Jawaharlal Nehru

  • “Mahatma Gandhi’s closest disciple”, “The Face of early Congress”, “A charismatic politician who could charm almost everyone”, “An architect of Modern India” – these are just some of the many ways to describe Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
  • “Leaders are not born, they are moulded.” – Nehru is the best example of this saying. He was born in a forward community, in one of the wealthiest families in Uttar Pradesh. But Jawaharlal Nehru did not find pride in all these, for he knew that his circumstance was not something to do with his potential or skill – fate destined for him to be born in a well-to-do family. Inside the depths of his heart, he reflected, “This is not me, this is not my identity. The deeds I do for the betterment of society are what will define me.” After 1910, he joined the freedom struggle movement. In total, he spent 9 years in jail, to free India from the cruel claws of British administration.
  • The way Nehru managed the first public election was something that will provide a stark contrast when compared to the elections of the present. The media laughed at it as one of the world’s biggest clown shows. Turning a deaf ear to unfair criticisms, he kept marching to conduct a successful election. In the remote villages, many people did not even have a name. They were addressed by their clan names. Nehru’s government gave them names and addresses, and a way to choose a representative they wanted. The election covered 489 constituencies, and counted 1949 candidates. India’s population at that time was 36 crores out of which 17 crores were eligible to vote. At the booths they did not have the single machine we have today. There were boxes of different colours. Each party was assigned a box of a particular colour. People were told which colour is assigned to which party or candidate. The people would then cast their vote in the box assigned to the candidate they wish to vote for. This election took place from October, 1951 to February, 1952. Congress won the election by winning in 364 constituencies. Nehru won in Phulpur constituency by an unimaginable difference. That was a milestone in the history of Independent India. That was the day Nehru told the world, ‘My name is Nehru. And, now I am the elected Prime Minister of India.’
  • Nehru was utterly against dictatorship. In the 1950s, Nehru faced brutal criticisms from Illustrated Weekly magazine. R K Dalmia was the editor of the magazine at that time. During one time, he started attacking by criticising the personal lives of Nehru and Indira Gandhi. Being the Prime Minister, Nehru could have abused his powers to reduce the magazine to zero. Instead, Nehru said to his helper, “What are they writing? Such rubbish should not be bought for the house. Don’t buy it anymore.” His reaction to the series of insults was so simple. Later on, he was also criticised that arrogance was growing each day and that such arrogance would eventually lead to Nehru becoming a dictator. No big reaction from Nehru to these allegations either. Very few politicians have such a seasoned tolerance and the intelligence to pick their battles.
  • If India had chosen anyone else as the Prime Minister in 1947, it would not have seen the growth it has achieved today. It is not an exaggeration. Though 1947 was the year that gave the happy news of Independence. It was also a year that saw the damages from World War, separation of India and Pakistan and many more loss of lives. The international media commented that the condition of the country seems similar to that of a lunatic asylum. No one knew what kind of madness the next person was going to unleash. Managing such crowds and putting them on the path of development is not something that can be done in one generation. But there is no place that isn’t touched by even the faintest light. Nehru is one such light who came to illuminate India during one of its dire times. “If you want India to fail, if failure is the fate the creator has written for us, then God and you are going to be miserably disappointed. I will shatter the wishes of both. If you have eyes and if you are blessed with the sight to see, keep watching closely. I am not speaking as Nehru, I’m speaking as Gandhi’s first disciple, as Patel’s best friend. I will show the world what my country is capable of.” Within a span of 10 years, India pounced several leaps forward. In the later years, one researcher wrote, “Nehru’s feat is equal to that of a person walking on a tightrope between 2 mountains, without any stick to balance himself.” To be honest, that analogy seems a bit humble before Nehru’s achievements.
  • What did Nehru achieve as India’s Prime Minister? He established IIT, AIIMS, BARC, ISRO and many other major organizations that became the stepping stones to success. He gave special importance and attention to the establishment of BARC and ISRO. Why was special attention given to BARC and ISRO? In that period where no one thought about space research or nuclear research, Nehru made sure that if not now, it should be made possible at least within a few years. For that to happen, the requirements for the research should be made available. So, Nehru collaborated with Homi Baba and Vikram Sarabhai and provided the resources and permits required to excel in research. Majority of dams and factories built in India belong to the era of Nehru. In fact he considered dams to be ‘the Temples of Modern India’. It was under his administration that India saw a huge upward shift in infrastructure with the new projects like Bhakra-Nangal dam, Bhilai Steel Plant and Bokaro Steel Plant.
