Congress prisoners, three days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

Japan attacks India, Cripps’ mission, Quit India: 1942

Gandhi and Nehru during the drafting of Quit India Resolution in Bombay, August 1942,

When the Japanese carried their attack through Burma (now Myanmar) to the borders of India in the spring of 1942, the British government, faced by this new military threat, decided to make some overtures to India, as Nehru had originally desired Prime Minister Winston Churchill dispatched Sir Stafford Cripps, a member of the War Cabinet who was known to be politically close to Nehru and knew Jinnah, with proposals for a settlement of the constitutional problem As soon as he arrived, he discovered that India was more deeply divided than he had imagined Nehru, eager for a compromise, was hopeful; Gandhi was not Jinnah had continued opposing the Congress: “Pakistan is our only demand, and by God, we will have it,” he declared in the Muslim League newspaper Dawn Cripps’ mission failed as Gandhi would accept nothing less than independence Relations between Nehru and Gandhi cooled over the latter’s refusal to co-operate with Cripps, but the two later reconciled

In 1942, Gandhi called on the British to leave India; Nehru, though reluctant to embarrass the allied war effort, had no alternative but to join Gandhi Following the Quit India resolution passed by the Congress party in Bombay on 8 August 1942, the entire Congress working committee, including Gandhi and Nehru, was arrested and imprisoned Most of the Congress working committee including Nehru, Abdul Kalam Azad, Sardar Patel were incarcerated at the Ahmednagar Fort until 15 June 1945

In prison 1943–1945

Nehru’s room at Ahmednagar fort where he was incarcerated from 1942 to 1945, and where he wrote The Discovery of India

During the period when all the Congress leaders were in jail, the Muslim League under Jinnah grew in power In April 1943, the League captured the governments of Bengal and, a month later, that of the North-West Frontier Province In none of these provinces had the League previously had a majority—only the arrest of Congress members made it possible With all the Muslim dominated provinces except Punjab under Jinnah’s control, the concept of a separate Muslim State was turning into a reality However, by 1944, Jinnah’s power and prestige were waning

A general sympathy towards the jailed Congress leaders was developing among Muslims, and much of the blame for the disastrous Bengal famine of 1943–44 during which two million died had been laid on the shoulders of the province’s Muslim League government The numbers at Jinnah’s meetings, once counted in thousands, soon numbered only a few hundred In despair, Jinnah left the political scene for a stay in Kashmir His prestige was restored unwittingly by Gandhi, who had been released from prison on medical grounds in May 1944 and had met Jinnah in Bombay in September There, he offered the Muslim leader a plebiscite in the Muslim areas after the war to see whether they wanted to separate from the rest of India Essentially, it was an acceptance of the principle of Pakistan—but not in so many words Jinnah demanded that the exact words be used Gandhi refused and the talks broke down Jinnah, however, had greatly strengthened his own position and that of the League The most influential member of Congress had been seen to negotiate with him on equal terms

Cabinet mission, Interim government 1946–1947

Nehru and the Congress party members of his interim government after being sworn in by the Viceroy, Lord Wavell, 2 September 1946

Nehru and his colleagues were released prior to the arrival of the British 1946 Cabinet Mission to India to propose plans for the transfer of power The agreed plan in 1946 led to elections to the provincial assemblies In turn, the members of the assemblies elected members of the Constituent Assembly Congress won the majority of seats in the assembly and headed the interim government, with Nehru as the prime minister The Muslim League joined the government later with Liaquat Ali Khan as the Finance member

Prime Minister of India (1947–1964)

Teen Murti Bhavan, Nehru’s official residence as prime minister, is now a museum

Nehru served as prime minister for 18 years, first as the interim prime minister and from 1950 as the prime minister of the Republic of India


In July 1946, Nehru pointedly observed that no princely state could prevail militarily against the army of independent India In January 1947, he said that independent India would not accept the divine right of kings In May 1947, he declared that any princely state which refused to join the Constituent Assembly would be treated as an enemy state Vallabhbhai Patel and V P Menon were more conciliatory towards the princes, and as the men charged with integrating the states, were successful in the task During the drafting of the Indian constitution, many Indian leaders (except Nehru) were in favour of allowing each princely state or covenanting state to be independent as a federal state along the lines suggested originally by the Government of India Act 1935 But as the drafting of the constitution progressed, and the idea of forming a republic took concrete shape, it was decided that all the princely states/covenanting states would merge with the Indian republic

Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, as prime minister, derecognised all the rulers by presidential order in 1969, a decision struck down by the Supreme Court of India Eventually, her government by the 26th amendment to the constitution was successful in derecognising these former rulers and ending the privy purse paid to them in 1971

Independence, Dominion of India: 1947–1950

Lord Mountbatten swears in Nehru as the first Prime Minister of independent India on 15 August 1947

The period before independence in early 1947 was impaired by outbreaks of communal violence and political disorder, and the opposition of the Muslim League led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who were demanding a separate Muslim state of Pakistan


He took office as the prime minister of India on 15 August and delivered his inaugural address titled “Tryst with Destiny”

Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi: 1948

Nehru visiting an Indian soldier recovering from injuries at the Brigade Headquarters Military Hospital in Srinagar, Kashmir

Main articles: Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru’s address on Gandhi

On 30 January 1948, Gandhi was shot while he was walking in the garden of Birla House on his way to address a prayer meeting The assassin, Nathuram Godse, was a Hindu nationalist with links to the extremist Hindu Mahasabha party, who held Gandhi responsible for weakening India by insisting upon a payment to Pakistan Nehru addressed the nation by radio:

Yasmin Khan argued that Gandhi’s death and funeral helped consolidate the authority of the new Indian state under Nehru and Patel The Congress tightly controlled the epic public displays of grief over a two-week period—the funeral, mortuary rituals and distribution of the martyr’s ashes with millions participating at different events The goal was to assert the power of the government, legitimise the Congress party’s control and suppress all religious paramilitary groups Nehru and Patel suppressed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Muslim National Guards, and the Khaksars, with some 200,000 arrests Gandhi’s death and funeral linked the distant state with the Indian people and helped them to understand the need to suppress religious parties during the transition to independence for the Indian people In later years, there emerged a revisionist school of history which sought to blame Nehru for the partition of India, mostly referring to his highly centralised policies for an independent India in 1947, which Jinnah opposed in favour of a more decentralised India

Integration of states and Adoption of New Constitution: 1947–1950

See also: Political integration of India and States Reorganisation Act, 1956

Indira Gandhi, Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi in June 1949

The British Indian Empire, which included present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, was divided into two types of territories: the Provinces of British India, which were governed directly by British officials responsible to the Viceroy of India; and princely states, under the rule of local hereditary rulers who recognised British suzerainty in return for local autonomy, in most cases as established by a treaty Between 1947 and about 1950, the territories of the princely states were politically integrated into the Indian Union under Nehru and Sardar Patel Most were merged into existing provinces; others were organised into new provinces, such as Rajputana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Bharat, and Vindhya Pradesh, made up of multiple princely states; a few, including Mysore, Hyderabad, Bhopal and Bilaspur, became separate provinces The Government of India Act 1935 remained the constitutional law of India pending adoption of a new Constitution

Nehru signing the Indian Constitution c1950

The new Constitution of India, which came into force on 26 January 1950 (Republic Day), made India a sovereign democratic republic The new republic was declared to be a “Union of States”

Election of 1952

Nehru as the main campaigner of the Indian National Congress, 1951–52 elections

After the adoption of the constitution on 26 November 1949, the Constituent Assembly continued to act as the interim parliament until new elections Nehru’s interim cabinet consisted of 15 members from diverse communities and parties The first elections to Indian legislative bodies (National parliament and State assemblies ) under the new constitution of India were held in 1952 Various members of the cabinet resigned from their posts and formed their own parties to contest the elections During that period, the then Congress party president, Purushottam Das Tandon, also resigned his post because of differences with Nehru and since Nehru’s popularity was needed for winning elections Nehru, while being the prime minister, was elected the president of Congress for 1951 and 1952 In the election, despite numerous competing parties, the Congress party under Nehru’s leadership won large majorities at both state and national level

First term as Prime Minister: 1952–1957

State reorganisation

In December 1953, Nehru appointed the States Reorganisation Commission to prepare for the creation of states on linguistic lines Headed by Justice Fazal Ali, the commission itself was also known as the Fazal Ali Commission Govind Ballabh Pant, who served as Nehru’s home minister from December 1954, oversaw the commission’s efforts The commission created a report in 1955 recommending the reorganisation of India’s states

