Nehru and Nation Building
1947 – 1964
The struggle for independence had been a difficult journey for those who had led the country selflessly, demanding sacrifice and commitment. Recalling the time he had spent in jail, Jawaharlal Nehru observed, ‘Prison is not a pleasant place to live in even for a short period, much less for long years.’ What sustained him, as indeed many others, was the recognition, to quote one of Nehru’s favourite passages from George Bernard Shaw, ‘This is the true joy of life, the being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one.’ And what could be mightier or nobler than laying the foundations of a new nation taking its first steps on the path of democracy and freedom? In Nehru’s own words, ‘We are little men serving great causes, but because the cause is great, something of that greatness falls upon us also.’
At last independence arrived, but it brought in its wake monumental challenges. In the months preceding 15 August 1947, it had become evident that the division of the country was inevitable. Riots and clashes between Hindus and Muslims erupted across Bengal, Bihar, and Punjab. Faced with the immediate prospect of losing their homes and livelihood, and with their security at risk, people took to the streets as wanton killings and violence escalated along communal lines.
Millions of Hindus and Sikhs migrated to India, and millions of Muslims left for what is now Pakistan. Nehru was conscious of the grave threat posed by communalism to the unity and integrity of India, and he personally carried out a massive campaign against it through radio broadcasts and public speeches. He demonstrated through per-sonal example the fearless response to communal violence.
With the establishment of Pakistan, Hindu communal forces became increasingly strident, declaring 15 August as a day of mourning and attacking the government for what they saw as a policy of Muslim appeasement. Soon riots broke out in Delhi. When Gandhi said that Pakistan should be given its share of immovable assets despite the ongoing hostility in Kashmir, Hindu communal forces sharpened their attack on him.
Anguished by the brutality and violence of the partition riots, Gandhi undertook an indefinite fast on 13 January 1948 for peace and communal harmony. On 15 January, the representatives of all communities, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, and Maulana Azad, gave an assurance in this regard. On 17 January, a Central Peace Committee was formed under the leadership of the Congress president to ensure that all efforts would be made to normal-ise the situation. On 18 January, Gandhi called off his fast. But in the surcharged atmosphere, not everyone appreciated Gandhi’s efforts to speak for all, Hindus and Muslims alike.
On 30 January 1948, as Gandhi came for his usual prayer meeting, he was assassinated by a fanatic young man, Nathuram Godse, a member of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, and a close associate of V.D. Savarkar. Gandhi’s assassination shocked the entire nation because the man who himself had espoused communal harmony had fallen to the merciless bullets of the very same communal forces. Thus tragically ended the life of one of the most remarkable men of our times, who was loved and revered as Bapu (father) and honoured as the Mahatma by the people of his country.
For more than three decades, Gandhi had dominated the national movement with the strength of his moral force and his firm convic-tion in standing up for a just cause. People from all walks of life, regions, and communities rallied behind him. Not only did he attract widespread support for the national movement and the Congress Party, but he also fundamentally altered the character of the movement. Address-ing the nation after Gandhi’s assassination, Nehru said: . . . the light has gone out of our lives . . . the light that shone on this country was no ordinary light . . . For that light represented more than the immediate present, it represented living the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom.
Nehru realised that Gandhi’s assassination was not merely an act of a lone fanatic but was also backed by the ideology of the RSS, which he described as a fascist organisation. Sardar Patel, with Nehru’s support, banned the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha. The ban on the RSS was lifted only in July 1949 when it gave an undertaking that it would function under severe restrictions. The Hindu Mahasabha was dissolved.
Independent India faced the immense challenge of reconstruction, consolidation, and nation building, which now began in right earnest. The immediate problem facing the new government was the rehabilitation of six million refugees. A huge relief camp was set up in Nilokheri near Delhi to resettle the refugees from Punjab. In East Bengal, large camps provided immediate relief to refugees. J.B. Kripalani, the Congress president, established a Central Relief Committee in July 1947, with Sucheta Kripalani as its secretary.
