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Jawaharlal Nehru - India's First Prime Minister

Updated on March 20, 2011

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).

Jawaharlal Nehru -  public domain photo courtesy of WikiPedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jawahar_Lal_Nehru.jpg)
Jawaharlal Nehru - public domain photo courtesy of WikiPedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jawahar_Lal_Nehru.jpg)

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.

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    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 3 years ago from Pune, India

      Very informative hub. I would like to add that Nehru was a visionary who build modern India by founding infrastructural public sector industries with the help of other nations.

    • Chuck profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nugent 5 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      mounika and renuka - This Hub is a short article about Jawaharlal Nehru. It was written to give people a glimpse of this famous man's life.

      While this Hub can be a source of information for homework assignments, it was not intended to be something that could be simply copied and handed in to satisfy a homework assignment.

      Jawaharlal Nehru was a prolific author who wrote many books. You can find the books written by Nehru by doing Google or other searches using search terms such as "Jawaharlal Nehru books by", Jawaharlal Nehru author", etc.

      You can also visit a library and use their card catalog or computer book database to look for books by him by either looking under the name "Nehru, Jawaharlal" in the author section of the card file or by keying "Nehru, Jawaharlal" in the author box in the book database in the library.

      The purpose of an assignment such as this is to teach you how do research yourself instead of having to try to get writers like me to do your research for you by promising a more favorable comment in return.

      By the way, I teach part time and when I discover students of mine either getting someone else to do their research or simply copy a work done by another, I give them a failing grade on the assignment.

      Good Luck with your research!

    • profile image

      renuka 5 years ago

      It's not enough for those student who wants to know tnames of all the famous book written by jawaharlal nehru ji for their school project.this information then become completed and u'll get good coment on it

    • profile image

      mounika 5 years ago

      good work but i think it would be nicer if u mention all the books written by nehru

    • Rudra profile image

      Rudra 6 years ago

      Indeed, he is also known as Chacha (uncle) Nehru. His birthday is celebrated as childrens day in India.

    • Chuck profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nugent 6 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      India - While I haven't read any books recently about Nehru Ji I have added an Amazon capsule next to the text at the top which lists 6 books written by or about Nehru Ji. I also have a link capsule toward the bottom with links to sites with additional information about Nehru Ji. I also recommend a Google Book search as that may yield a greater number of books about Nehru Ji.

    • profile image

      India 6 years ago

      Hey...can you please tell me some good book on Nehru Ji

    • profile image

      Indian History  6 years ago

      Great information...its of great importance for people looking on Indian history

    • profile image

      devendergautam 6 years ago

      nehru is known as chacha nehru.his birthday every year,14nov,celebrated as childrens day.

    • theindiaphile profile image

      theindiaphile 6 years ago from London

      Very well researched hub. Great prose too!

    • profile image

      Choosing Bedspreads  6 years ago

      Very well researched hub. Thank you for highlighting about an Indian leader. I hope next time you write a hub about M A Jinnah (founder of Pakistan). We need to be able know more about our past to learn and move forward to a better future. Thumbs up for an informative hub.

    • profile image

      aks 7 years ago

      bpoJawaharlal 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.

    • ecobard profile image

      ecobard 7 years ago

      Good article and very informative. Here are some questions for you: Who is the worst Australian prime minister? Who is the man telling India to tighten its belt to prevent climate change? Now see what he allows in his own back yard:> https://hubpages.com/politics/awormintheapple

    • profile image

      saurabhpande 7 years ago

      Looks like the roots of the Congress party are still firm in India even after the loss of their first leader Late Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. Yet again the Congress Party has emerged as the single largest party in India in recent assembly elections.

    • profile image

      chandra 7 years ago

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 8 years ago from Central United States of America

      It is amazing how a bit of additional 'history' can make history really become 'alive'.  Thanks!

    • Deltachord profile image

      Deltachord 8 years ago from United States

      Good historical hub. I remember nehru jackets. Interesting that their economy didn't take off until they had moved to a more free market approach.

