Independence and After

Jawaharlal Nehru

First prime minister of independent India (1947 – 64). Son of the independence advocate Motilal Nehru (1861 – 1931), Nehru was educated at home and in Britain and became a lawyer in 1912. More interested in politics than law, he was impressed by Mohandas K. Gandhi's approach to Indian independence. His close association with the Indian National Congress began in 1919; in 1929 he became its president, presiding over the historic Lahore session that proclaimed complete independence (rather than dominion status) as India's political goal. He was imprisoned nine times between 1921 and 1945 for his political activity. When India was granted limited self-government in 1935, the Congress Party under Nehru refused to form coalition governments with the Muslim League in some provinces; the hardening of relations between Hindus and Muslims that followed ultimately led to the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. Shortly before Gandhi's assassination in 1948, Nehru became the first prime minister of independent India. He attempted a foreign policy of nonalignment during the Cold War, drawing harsh criticism if he appeared to favour either camp. During his tenure, India clashed with Pakistan over the Kashmir region and with China over the Brahmaputra River valley. He wrested Goa from the Portuguese. Domestically, he promoted democracy, socialism, secularism, and unity, adapting modern values to Indian conditions. His daughter, Indira Gandhi, became prime minister two years after his death.

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