Many dedicated people worked hard to prevent the spread of violence and to resettle the refugees. Notable among them were Sardar Tarlok Singh at the Punjab Rural Rehabilitation Centre, Premvati Thapar at the Jalandhar Women’s Camp, S.K. Dey at Nilokheri, and S.K. Ghosh at Faridabad. Sushila Nayar was put in charge of rescuing and recovering abandoned and abducted women, and in Uttar Pradesh, Sarojini Naidu did commenda-ble work in limiting the violence.
When the British departed, they left behind not only India and Pakistan, but also a large number of states constituting princely India. India under British rule had included approximately 562 princely states, ranging in size from a few square miles to a state as large as Hyderabad with a population of approximately 17 million. The government headed by Pandit Nehru faced the urgent task of integrating the states that had earlier accepted British paramountcy. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the deputy prime minister, headed the newly created States Department, and along with Nehru he ensured the integration of the country in a remarkably short period between 1947 and 1950.
On the eve of the transfer of power, Lord Mountbatten and Sardar Patel appealed to the princes to accede to the Indian Union. On 5 July 1947, Patel reminded the states that: By common endeavours we can raise the country to a new greatness, while lack of unity will expose us to fresh calamities. I hope the Indian states will bear in mind that the alternative to cooperation in general interest is anarchy and chaos which will overwhelm great and small in a common ruin.
Sardar Patel succeeded in getting the major-ity of the princes to join the Indian Union, through appeals, coercion, and a ‘carrot and stick’ approach. All states except Jammu & Kashmir, Junagadh, and Hyderabad signed the Instrument of Accession.
The Nawab of Junagadh acceded to Pakistan on 15 August 1947, but the people of the state rose in revolt and formed a provisional government. At their request, the Government of India took over the administration of Junagadh in November 1947. In Hyderabad, the Nizam declared that it would be an independent state, and here Patel had to resort to police action, and Hyderabad eventually acceded to the Indian Union in September 1948.
Jammu & Kashmir presented a very special problem because it was a Muslim-majority state ruled by a Hindu maharaja. The Kashmiri Muslim Conference urged Jammu & Kashmir to accede to Pakistan, but the National Conference, affiliated to the All India States People’s Conference, under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah, was inclined otherwise. On 15 October 1947, the prime minister of Jammu & Kashmir in a telegram to the British prime minister complained of an economic blockade and a virulent press and radio campaign by Pakistan aimed at coercing the state to accede.
On 22 October, the Pakistani attack on Kashmir began. The valley was subjected to pillage and plunder by the marauding invaders. They reached Baramullah on 27 October, placing Srinagar in danger. Faced with this situation, Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India by signing the Instrument of Accession, under the Union of India Act. Indian troops were flown in and Srinagar was saved. India approached the United Nations Security Council in December 1947, and a ceasefire was effected between India and Pakistan in 1948.
After 1948, India and Pakistan accepted the United Nations ceasefire line, leaving a part of Kashmir under Pakistani occupation. Kashmir, however, continued to remain a delicate and sensitive matter. In 1950, Article 370 of the Constitution of India granted Kashmir a special status within the Union of India. Kashmir’s own constitution, which was adopted in 1956, declared Kashmir as an integral part of the Union of India.
In December 1961, Goa was liberated from the Portuguese, thereby completing the task of the integration of India.
The most significant and enduring achieve-ments of the Congress leadership in the aftermath of the country’s partition were the rapid unification of India and the rehabilitation of millions of refugees. Nehru, Patel, Maulana Azad, G.B. Pant, B.C. Roy, B.G. Kher, and others, backed by the grass-roots functionaries of the praja mandals and other bodies affiliated to the All India States People’s Conference, worked hard to realise these goals.
(December 1946 – December 1949)
The first decade of Congress rule in independent India shaped the vision of the new nation and laid the foundation of its democratic institutions and secular character.
The party brought together exceptional people of different ideologies to unite in the task of nation building. The composition of Nehru’s cabinet, which included five non-Congress members— Dr B.R. Ambedkar, S.P. Mookerjee, John Mathai, C.H. Bhabha, and Shanmukham Chetty—was truly representative of India’s secular, flexible, and all-encompassing character.
