Jawaharlal Nehru

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Nehru, Jawaharlal

Nehru, Jawaharlal (jəwähərlälˈ nāˈro͞o, nĕˈ–), 1889–1964, Indian statesman, b. Allahabad (now Priyagraj); son of Motilal Nehru. A politician and statesman of great skill, Nehru was enormously popular in India.

Early Career

Educated in England at Harrow and Cambridge, he was admitted to the English bar in 1912 and practiced law in India for several years. After the massacre at Amritsar (1919), he devoted himself to the struggle for India's freedom. His compelling oratory as well as his close association with Mohandas Gandhi contributed to making him a leader of the Indian National Congress, and in 1929 (the first of four times) he was elected its president.

A leader of the radical wing of the Congress, Nehru spent most of the period from 1930 to 1936 in jail for conducting civil disobedience campaigns. About 1939 disharmony developed between him and Gandhi. Nehru, who had been influenced by a study of Marxism, opposed Gandhi's ideal of an agrarian society and advanced a program calling for the industrialization and socialization of India. During World War II, however, Nehru and Gandhi were united in their opposition to aiding Great Britain unless India was immediately freed, and Nehru was imprisoned from Oct., 1942, to June, 1945. After his release, he participated in the negotiations that led to the creation of the two independent states of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Indian Prime Minister

Nehru became India's prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and led the country through the difficult early years of independence. The domestic problems of those years included the massive influx of Hindu refugees from Pakistan; the integration of the princely states into the new political structure (Hyderabad was incorporated by force in 1948, and Kashmir's accession caused the first India-Pakistan War, ending in the partition of the state); and controversy and unrest associated with the reorganization of the states on a linguistic basis. On the economic front the government launched a series of five-year plans with the declared goal of achieving a “socialist pattern of society.”

In foreign affairs Nehru adopted a policy of neutralism. He stressed the importance of the movement of nonaligned nations in international politics and became one of its leading spokesmen. He also opposed the formation of military alliances and urged a moratorium on all nuclear testing. Some observers felt that he lost stature as an advocate of peace by employing force in Kashmir and by seizing (1961) Goa from the Portuguese. It also appeared that he might be abandoning strict neutralism for a more pro-Western policy when he requested Western aid to defend India against Chinese border incursions in 1962.


Nehru wrote voluminously, especially while in prison; his notable works include Glimpses of World History (1936), comprising letters to his daughter (Indira Gandhi), and The Discovery of India (1946). See also his autobiography, Toward Freedom (American ed. 1941, repr. 1958); biographies by M. Edwardes (1971) and S. Gopal (3 vol., 1976–84); B. R. Nanda, The Nehrus (1962); A. von Tunzelmann, Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire (2007).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Nehru, Jawaharlal


Born Nov. 14, 1889, in Allahabad; died May 27, 1964, in New Delhi. A leader of the Indian national liberation movement; statesman.

The son of Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru studied in Great Britain from 1905 to 1912 at Harrow, an elite preparatory school, and at Cambridge University. He was drawn to the idea of Indian nationalism during these years and in 1912 joined the Indian National Congress. B. Tilak and a group of supposed extremists within the Congress influenced the formation of the young Nehru’s sociopolitical views. When M. K. Gandhi assumed leadership of the Congress in 1918, Nehru became his follower and close associate.

In 1921, Nehru was arrested for the first time for conducting anti-English propaganda in the countryside. Altogether he spent more than ten years in various prisons. In 1927 he participated in the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities in Brussels and there-after worked actively with the Anti-imperialist League that was created there. Nehru was familiar with the works of K. Marx and V. I. Lenin. With his father, he visited the Soviet Union in 1927 and took part in the celebrations marking the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution. Nehru thought highly of Lenin, whom he referred to as a “master of thought and a genius of revolution” (J. Nehru, Glimpses of World History, New York, 1942, p. 638). Nehru observed that Lenin’s deeds live on in the hearts of the workers, inspiring them in the struggle for a better life.