Under the Seventh Amendment, the existing distinction between Part A, Part B, Part C, and Part D states was abolished The distinction between Part A and Part B states was removed, becoming known simply as states’ A new type of entity, the union territory, replaced the classification as a Part C or Part D state Nehru stressed commonality among Indians and promoted pan-Indianism, refusing to reorganise states on either religious or ethnic lines

Subsequent elections: 1957, 1962

In the 1957 elections, Under the leadership of Nehru, the Indian National Congress easily won a second term in power, taking 371 of the 494 seats They gained an extra seven seats (the size of the Lok Sabha had been increased by five) and their vote share increased from 450% to 478% The INC won nearly five times more votes than the Communist Party, the second largest party

In 1962, Nehru led the Congress to victory with a diminished majority The numbers who voted for Communist and socialist parties grew, although some right-wing groups like Bharatiya Jana Sangh also did well

1961 annexation of Goa

After years of failed negotiations, Nehru authorised the Indian Army to invade Portuguese-controlled Portuguese India (Goa) in 1961, and then he formally annexed it to India It increased his popularity in India, but he was criticised by the communist opposition in India for the use of military force

Sino-Indian War of 1962

See also: Sino-Indian War

From 1959, in a process that accelerated in 1961, Nehru adopted the “Forward Policy” of setting up military outposts in disputed areas of the Sino-Indian border, including in 43 outposts in territory not previously controlled by India China attacked some of these outposts, and the Sino-Indian War began, which India lost China withdrew to pre-war lines in the eastern zone at Tawang but retained Aksai Chin, which was within British India, and was handed over to India after independence Later, Pakistan handed over some portion of Kashmir near Siachen controlled by Pakistan since 1948 to China

The war exposed the unpreparedness of India’s military, which could send only 14,000 troops to the war zone in opposition to the much larger Chinese Army, and Nehru was widely criticised for his government’s insufficient attention to defence In response, Nehru sacked the defence minister V K Krishna Menon and sought US military aid Nehru’s improved relations with the US under John F Kennedy proved useful during the war, as in 1962, the president of Pakistan (then closely aligned with the Americans) Ayub Khan was made to guarantee his neutrality regarding India, threatened by “communist aggression from Red China” India’s relationship with the Soviet Union, criticised by right-wing groups supporting free-market policies, was also seemingly validated Nehru would continue to maintain his commitment to the non-aligned movement, despite calls from some to settle down on one permanent ally

The aftermath of the war saw sweeping changes in the Indian military to prepare it for similar conflicts in the future and placed pressure on Nehru, who was seen as responsible for failing to anticipate the Chinese attack on India Under American advice (by American envoy John Kenneth Galbraith who made and ran American policy on the war as all other top policymakers in the US were absorbed in the coincident Cuban Missile Crisis) Nehru refrained from using the Indian air force to beat back the Chinese advances The CIA later revealed that, at that time, the Chinese had neither the fuel nor runways long enough to use their air force effectively in Tibet Indians, in general, became highly sceptical of China and its military Many Indians view the war as a betrayal of India’s attempts at establishing a long-standing peace with China and started to question Nehru’s usage of the term Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai (Indians and Chinese are brothers) The war also put an end to Nehru’s earlier hopes that India and China would form a strong Asian Axis to counteract the increasing influence of the Cold War bloc superpowers

Map showing disputed territories of India

The unpreparedness of the army was blamed on Defence Minister Menon, who “resigned” his government post to allow for someone who might modernise India’s military further India’s policy of weaponisation using indigenous sources and self-sufficiency began in earnest under Nehru, completed by his daughter Indira Gandhi, who later led India to a crushing military victory over rival Pakistan in 1971 Toward the end of the war, India had increased her support for Tibetan refugees and revolutionaries, some of them having settled in India, as they were fighting the same common enemy in the region Nehru ordered the raising of an elite Indian-trained “Tibetan Armed Force” composed of Tibetan refugees, which served with distinction in future wars against Pakistan in 1965 and 1971