    • countrywomen profile image

      countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

      Very well researched hub. Thank you for highlighting about an Indian leader. I hope next time you write a hub about M A Jinnah (founder of Pakistan). We need to be able know more about our past to learn and move forward to a better future. Thumbs up for a informative hub.

    • Chuck profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nugent 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Cashmere - thanks for the new update.

      This Hub was written in response to a Q&A requrest from trupesh and posted on the HubPages Q&A page.

      Chuck

    • cashmere profile image

      cashmere 8 years ago from India

      Oh, I thought you wrote it because elections were on. Any way Chuck it was an interesting hub.

      The last phase of voting is over. The counting will begin in ten days time. Now you will get to see the great Indian Democratic drama live.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 8 years ago from Chicago

      I enjoyed reading this page. It is informative, interesting and well written. Thanks.

      ps In one of my high school pictures on my mother's wall today I am wearing a Nehru shirt :-)

    • Chuck profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nugent 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      cashmere - thanks for the update on the current political situation. I wasn't aware that an election was taking place as I wrote this. Thanks again.

      Chuck

    • Chuck profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nugent 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Purple Perl -  thanks for the additional information about Nehru comment and the update on Nehru's family and the current political situation with the Congress Party.

      While I was growing up in the 1960s Nehru was in the news almost every day so I remember a lot about him which made this an easy Hub to write. But your added information certainly adds to what I have, so thanks for sharing.

      Chuck

    • Chuck profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nugent 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      bobmnu - I, too, remember the Nehru jacket and even considered mentioning it but I didn't think anyone remembered. Then, when I set up my Amazon and eBay ads the Nehru jacket popped up - but they don't look like the Nehru jackets that I remembered from the 1960s or whenever they were a fashion hit.

      Thanks for reminding of of this

    • Chuck profile image
      Author

      Chuck Nugent 8 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      ecoggins - thanks for the comment. I didn't know about the street in Phnom Penh. But I remember when I was growing up Nehru was in the news a lot and much of it was due to his leadership along with President Sukarno of Indonesia of the non-aligned nations which was a bloc of newly independent nations of Asia and Africa that attempted to maintain friendly relations with both super powers (the United States and the Soviet Union) and their allies without taking sides with either of them. So it is not surprising that he would have a street named after him in the capital of Cambodia which was one of the Asian members of the non-aligned bloc.

      Thanks again.

    • cashmere profile image

      cashmere 8 years ago from India

      Unfortunately the great grandson Rahul is not a patch on his more illustrious ancestors. The Charm of the first family is no longer enough to gain majority for the Congress and the final phase of voting today will decide who their ruling partners will be.

    • Laila Rajaratnam profile image

      Laila Rajaratnam 8 years ago from India

      WOW!..Chuck..Great!You have explained this so very beautifully!:)A truly wonderful hub!Thanks for sharing!:)

    • Purple Perl profile image

      Purple Perl 8 years ago from Bangalore,India

      Chuck, absolutely brilliant hub!

      A few facts I would like to contribute.

      Nehru is also known as Chacha Nehru,which means Uncle Nehru in Hindi,because he loved children. His birthday every year,Nov 14, is celebrated as Children's Day in India. He loved red roses as well which is why he always sported a red rose in the buttonhole of his Nehru jacket. It is said that the first was presented to him by a little child.

      Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi have 2 children. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadera. Priyanka,a mother of 2,looks and talks like grandma,Indira Gandhi and presently is campaigning for her mother and brother for the forthcoming elections.

    • profile image

      bobmnu 8 years ago

      I agree he was a great leader but he also left his mark on the Fashion World. Not many will remember the Nehru Jackets, whick came into fashion around the same time as the Liesure Suits.

    • ecoggins profile image

      ecoggins 8 years ago from Corona, California

      One of the main streets in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is named after Nehru. When I lived there, I thought it was a peculiar street name in Cambodia. I had never heard of him nor knew about his legacy. Now I know more about his history. Thanks.