Jawaharlal Nehru’s real name was Pandit (Hindi: “Pundit” or “Teacher”) Nehru. He was born November 14, 1889, in Allahabad, India—died May 27, 1964, in New Delhi.
Jawaharlal Nehru is the 1st prime minister of independent India (1947–64), who established parliamentary government and became noted for his neutralist policies in foreign affairs. He was also one of the principal leaders of India’s independence movement in the 1930s and 40s.
Early years and his family
Nehru was born into a Kashmiri Brahman family, noted for their administrative aptitude and scholarship, who had migrated to Delhi early in the 18th century. He was a son of Motilal Nehru, a renowned lawyer, and leader of the Indian independence movement, who became one of Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi’s prominent associates. So Jawaharlal was the eldest of four children, two of whom were girls. A sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, later became the first woman president of the United Nations General Assembly.
Until the age of 16, Nehru was educated at home by a series of English governesses and tutors. Only one of those—a part-Irish, part-Belgian theosophist, Ferdinand Brooks—appears to have made an impression on him. Jawaharlal also had a venerable Indian tutor who taught him Hindi and Sanskrit. In 1905 he went to Harrow, a leading English school, where he stayed for two years. Nehru’s academic career was in no way outstanding.
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From Harrow, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he spent three years earning an honours degree in natural science. On leaving Cambridge he qualified as a barrister after two years at the Inner Temple, London. Wherein his own words he passed his examinations “with neither glory nor ignominy.”
The seven years Nehru spent in England left him in a hazy half-world, at home neither in England nor in India. Some years later he wrote, “I have become a queer mixture of East and West, out of place everywhere, at home nowhere.” He went back to India to discover India. The contending pulls and pressures that his experience abroad were to exert on his personality were never completely resolved.
Nehru’s marriage and children
Four years after his return to India, in March 1916, Nehru married Kamala Kaul, who also came from a Kashmiri family that had settled in Delhi. Their only child, Indira Priyadarshini, was born in 1917; she would later (under her married name of Indira Gandhi) also serve (1966–77 and 1980–84) as prime minister of India. In addition, Indira’s son Rajiv Gandhi succeeded his mother as prime minister (1984–89).
Nehru’s autobiography discloses his lively interest in Indian politics during the time he was studying abroad. His letters to his father over the same period reveal their common interest in India’s freedom. But not until father and son meet Mahatma Gandhi and are persuaded to follow in his political footsteps did either of them develop any definite ideas on how freedom was to be attained. The quality in Gandhi that impress the two Nehrus got his insistence on the action.
A wrong, Gandhi argued, should not only be condemned but be resisted. Earlier, Nehru and his father had been contemptuous of the run of contemporary Indian politicians, whose nationalism, with a few notable exceptions, consisted of interminable speeches and long-winded resolutions. Jawaharlal was also attracted by Gandhi’s insistence on fighting against British rule of India without fear or hate.
Nehru met Gandhi for the first time in 1916 at the annual meeting of the Indian National Congress (Congress Party) in Lucknow. Gandhi was 20 years his senior. Neither seems to have made any initially strong impression on the other. Gandhi makes no mention of Nehru in an autobiography he dictated while imprisoned in the early 1920s. The omission is understandable since Nehru’s role in Indian politics got secondary until he got elect president of the Congress Party in 1929 when he presided over the historic session at Lahore (now in Pakistan) that proclaimed complete independence as India’s political goal. Until then the party’s objective has been dominion status.
Struggle for Indian independence
After the Lahore session of 1929, Nehru emerges as the leader of the country’s intellectuals and youth. Gandhi at that time shrewdly elevate him to the presidency of the Congress Party over the heads of some of his seniors, hoping that Nehru would draw India’s youth—who at that time were gravitating toward extreme leftist causes—into the mainstream of the Congress movement. Mahatma also correctly calculated that, with added responsibility, Nehru himself would be inclined to keep to the middle way.
Gandhi did not officially designate Nehru as his political heir until 1942. The Indian populace as early as the mid-1930s saw Nehru as the natural successor to Gandhi. The Gandhi-Irwin Pact of March 1931, signed between Gandhi and the British viceroy, Lord Irwin (later Lord Halifax), signalize a truce between the two principal protagonists in India. It climaxed one of Gandhi’s more effective civil disobedience movements, launched the year before as the Salt March, in the course of which Nehru got arrested.
Lord Willingdon (who replaced Irwin as viceroy in 1931) jailed Gandhi in January 1932. Shortly after Gandhi’s return from the second Round Table Conference in London. Nehru got arrested and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
Imprisonment during World War II
At the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, had committed India to war. Without consulting the autonomous provincial ministries. The Congress Party’s high command withdrew its provincial ministries as a protest. But Congress’s action left the political field virtually open to Jinnah and the Muslim League. Nehru’s views on the war differed from those of Gandhi.
Initially, Gandhi believe that whatever support are provided to the British should be handled unconditionally and that it should be of a nonviolent character. Nehru held that nonviolence had no place in defense against aggression and that India should support Great Britain in a war against Nazism but only as a free country. If it could not help, it should not hinder.