These principles were integral to the fram-ing of the Constitution of India, which was a truly daunting enterprise. The Constituent Assembly made efforts to include people of all shades of opinion. There were 292 Congress members, 72 Muslim League members, and the rest belonged to other parties. Apart from members sent by the provinces of British India, there were also representatives of the princely states. Even though the majority of members were from the Congress, every effort was made to work through consensus and broad agreement. The Congress also nominated independent members to represent civil society and also appointed legal luminaries.
The Congress leadership had maintained since the 1930s that the constitution would reflect the aspirations of the Indian people. The basic principles and the broad structure of the Constitution bore the distinct imprint of Congress ideology.The CWC discussed and ratified every important resolution before placing it before the Constituent Assembly.
The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly on 9 December 1946 was a historic day as the people’s representatives came together to determine the future constitution of the country.
By the time the Constituent Assembly met for its third session in April-May 1947, it had become clear that the Muslim League would not participate in the work of the body. The process was, however, made more participatory by asking for submissions from the public at large.
OBJECTIVES RESOLUTION, 1946
On the fifth day of the first session of the Constituent Assembly, 13 December 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru moved the historic Objectives Resolution, which created the framework of the Constitution. It firmly resolved to proclaim India as a sovereign republic, securing for its citizens justice and equity, social, economic, and political, equal status of opportunity before the law, freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, vocation, association, and action, with adequate safeguards for minorities, backward and tribal areas, and depressed and other backward classes.
The Congress chose Dr Ambedkar, a non-Congress member and a prominent Dalit leader, as the chairman of the Drafting Committee, who played a pivotal role in the drafting of the Constitution. He was ably assisted by formidable legal minds, K.M. Munshi, Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar, B.N. Rau, and S.N. Mukherjee.
The Congress leadership tapped the best talent—irrespective of party affiliation, political background, or considerations of caste, community, region or religion—to join in the task of drafting a constitution for free India.
Congress leaders Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, and Rajendra Prasad, the president of the Constituent Assembly, made the most substantial contributions. Nehru and Patel headed various important committees and both worked hard to ensure consensus, allowing free and frank debate to guide the deliberations. On controversial issues, all members were given an opportunity to express their opinions. Nehru remarked that in this task they had to balance two factors: ‘the urgent necessity in reaching our goal and the other that we should reach it in proper time and with as great unanimity as possible.’
Dr Ambedkar acknowledged the Congress contribution in his speech to the Constituent Assembly on 25 November 1949, giving credit to the party: The task of the Drafting Committee would have been a very difficult one, if this Constituent Assembly had been merely a motley crowd, a tessellated pavement without cement, a black stone here and [a] white stone there on which each member or each group was a law unto itself. There would have been nothing else but chaos. This possibility of chaos was reduced to nil by the existence of the Congress Party inside the Assembly[,] which brought into its proceedings [the] essence of order and discipline.
It is because of the discipline of the Congress Party that the Drafting Committee was able to pilot the Constitution in the Assembly with the sure knowledge as to the faith of each Article and each amendment. The Congress Party is therefore entitled to all the credit for the smooth sailing of the draft Constitution in the Assembly.
THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA
The Constitution of India was amongst the largest in the world, with 395 Articles and 9 Schedules. The Preamble of the Consti-tution, which spells out its basic philosophy, was carved out of the Objectives Resolution and speaks of the solemn resolve of the people of India to secure to all citizens justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity. India was proclaimed to be a democratic republic with a parliamentary system based on universal adult franchise. This had been a consistent demand of the Congress since the late nineteenth century and was a significant step in empowering the marginalised sections of society. That India embraced democracy within the institutional framework of the Constitution is testimony to the fore-sightedness and sagacity of its founding fathers. The Republic of India guarantees to all Indian citizens fundamental rights of speech and expression, freedom to assemble peaceably, to form associations, and to acquire and hold property, and equality before the law. The Constitution became an instrument for the removal of social injustice. Untouchability was abolished, and its practise penalised in 1955. Affirmative action formed the cornerstone of the social agenda.
