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Jawaharlal Nehru

(1889—1964) prime minister of India


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(b. 14 Nov. 1889, d. 27 May 1964).

Prime Minister of Union of India 1947–64

Early career

Born in Allahabad as the son of Motilal Nehru, he received a European education, and was educated in England at Harrow School and Cambridge. In 1912, he was called to the English Bar. Returning to India more as an English gentleman than an Indian nationalist, he was converted to political action in 1920 by the ascendant Gandhi in response to the Rowlett Bills and the Amritsar Massacre. Soon prominent within the left wing of the Indian National Congress (INC), he came to Gandhi's attention. They were considerably different in outlook and temperament: Nehru was short‐tempered, aggressive, and as a ladies' man with supreme charm (as Mountbatten's wife was to find out) he did not think much of Gandhi's idea of chastity. None the less, the two men came to respect each other, and by 1930, he was widely seen as Gandhi's trusted lieutenant and protégé. He was more keen than most within the party to support Britain in World War II, but backed the Quit India campaign called in 1940. He was (again) imprisoned in 1943–5, and on his release he eclipsed Gandhi in practical influence over the independence negotiations, 1946–7.

In office

Having acquired the popular name of ‘Pandit’ (teacher), perhaps his greatest failing was his lack of appreciation of Muslim grievances. He did not recognize these after the defeat of the Muslim League in the 1937 elections, and effectively scuppered any chance for a compromise with Jinnah after the Cabinet Mission Plan. Furthermore, after the partition of India his non‐conciliatory attitude towards Pakistan in matters ranging from financial and commercial relations to Kashmir created tremendous tensions between the two countries. On the other hand, in marked contrast to Pakistan, he did create a remarkably stable democracy, the largest in the world, despite the country's linguistic, cultural, ethnic, and administrative heterogeneity.

In economic matters, his achievements were mixed. He did not cling to Gandhi's ideals of communitarianism, but instead promoted industrial and agricultural development. Many of his plans failed, however, partly because of maladministration, and partly because the growth of the economy was eclipsed by that of the population. Understandably suspicious of colonialism, Nehru pioneered the principle of non‐alignment. This deprived the country of important US financial and technological aid given to other less developed countries, and forced the country to rely on its own underdeveloped resources. Nevertheless, he died a much‐revered leader, with his reputation sufficing to create a political dynasty through his only daughter, Indira Gandhi, his grandson, Rajiv, and Sonia Gandhi.

Subjects: Politics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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