During the conflict, Nehru wrote two urgent letters to US President John F Kennedy, requesting 12 squadrons of fighter jets and a modern radar system These jets were seen as necessary to increase Indian air strength so that air-to-air combat could be initiated safely from the Indian perspective (bombing troops was seen as unwise for fear of Chinese retaliatory action) Nehru also asked that these aircraft be manned by American pilots until Indian airmen were trained to replace them The Kennedy Administration (which was involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis during most of the Sino-Indian War) rejected these requests, leading to a cooling of Indo-US relations According to former Indian diplomat G Parthasarathy, “only after we got nothing from the US did arms supplies from the Soviet Union to India commence” According to Time magazine’s 1962 editorial on the war, however, this may not have been the case The editorial states,


Nehru with Albert Einstein in Princeton, New Jersey, 1949

Nehru with Indonesian president Sukarno in Jakarta in 1950

Nehru playing with a tiger cub at his home in 1955

To date, Nehru is considered the most popular prime minister winning three consecutive elections with around 45% of the vote A Pathé News archive video reporting Nehru’s death remarks “neither on the political stage nor in moral stature was his leadership ever challenged” In his book Verdicts on Nehru Ramachandra Guha cited a contemporary account that described what Nehru’s 1951–52 Indian general election campaign looked like:

In the 1950s, Nehru was admired by world leaders such as British prime minister Winston Churchill, and US president Dwight D Eisenhower A letter from Eisenhower to Nehru, dated 27 November 1958, read:

In 1955, Churchill called Nehru, the light of Asia, and a greater light than Gautama Buddha Nehru is time and again described as a charismatic leader with a rare charm

Vision and governing policies

Nehru with schoolchildren at the Durgapur Steel Plant Durgapur, Rourkela and Bhilai were three integrated steel plants set up under India’s Second Five-Year Plan in the late 1950s

According to Bhikhu Parekh, Nehru can be regarded as the founder of the modern Indian state Parekh attributes this to the national philosophy Nehru formulated for India For him, modernisation was the national philosophy, with seven goals: national unity, parliamentary democracy, industrialisation, socialism, development of the scientific temper, and non-alignment In Parekh’s opinion, the philosophy and the policies that resulted from this benefited a large section of society such as public sector workers, industrial houses, middle and upper peasantry However, it failed to benefit the urban and rural poor, the unemployed and the Hindu fundamentalists

After the exit of Subhash Chandra Bose from mainstream Indian politics (because of his support of violence in driving the British out of India), the power struggle between the socialists and conservatives in the Congress party balanced out However, the death of Vallabhbhai Patel in 1950 left Nehru as the sole remaining iconic national leader, and soon the situation became such that Nehru could implement many of his basic policies without hindrance Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, was able to fulfil her father’s dream by the 42nd amendment (1976) of the Indian constitution by which India officially became “socialist” and “secular”, during the state of emergency she imposed

Economic policies

Nehru meeting with Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Deutsche Bank chairman Hermann Josef Abs during a state visit to West Germany in June 1956

Nehru during the construction of the Bhakra Dam in the Punjab, 1953

Nehru at an antibiotics manufacturing facility, Poona, 1956

Nehru implemented policies based on import substitution industrialisation and advocated a mixed economy where the government-controlled public sector would co-exist with the private sector He believed the establishment of basic and heavy industry was fundamental to the development and modernisation of the Indian economy The government, therefore, directed investment primarily into key public sector industries—steel, iron, coal, and power—promoting their development with subsidies and protectionist policies

The policy of non-alignment during the Cold War meant that Nehru received financial and technical support from both power blocs in building India’s industrial base from scratch Steel mill complexes were built at Bokaro and Rourkela with assistance from the Soviet Union and West Germany There was substantial industrial development Industry grew 70% annually between 1950 and 1965—almost trebling industrial output and making India the world’s seventh largest industrial country Nehru’s critics, however, contended that India’s import substitution industrialisation, which was continued long after the Nehru era, weakened the international competitiveness of its manufacturing industries India’s share of world trade fell from 14% in 1951–1960 to 05% between 1981 and 1990 However, India’s export performance is argued to have showed actual sustained improvement over the period The volume of exports grew at an annual rate of 29% in 1951–1960 to 76% in 1971–1980