Seats were reserved in the legislature and in educational institutions for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and government jobs were reserved for them. The Constitution also laid down certain Directive Principles of State Policy to guide the states in the framing of laws.
The Constitution of India came into force on 26 January 1950. The date had a special significance. At midnight on 31 December 1929, at a massive public gathering in Lahore, Jawaharlal Nehru had hoisted India’s tricolour flag on the banks of the river Ravi and declared poorna swaraj or complete independence, asking Indians to observe 26 January as Independence Day.
It had taken three years and the collective wisdom of remarkable individuals imbued with ‘moral vision, political skill, and legal acumen’ to complete the task. The remarkable feat of laying the foundations of what is today the world’s largest democracy has been hailed as the greatest political venture since the framing of the US Constitution.
Following the transfer of power in 1947, C.R. Rajagopalachari succeeded Lord Mount-batten as Governor-General. After the Constitu-tion came into force, the office of the Governor-General was replaced by that of the President. C.R. Rajagopalachari relinquished the office of Governor-General and Rajendra Prasad became the first President of India, with Jawaharlal Nehru as the first Prime Minister.
Linguistic Reorganisation of the States and the Official Language
The demand for the reorganisation of the states on the basis of language was a major problem facing the new government. In its early years, the Congress had supported the demand for the linguistic demarcation of provincial boundaries at its sessions in 1927, 1928, and 1937. Increasingly, however, doubts rose about the wisdom of promoting linguistic divisions. The issue came to a head when leaders from Andhra, including Swami Potti Sriramulu, a respected Gandhian, undertook a fast unto death for the recognition of Andhra as a separate state, provoking unprecedented violence. Eventually, Nehru announced the formation of Andhra Pradesh, as well as the appointment of a State Reorganisation Commission in 1953, which recommended the linguistic reorganisation of the states.
The Constitution had declared Hindi in the Devanagari script as the administrative language to be used throughout the country. However, the non-Hindi-speaking states saw the decision to do away with English and an endorsement of Hindi as evidence of the domination of the Hindi-speaking north over the rest of the country. It was regarded as a move to edge out non-Hindi-speaking Indians from jobs and other positions. In 1963, the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK), based in Tamil Nadu, launched a massive movement against Hindi, which spread to other parts of the country. Eventually, Nehru gave an assurance that English would continue to be an associated language for official purposes until the non-Hindi-speaking states voluntarily agreed to implement constitutional provisions for making Hindi the lingua franca of the country.
GENERAL ELECTIONS, 1952
The first general elections of free India were held in February 1952. The Congress won comfortably, securing 364 out of 489 seats in Parliament, and 2,247 out of 3,280 seats in the state assemblies. Nehru led the election campaign, covering 40,000 kilometres and addressing over 35 million people, and the results were a testimony to his personal charisma and popular appeal. The main plank of the Congress campaign was the fight against communalism. It was an empowering experience for the rural masses to exercise their franchise, and the elections came to personify a festival of democracy. It is a great tribute to the secular ideology and leadership of the Congress that despite the cataclysmic events surrounding the partition of the country, peaceful elections were held within the framework of India's secular constitution.
In the next two general elections, too, the Congress performed far better than the other parties. It commanded a stable majority in the Lok Sabha, but the number of Congress representatives in the state assemblies declined to some extent. Until the 1960s, however, the Congress remained the dominant party, demonstrating its plurality and flexibility by representing different groupings.
The character of the Indian National Congress changed after independence. The AICC resolved in 1948 to retain the Congress as the only organisational body to administer the country. The new party constitution was appro-ved at the Jaipur session in December 1948. A three-tier membership was envisaged to broaden the base of the party, which was later amended to two types of membership—primary and active. Congress committees were established at the mandal level to strengthen the grass-roots organisation. The Congress was the only pan-India party not just in terms of its geographic reach but also in the universality of its appeal to all sections of society. As Nehru said, the Congress was ‘the mirror of the nation.’