In Nehru’s opinion, a successful national liberation struggle that would involve the popular masses could only be based on an appeal for sweeping future social transformation in India. He considered the main elements of such a transformation to be nationalization, planned development of the national economy with the leading role to be played by the state, introduction of antifeudal agrarian reforms, and development of agricultural cooperation. Nehru saw socialism as India’s future; however, he perceived that the path to socialism lay not through the development of class struggle but, following Gandhi, through social compromise.

Nehru’s radical views aided his emergence by the end of the 1920’s as one of the leaders of the left wing of the Congress. He became a member of the party’s inner leadership; beginning in 1923, he was repeatedly elected secretary of the executive committee, then general secretary of the Congress. He served as president of the Congress in 1929–30, 1936–37, 1946, and from 1951 to 1954. At the Lahore session of the Congress in 1929, Nehru proposed the official slogan of purna swaraj (total independence). He helped draft the first economic and social program of the Congress, which was adopted at the Karachi session in 1931. In 1938, Nehru headed the national planning committee, an organ of the Congress set up to develop a program for future economic construction in independent India. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, Nehru frequently traveled abroad to establish ties between the Indian national movement and anti-imperialist and antifascist forces in Western Europe. He actively opposed fascist aggression in Ethiopia (Abyssinia) and Europe and supported the Spanish republic and China’s struggle against Japanese aggression. During World War II, Nehru actively supported the Soviet Union.

In 1946, Nehru joined India’s interim government as deputy prime minister (the British viceroy being considered prime minister) and minister of external affairs. He supervised the work of the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi in 1946. From India’s independence in 1947 until his death, Nehru continuously held the posts of prime minister and minister of external affairs. His name is associated with the development and implementation of the basic principles of the internal and foreign policy of the Republic of India, which have been referred to as the “Nehru course.” The most important Congress programs, including those providing for the development of a mixed economy with primary growth in the state sector and expanding state regulation of the remainder of the economy, were drafted on Nehru’s initiative and with his direct participation. In 1955, at a Congress session in Awadh (Avadi), a program for building a “society on the socialist pattern” in India was adopted at Nehru’s suggestion; he similarly proposed a program for carrying through agrarian reforms and developing various forms of agricultural cooperation; the program was adopted at a session in Nagpur in 1959. Concerned with the growth of Indian monopolies, Nehru called for curbs on Indian big capital, particularly in 1963–64. As chairman of the planning commission, Nehru took a direct part in the preparation of India’s first three five-year development plans (1951/52–1965/66). Measures for economic and sociocultural construction, developed and implemented under Nehru’s leadership, provided a foundation for the restructuring of the colonial-feudal order of Indian society.

In foreign affairs, Nehru conducted a policy of “positive neutrality,” aimed at furthering the struggle for peace and international cooperation and against the threat of war, neocolonialism, and racism. He took part in formulating the “five principles of interstate relations” (panch shila) and was one of the leaders of the Bandung Conference of 1955.

Nehru favored comprehensive development of Soviet-Indian relations and of friendship and cooperation between the Soviet Union and India, as well as the study and application of the Soviet experience in economic and cultural construction. He visited the USSR in 1955 and 1961.

As a statesman, Nehru became a recognized national leader and entered history as the builder of a new India. He was an original thinker, a brilliant orator, and the author of major popular works on world and Indian history. Nehru’s world view, which reflected the complex and contradictory conditions of India’s history in the modern era, was an embodiment of the ideals of humanitarianism.


The Unity of India: Collected Writings, 1937–1940. London, 1941.
Glimpses of World History. New York, 1942.
Independence and After: A Collection of Speeches, 1946–1949. New York, 1950.
J. Nehru’s Speeches, 1949–1953. New Delhi, 1954.
J. Nehru’s Speeches, vols. 1–5. New Delhi, 1957–68.
Selected Works, vols. 1–5. New Delhi, 1972–73.
Vneshniaia politika Indii: Izbr. rechi i vystupleniia, 1946–1964. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from English.)
Avtobiografiia. Moscow, 1955. (Translated from English.)
Otkrytie Indii. Moscow, 1955. (Translated from English.)


Mirovozzrenie Dzhavakharlala Neru. Moscow, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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