GDP and GNP grew 39 and 40% annually between 1950 and 1951 and 1964–1965 It was a radical break from the British colonial period, but the growth rates were considered anaemic at best compared to other industrial powers in Europe and East Asia India lagged behind the miracle economies (Japan, West Germany, France, and Italy) State planning, controls, and regulations were argued to have impaired economic growth While India’s economy grew faster than both the United Kingdom and the United States, low initial income and rapid population increase meant that growth was inadequate for any sort of catch-up with rich income nations

Nehru’s preference for big state-controlled enterprises created a complex system of quantitative regulations, quotas and tariffs, industrial licenses, and a host of other controls This system, known in India as Licence Raj, was responsible for economic inefficiencies that stifled entrepreneurship and checked economic growth for decades until the liberalisation policies initiated by the Congress government in 1991 under P V Narasimha Rao

Agriculture policies

Under Nehru’s leadership, the government attempted to develop India quickly by embarking on agrarian reform and rapid industrialisation A successful land reform was introduced that abolished giant landholdings, but efforts to redistribute land by placing limits on landownership failed Attempts to introduce large-scale cooperative farming were frustrated by landowning rural elites, who formed the core of the powerful right-wing of the Congress and had considerable political support in opposing Nehru’s efforts Agricultural production expanded until the early 1960s, as additional land was brought under cultivation and some irrigation projects began to have an effect The establishment of agricultural universities, modelled after land-grant colleges in the United States, contributed to the development of the economy These universities worked with high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice, initially developed in Mexico and the Philippines, that in the 1960s began the Green Revolution, an effort to diversify and increase crop production At the same time, a series of failed monsoons would cause serious food shortages, despite the steady progress and an increase in agricultural production

Social policies


Nehru was a passionate advocate of education for India’s children and youth, believing it essential for India’s future progress His government oversaw the establishment of many institutions of higher learning, including the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Management and the National Institutes of Technology Nehru also outlined a commitment in his five-year plans to guarantee free and compulsory primary education to all of India’s children For this purpose, Nehru oversaw the creation of mass village enrolment programs and the construction of thousands of schools Nehru also launched initiatives such as the provision of free milk and meals to children to fight malnutrition Adult education centres, vocational and technical schools were also organised for adults, especially in the rural areas

Hindu marriage law

Under Nehru, the Indian Parliament enacted many changes to Hindu law to criminalise caste discrimination and increase the legal rights and social freedoms of women

Nehru specifically wrote Article 44 of the Indian constitution under the Directive Principles of State Policy which states: “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India” The article has formed the basis of secularism in India However, Nehru has been criticised for the inconsistent application of the law Most notably, he allowed Muslims to keep their personal law in matters relating to marriage and inheritance In the small state of Goa, a civil code based on the old Portuguese Family Laws was allowed to continue, and Nehru prohibited Muslim personal law This resulted from the annexation of Goa in 1961 by India, when Nehru promised the people that their laws would be left intact This has led to accusations of selective secularism

While Nehru exempted Muslim law from legislation and they remained unreformed, he passed the Special Marriage Act in 1954 The idea behind this act was to give everyone in India the ability to marry outside the personal law under a civil marriage The law applied to all of India, except Jammu and Kashmir, again leading to accusations of selective secularism In many respects, the act was almost identical to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, demonstrates how secularised the law regarding Hindus had become The Special Marriage Act allowed Muslims to marry under it and keep the protections, generally beneficial to Muslim women, that could not be found in the personal law Under the act, polygamy was illegal, and inheritance and succession would be governed by the Indian Succession Act, rather than the respective Muslim personal law Divorce would be governed by the secular law, and maintenance of a divorced wife would be along the lines set down in the civil law

Reservations for socially-oppressed communities

A system of reservations in government services and educational institutions was created to eradicate the social inequalities and disadvantages faced by peoples of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Nehru convincingly succeeded secularism and religious harmony, increasing the representation of minorities in government

Language policy

Nehru led the faction of the Congress party, which promoted Hindi as the lingua franca of the Indian nation After an exhaustive and divisive debate with the non-Hindi speakers, Hindi was adopted as the official language of India in 1950, with English continuing as an associate official language for 15 years, after which Hindi would become the sole official language Efforts by the Indian Government to make Hindi the sole official language after 1965 were unacceptable to many non-Hindi Indian states, which wanted the continued use of Engl

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