During this period, Parliament under Nehru’s leadership resolved many conflicts and promoted national integration. The mature functioning of Parliament was amply demonstrated on several occasions, such as the debates on the States Reorganisation Commission, Lal Bahadur Shastri’s resignation as Railway Minister in 1958 following the rail accident at Ariyalur (Tamil Nadu), and V.K. Krishna Menon’s resignation as Defence Minister after China’s invasion in 1962. G.V. Mavalankar, the Lok Sabha speaker, distinguished himself as an able parliamentary authority, setting an example for his successors.
The national movement had brought together diverse individuals and groups in the pursuit of a common goal—seeking indepen-dence from British rule. The Congress had successfully assimilated various views, internal conflicts, and ideological differences within the framework of a larger national vision. After independence, many political groups emerged from the fold of the Congress to branch off into distinct parties such as the Swatantra, the Samyukta Socialist, the Jana Sangh, and the Communist Party of India.
Within the Congress, too, healthy ideological differences persisted between Nehru and Sardar Patel. This was perhaps most strongly manifes-ted at the Nasik session in 1950 over the issue of the presidentship of the Congress. Nehru supported the candidature of J.B. Kripalani, while Patel supported that of Purshottam Das Tandon, who won. Tandon constituted the CWC in a manner not quite to the liking of Nehru. The latter resigned from the CWC, followed by Maulana Azad as well as many others, forcing Tandon to resign. J.B. Kripalani quit the Congress along with his followers because of differences with Nehru regarding the role of the party in governance. Nehru’s view was that the government and the party should maintain an arm’s length distance from each other, allowing for an independent structure of governance.
Nehru tried to ensure that the Congress remained an inclusive party that welcomed diversity.
He was concerned that the Congress should ideologically maintain a socialist orienta-tion, and he took the initiative of radically altering party policies in the spheres of social equality, equity, and economic development.
Sardar Patel died in 1950, and Nehru remained as the towering leader of the Congress and the government. The AICC elected Nehru as the Congress president, and he continued in this office until the Avadi session in 1955 where the ‘socialistic pattern of society’ was adopted as an objective of the party. He also presided over three sessions of the Congress—at New Delhi in 1951, at Hyderabad in 1953, and at Kalyani in 1954.
The transformation of the Congress from being a party that had led the national move-ment to a party now heading the government inevitably brought, over a period of time, problems of factionalism, weakening contact with the masses, internal power struggles, and corruption. A resolution adopted at the Avadi session in 1955 directed the CWC to take firm measures to ensure organisational discipline. In 1963, the loss of three by-elections did not go unnoticed, and the party leadership decided to take firm action. K. Kamaraj and Nehru put together a plan for reorganising and reinvigorating the party with a clear agenda and clearly defined party and parliamentary wings.
The Kamaraj Plan asked leaders to relinquish official positions and to approach the masses to restore confidence in the Congress. Three hundred resignations from ministerial posts, including from all members of the union cabinet and from the state chief ministers, followed. Nehru accepted the resignations of six union cabinet members and six chief ministers. This was seen by some as an attempt to purge some powerful right-wing colleagues.
NEHRU’S VISION FOR A NEW INDIA
Planning for Growth
Long before independence, the Congress Party had been deeply aware of the many problems that needed attention for improving the quality of life of ordinary Indians. Nehru in particular had a clear understanding of the challenges confronting the nation in its early years. As far back as 1936, in his presidential address to the Lucknow session, he had stated his views, outlining his policy for ensuring social justice and the welfare of the masses. Nehru was steadfast in pursuing the ideology of planning, and the National Planning Committee was set up in 1938, almost entirely on his initiative.
In November 1947, the Congress set up an Economic Programme Committee under the chairmanship of Nehru to draw up an economic policy for the Congress.
The report of this committee, submitted in January 1948, emphasised the importance of establishing a just social order to ensure the equitable distribution of income and wealth. It proposed the creation of a permanent Planning Commission, which was established on 15 March 1950, with Nehru as chairman. In the planning process, Nehru was ably assisted by Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, a Cambridge-trained physicist and statistician, the man who introduced modern statistics to India and who used data collection and analysis effectively for the planning process.
