Jawaharlal Nehru - India's First Prime Minister
Began Political Life as a Leader of the Indian Independence Movement
May 6, 2009 (updated 12/37/2010)
Jawaharlal Nehru was not only the first Prime Minister of India, but in that capacity, was also a major world figure during the mid-twentieth century.
Like many national leaders who first lead, or play a major role in leading, their nation to independence, Nehru was widely loved and respected and ended up not only serving as the nation's leader for many years but also shaped much of the nation's political life. Practically every official act of such a leader is a first and often becomes a precedent that his successors follow.
In Nehru's case he served as India's Prime Minister for a total of seventeen years from Indian Independence on August 15, 1947 until his death on May 27, 1964. As of this writing (2009), Nehru's term as Prime Minister was longer than that of any of his successors including the two terms served by his daughter, Indira Gandhi which totaled 15 years (January 24, 1966 to March 27, 1977 and January 14, 1980 to October 31, 1984).
Political Philosophy Acquired While Attending School in England
Jawaharlal Nehru was born in 1889 into a wealthy Indian family. India was under British rule at that time and like many upper class sons of wealthy locals in Europe's Asian and African colonies, was educated in Europe.
For Nehru the schools were Harrow, followed by Cambridge University. In addition to his formal education, his seven year stint in England in the early years of the twentieth century, Nehru acquired the socialist political philosophy which influenced his life and politics for the rest of his life.
Leftist and Marxist ideas were popular in European intellectual circles during the early years of the twentieth century and these were picked up by the future political leaders of Europe's Asian and African colonies during their student years in European universities. Some, like Ho Chi Minh of France's Indochina (now Vietnam) colony returned home as a rigid Marxist while others, like Jawaharlal Nehru it was Fabian Socialism, a less radical version of socialism associated with social democracy and the European welfare state.
While democratic, Fabian socialism is still a poor economic system. Despite his best efforts and massive aid from both the West and Soviet Bloc, the socialist economic policies involving central planning and government investment followed by Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi failed to achieve success in their economic development attempts.
Ironically, India's economy took off and began developing under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru's grandson Rajiv Gandhi who was elected Prime Minister by the ruling Congress Party following the assassination of Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, on October 31, 1984. Under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi many of the economic regulations, tariffs and other controls were lifted and the free market allowed to operate which led to the rapid economic development and rising incomes that continues to this day.
A Family Political Dynasty
Despite their close political association, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi were not related.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that Nehru's daughter, Indira, married Feroze Gandhi (who also was not related to Mahatma Gandhi), while attending school in England. Like Indira and her father, Feroze was also active in the Indian Independence Movement and later the Congress Party in India, where he, like Indira, was elected to Parliament. Thus, both Indira and her son an successor, Rajiv, have the last name Gandhi.
While Jawaharlal Nehru lived until the age of 75 before dying in office of a heart attack in 1964, his daughter and grandson were not so fortunate. While both died in office, their deaths were at the hands of assassins and at a much younger age with Indira dying at age 67 in 1984 and her son Rajiv in 1991 at the age of 47.
However, the family political tradition continues. Following his assination, Rajiv's Italian born wife, Sonia, became leader of the Congress Party, but not Prime Minister, and led the party to victory in the election that followed. While Sonia Gandhi remains active in Indian politics behind the scenes her and Rajiv's son, Rahul, is currently a member of the Indian Parliament and active in the leadership of the Congress Party.
Links for Further Reading
- Prime Minister of India - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A listing of Prime Ministers of India with biographies
- Rajiv Gandhi - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- India\'s Independence Day
India's Independence Day
- TIME Magazine | 60 Years of Asian Heroes: Gandhi and Nehru
They were opposite in nature, but they shared a passion for freedom and justice, and together created a giant of democracy
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