  • There is one photo of Nehru, which was taken on the night before India became independent. In this photo, Nehru was seen standing in the front balcony of the parliament waiting to lead the people of India. This brave side of him was never really a hidden side. Anyone who knew him would have seen this side often. Another incident that brought out the brave side of him was when he had gone to visit Gandhi in Noakhali. The country was infested with communal riots. Gandhi was determined to stop the riots. Nehru was going to visit Gandhi to talk about it. On his way, a person among the crowd shouted ‘Kill Gandhi!’ On hearing that, Nehru entered the crowd, spotted the man and slapped him on his face and uttered, ‘You should feel ashamed of your words’ When the riot reached its goriest form, Nehru jumped to the field to save people and take them to hospital. Nehru may not have seen every nook and corner of India like Gandhi did, but he has been as much a field worker as Gandhi was.
  • The most valuable legacy Nehru left India is the Hindu Law. It was Ambedkar’s dream. But the conservational members of the Parliament opposed this. In October 1951, when Ambedkar quit as Law Minister, Nehru did not say anything. But his eyes conveyed to Ambedkar that Ambedkar’s vision became Nehru’s too. Within the next 5 years, Ambedkar’s dream became a reality. He categorised the Hindu Law into 4 sections – Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act, Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act – and brought it into action. Ambedkar held on to the earth to see his dream become a reality and only then left for the heavenly abode.
  • While it is true that Nehru stumbled initially with the reservation issue, it was not due to lack of clarity. It was due to the feeling that he himself had to create a divide between his people. It is unfair of us to expect that everyone should know everything. But Nehru understood the need for the reservation system. If a person as forward as he was, could not understand the need for the reservation system, it is highly unlikely that any of his successors would understand it. He accepted the need for the reservation system and assigned the Kaka Kalelkar Commission to take the count of people from backward communities (Nehru had already confirmed the reservation for scheduled castes and tribes in 1954 itself). Nehru’s understanding of the reservation system is what served as the foundation for the reservation system we have today. Nehru is also credited with forming states on the basis of language.
  • Nehru’s secular administration was undoubtable. It was from Gandhi that he learnt to not compromise on a secular administration, come what may, for he knew well that such religious fanatics may cause a serious threat to India’s growth. In a conversation with his private secretary, Mathai, he confided, “You think that India would fall in harm’s way because of extreme leftists. But the real threat to India will be by religious fundamentalists who can see no further than their religion.” It is unfortunate that his prophecy turned out to be true. In the later decades, religious fundamentalists started their atrocities of brainwashing and narrowing the minds of people. What’s worse is that more often than not, such religious fundamentalists have been chosen as political representatives too. Even today, religious clashes are an everyday affair in many places of India. And they still try to accuse Nehru and his secular views!
  • Nehru envisioned the Five Year Plan based on Soviet’s model. But he deployed it in a stepwise manner, thus ensuring its success in every phase. For India, 1950-1960 was anything but a glamorous picture. The British had scraped off most of our resources and left India bare when they decided to leave. Nehru did not become the Prime Minister in a rosy scenario. He had become the Prime Minister when starving stomachs and empty stares unfortunately started becoming a common picture. So, his first Five Year Plan concentrated on increasing food production and constructing dams. Apart from the budget allotted for the Five Year Plan, Nehru borrowed from countries like the United States of America and Russia to put an end to starvation.
  • Nehru was a visionary not just for India, but for the entire world. His role in the Non-Aligned Movement was a chance for the smaller countries to form a united front against the dominant powers. Nehru ensured that he did everything in his power to stop a war from happening. When Kashmir was united with India, everyone expected Nehru to wage a war against Pakistan. He sternly said, “Wars are not games that are played in the outskirts of cities and villages. War involves taking the life of innocent people.” When military commanders approached him with the idea of at least throwing a few bombs on Pakistan, Nehru replied, “Check which place houses a lot of our enemies. And use a less forceful bomb as a scare.” In an interview, he said, “If the countries started ditching military approach and took a more humanitarian approach, there would be no wars.” A leader who considers every life sacred is a leader who will protect every life. And that is the leader we all need today!