In July 1951, Nehru presented a report to the AICC emphasising the need for laying the foundations of a welfare state in India. The Avadi session in 1955 resolved that: . . . planning should take place with a view to the establishment of a socialistic pattern of society where the principal means of production are under social ownership or control, production is progressively speeded up and there is equitable distribution of the national wealth.
Nehru maintained that planning was essen-tial to the development needs of a poor country with scarce resources, which needed to be managed optimally and which could be ensured only through effective national planning.
He also felt that India would continue to face unforeseen crises and calamities—invasions, droughts, floods—and hence the country must have the ability to respond to these situations in a planned and systematic manner. He also felt that state intervention in economic policy (what he called ‘the commanding heights of the economy’) was imperative for developing the country’s infrastructure and for ensuring that large projects were taken up so that the country could reap the benefits of the economies of scale. The state alone could mobilise the resources required for such ambitious projects. Nehru felt that ownership of key industries should not be allowed to fall into the hands of private individuals.
Unequal access to land was a fundamental problem in rural India. Land reform legislation had long been on the agenda of the Congress. After independence, this issue was prioritised, and by 1949 different states had passed major legislation to abolish the zamindari system. This step at one stroke led to an economic and social revolution in rural India, empowering the rural peasantry. The state vested the right of owner-ship in tenants, doing away with age-old exploi-tation represented by the imposition of rents and cesses. It freed land for redistribution to the landless. Tenants and sharecroppers got occu-pancy rights and now paid reduced fixed rents.
Nehru strongly backed the implementation of land reforms, believing them to be necessary because, as he said: We felt that this [was the] inner urge of our people because we heard the cry of millions of people and sometimes deep murmurs and rumblings which, if not listened to and if not answered, create big revolutions and changes in the country.
He viewed land reforms not only in terms of social equity but also within the larger perspective of economic development. In a letter to chief ministers in 1954, he observed: The whole policy of land reforms apart from moving the burden of the actual tiller was to spread the income from the land more evenly among the peasantry and thus give them the purchasing power. In this way the internal market would expand and productive forces of the country would grow.
The needs of peasants, most of whom lacked the material resources, education, and knowledge necessary to negotiate the major changes taking place in rural areas, also received attention.
On 2 October 1952, under the First Five-Year Plan, a nationwide Community Development Programme (CDP) was launched that envisaged the village as a basic unit of development.
The programme was especially aimed at improving the conditions of backward groups and back-ward areas. Under this programme, community development schemes were launched focusing on improved road connectivity, cattle welfare, improved methods of cultivation, canal irrigation, and the introduction of scientific methods of agriculture. At the first CDP conference in 1952, Nehru expressed the hope that: These community centres will not merely pick out the best and most favourable spots and help them start but also try to work out the problems of the other spots which are backward, economically, socially, and in other respects.
The economic policy of the Congress empha-sised swadeshi or self-reliance, clearly recognising that underdevelopment was a result of a lack of technological progress. To remedy this, major initiatives to foster self-sufficiency were intro-duced. The Industrial Policy Resolution of 1948 stressed the role of the state in the development of industry. The New Industrial Policy Resolu-tion of 1956 emphasised the vital role of the state in planning, developing, and exercising overall control of resources. It committed the state to undertaking the expansion of the public sector, which would cover basic industries and public utility services. In pursuing a policy of a mixed economy, Nehru envisaged that while basic industries would remain under state control, other industries could continue to be privately managed.
The country’s modernisation depended crucially on planning, a mixed economy, and rapid industrialisation guided by the state.
Public Sector Undertakings: ‘Temples of Modern India’
The New Industrial Policy Resolution of 1956 classified new industries into three categories. The first was the exclusive responsibility of the state and included energy, power, iron, coal, steel, electricity, telephone, defence-related industries, and aviation. The second covered both public and private sector participation and included chemicals, fertilisers, pharmaceuticals, and road transport. The third was the private sector, which primarily covered consumer industries.
