Jawaharlal Nehru (14 November 1889 – 27 May 1964) was the first Prime Minister of India and a central figure in Indian politics for much of the 20th century. He emerged as the paramount leader of the Indian independence movement under the tutelage of Mahatma Gandhi and ruled India from its establishment as an independent nation in 1947 until his death in office in 1964. Nehru is considered to be the architect of the modern Indian nation-state: a sovereign, socialist, secular, and democratic republic.
The son of Motilal Nehru, a prominent lawyer and nationalist statesman, Nehru was a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge and the Inner Temple, where he trained to be a barrister. Upon his return to India, he enrolled at the Allahabad High Court, and took an interest in national politics, which eventually replaced his legal practice. A committed nationalist since his teenage years, Nehru became a rising figure in Indian politics during the upheavals of the 1910s. He became the prominent leader of the left-wing factions of the Indian National Congress during the 1920s, and eventually of the entire Congress, with the tacit approval of his mentor, Gandhi. As Congress President in 1929, Nehru called for complete independence from the British Raj and instigated the Congress’s decisive shift towards the left.
Nehru and the Congress dominated Indian politics during the 1930s as the country moved towards independence. His idea of a secular nation-state was seemingly validated when the Congress, under his leadership, swept the 1937 provincial elections and formed the government in several provinces; on the other hand, the separatist Muslim League fared much poorer. But these achievements were seriously compromised in the aftermath of the Quit India Movement in 1942, which saw the British effectively crush the Congress as a political organisation. Nehru, who had reluctantly heeded Gandhi’s call for immediate independence, for he had desired to support the Allied war effort during the Second World War, came out of a lengthy prison term to a much altered political landscape. The Muslim League under his old Congress colleague and now bête noire, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had come to dominate Muslim politics in India. Negotiations between Nehru and Jinnah for power sharing failed and gave way to the independence and bloody partition of India in 1947.
Nehru was elected by the Congress to assume office as independent India’s first Prime Minister, although the question of leadership had been settled as far back as 1941, when Gandhi acknowledged Nehru as his political heir and successor. As Prime Minister, Nehru set out to realise his vision of India. The Constitution of India was enacted in 1950, after which he embarked on an ambitious program of economic, social and political reforms. Chiefly, he oversaw India’s transition from a monarchy to a republic, while nurturing a plural, multi-party democracy. In foreign policy, Nehru took a leading role in Non-Alignment while projecting India as a regional hegemon in South Asia.
Under Nehru’s leadership, the Congress emerged as a catch-all party, dominating national and state-level politics and winning consecutive elections in 1951, 1957, and 1962. He remained popular with the people of India in spite of political troubles in his final years and failure of leadership during the 1962 Sino-Indian War. In India, his birthday is celebrated as Children’s Day.
- November, 14, 1889
- Uttar Pardesh
- May, 27, 1964
- Nehru was cremated in accordance with Hindu rites at the Shantivana on the banks of the Yamuna River