Nehru identified the production of power and steel as essential for self-sufficiency and planning. India collaborated with other countries, and the result was the establishment of steel plants in Rourkela (Orissa) with German help, in Bhilai (Madhya Pradesh) with Russian help, and in Durgapur (West Bengal) with British help. The Indian steel industry symbolised India’s ambition to forge ahead on a self-reliant, productive industrial path.
Power generation was the other major area identified as crucial. Dam projects were under-taken on the Mahanadi, Rihand, Tungabhadra, Damodar, and Satluj rivers. The most prestigious of these was the Bhakra Nangal dam in Punjab, the second highest in the world. Inaugurated in July 1954, it was a symbol of what Nehru called ‘the temples of modern India’.
The first state-owned oil refinery was inaugurated in Noonmati, Assam in 1962.
Nehru as an Institution Builder
Nehru was determined to foster the ‘scientific temper’, which he considered the driver of progress. Many new engineering institutes were established, the most important being the premier Indian Institutes of Techno-logy, five of which were started between 1957 and 1964. The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, was granted deemed university status in 1959. In 1950, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research was set up with a chain of national and regional laboratories, including the National Physical Laboratory. In 1954, Nehru laid the foundation stone of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bombay. In 1958, the Defence Research and Development Organisa-tion was set up. The many institutions estab-lished in the early post-independence years are testimony to the farsightedness of Nehru, who hoped that these would become the ‘visible symbols of building up the new India and of providing life and sustenance to our people.’
Nuclear Energy and Space Research
Soon after independence, India embarked upon a nuclear programme aimed at developing its nuclear capacity for peaceful purposes. The Atomic Energy Act of 1948 paved the way for the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission on 3 January 1954.
Dr Homi Bhabha’s pioneer-ing work helped set India on the road to devel-oping a nuclear programme devoted to peaceful purposes. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre was created to enhance India’s capabilities in this area. Nehru believed that India had to harness its scientific and technological talent to build ‘atoms for peace’. But he also stressed that nuclear, chemical, and biological knowledge and power should not be used to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. In furtherance of this policy, India consistently supported nuclear disarmament.
Dr Vikram Sarabhai, the father of the Indian space programme, helped establish the Indian Space Research Organisation.
Education as a Tool for Empowerment
The major concerns in the 1950s were the removal of adult illiteracy, universalisation of primary education, and the training of man-power in different areas. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was given charge of the education portfolio at the centre. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations was set up in 1950 under Maulana Azad to help formulate and implement policies pertaining to India’s external cultural relations, to foster mutual understanding between India and other countries, and to promote cultural exchanges with other peoples.
The establishment of the University Edu-cation Commission under the chairmanship of Dr S. Radhakrishnan in 1948, and the Secondary Education Commission under the chairmanship of Dr A.L. Mudaliar in 1952, laid the foundations of school education and higher education.
NEHRU: A GLOBAL STATESMAN
Nehru, with his deep understanding of the country, the world, and the international scenario, played a vital role in shaping India’s foreign policy in the post-independence period. His charismatic personality made him a natural leader for the countries of the South. He believed Indian culture to be an integral instrument in strengthening India’s diplomatic relations with the rest of the world. Drawing on his experience, he laid the foundations of a policy that came to be known as Non-Alignment.
India gained freedom in a polarised world in which two major power blocs competed for ideological, political, and military dominance. Against the backdrop of Cold War tensions and increased nuclear capabilities, Nehru formulated a policy that would enable India, and indeed many of the newly decolonised nations of Asia and Africa, to oppose foreign dominance and to maintain their independence. He took the lead in defining the concept of non-alignment.
In a speech at Columbia University, in New York City, in 1949, Nehru stated: The goals of Indian Foreign Policy were combin-ing idealism with national interest, . . . the pursuit of peace[,] not through alignment with any major power or group of powers, but through an indepen-dent approach to each controversial or disputed issue, liberation of subject peoples, the maintenance of freedom[,] both national and international.
The five principles of coexistence (‘Panchsheel’) between sovereign states as enunciated by Nehru became the basis of the Non-Aligned Movement. These were mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. The movement was further strengthened at the Non-Aligned meeting in Belgrade in 1961.
In 1953, Nehru, Khrushchev, and Bulganin signed the Indo-Soviet Trade Agreement. The first Indian MIGs were manufactured in 1968 with Russian aid. Nehru also sought to maintain good relations with the USA, but strains developed between the two countries after 1954 when Pakistan and the USA signed the Mutual Defence Treaty. However, Indo-US relations improved in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Nehru’s Vision for South-South Cooperation
On the eve of India’s independence, Gandhi had said, ‘India’s freedom will remain incomplete so long as Africa remains in bondage.’ Nehru, a visionary statesman and the architect of India’s foreign policy, carried forward this commitment by supporting liberation movements across Africa. India played a major role in the decolonisation of many African nations. Even in the early years of the decolonisation movement, he remained optimistic about the future of the continent: Whatever the immediate future may be in Africa, it is clear that the whole continent of Africa has got a big future and changes will take place there fairly rapidly.
These changes will be governed by the new political consciousness of the African people. We welcome this consciousness and wish to cooperate with this.
He embraced the newly independent nations of Asia and Africa, pointing to their shared experience of colonial subjugation, economic exploitation, and racial discrimination. Addressing the Bandung Conference in 1955, Nehru said: It is up to Asia to help Africa to the best of our ability because we are sister continents. We are determined not to be dominated by any country or continent. We are determined to bring happiness and prosperity to our people and to discard age-old shackles that have tied us, not only politically but [also] economically to the shackles of colonialism.
In 1962, hailing the spirit and potential of Africa and expressing India’s solidarity with the continent, Nehru said: Of one thing there can be no doubt, and that is the vitality of the people of Africa. Therefore, with the vitality of her people and the great resources available in this great continent, there can be no doubt that the future holds a great promise for the people of Africa.
The Asian Relations Conference, convened by Nehru in March-April 1947 in New Delhi, focused on the problems of Asian and African peoples under colonial rule. In line with this policy, India took an active interest in the liberation of the states of Indochina from colonial rule.
Nehru obtained the support of several Asian leaders at a meeting in Colombo in April 1954 for these states to be allowed to determine their own destiny without the involvement of external actors. In January 1964, a conference of Indian Ocean states in New Delhi supported Indonesia’s independence from Dutch rule. Subsequently, four Indochina supervisory commissions under India’s chairmanship were set up. India under Nehru exerted a moral force for international peace and cooperation, and became involved in mediation and peacekeeping operations in Korea, Congo, and Cyprus.
India cultivated friendship with China from 1954 to 1959, and Nehru visited Peking in 1954. India was amongst the first to recognise the People’s Republic of China and to campaign for a seat for China at the United Nations. In 1959, however, the flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet to India created tensions between the two countries. Another area of misunderstand-ing was China’s claim to areas of the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and the Aksai Chin plain in eastern Ladakh in Kashmir. In 1960, the two countries held talks on this issue, but China pushed India to give up Aksai Chin. On 20 October 1962, China encroached onto Indian territory without any provocation. China’s aggression was not only a political but also a personal setback for Nehru, and it was condemned by people both within and outside the country.
Nehru, who had not been in the best of health for some time, passed away on 27 May 1964. Some years before, in July 1955, at an impressive ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President, Dr Rajendra Prasad, had conferred the highest national award, the Bharat Ratna, on Nehru.
Nehru’s vision and leadership shaped the post-independence years. He laid the foundations of a self-reliant, productive, and confident India, creating many of its institutions and leaving an indelible stamp on every aspect of the country. A socialist and a democrat, he was, above all, an Indian who deeply loved his country and his people. In his own words:
If any people choose to think of me . . . , I should like them to say this man with all his mind and heart loved India and the Indian people and they were indulgent to him and gave him of their love most abundantly and extravagantly.