NEHRU AND INDIA AFTER INDEPENDENCE

INDIA AFTER INDEPENDENCE

Following independence the Congress Party of Gandhi and Nehru dominated the state legislatures, but starting in 1967 it started losing seats to ethnic and leftist government. If these governments got too far out of line, the federal government imposed presidential rule. One of the first laws passed after independence was one baring the slaughter of cows in Varanasi. In 1952 a law was passed outlawing the feudal tax collection system of zamindari in Uttar Pradesh. Rudyard Kipling's observations on elephants was used as a metaphor for the fledgling Indian government. "Elephants do not gallop," Kipling wrote. "They move...of varying rates of speed. If an elephant wished to catch a train he could not gallop, but he could catch the train."

The process to create a Constitution was launched by the Indian Constituent Assembly in August 1947. The process finished at the end of December 1949 and was declared on January 26 1950. The Indian constitution called on Indians to "transcend" religious differences while preserving the country's "composite culture." When Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister she amended the preamble to add the word "secular" to the description of the state." Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the Law Minister and chairman of the constitutional of drafting committee, also happened to be an untouchable. He was the chief draftsman of the constitution and authored an article in the constitution that read, "Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offense according to law."

School children were taught Bengali, Hindi and Indian history and geography. Indian names were placed on maps and royal portraits were taken off the walls. But the euphoria of independence was short-lived as partition brought disastrous consequences for India in the wake of communal conflict. Partition unleashed untold misery and loss of lives and property as millions of Hindu and Muslim refugees fled either Pakistan or India. Both nations were also caught up in a number of conflicts involving the allocation of assets, demarcation of boundaries, equitable sharing of water resources, and control over Kashmir. At the same time, Indian leaders were faced with the stupendous task of national integration and economic development. The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948, in New Delhi, by a Hindu extremist opposed to Gandhi's openness to Muslims deepened the hatred and mutual suspicion in Hindu-Muslim relations.[Source: Library of Congress *]

Economic backwardness was one of the serious challenges that India faced at independence. Under three successive five-year plans, inaugurated between 1951 and 1964 under Nehru's leadership, India produced increasing amounts of food. Although food production did not allow self-sufficiency until fiscal year 1984, India has emerged as the nation with the seventh largest gross national product (GNP) in the world. *

Linguistic regionalism eventually reached a crisis stage and undermined the Congress' attempts at nation building. Whereas in the early 1920s, the Congress had deemed that the use of regional vernaculars in education and administration would facilitate the governance of the country, partition made the leaders, especially Nehru, realize how quickly such provincial or subnational interests would dismantle India's fragile unity. However, in the face of widespread agitation for linguistic separation of states, beginning with the Telangana Movement in 1953, in 1956 Nehru reluctantly accepted the recommendations of the States Reorganisation Commission, and the number of states grew by reorganization along linguistic lines. The states became the loci for democratization of political processes at district levels, for expression of regional culture and popular demands against a national culture and unity, for economic development at strategic localities in the rural areas, and for proliferation of opposition parties that ended the possibility of a pan-Indian two-party system. *

Maharajahs After Independence

Before World War II, 562 maharajahs and other princes controlled the lives 90 million people living in enclaves spread over 40 percent of the Indian subcontinent. By the time independence came around their power was so diminished they had little choice but to turn their kingdoms over to the Indian union. The Maharawal of Dungapur, a prince that lives in a wing of a palace now used a s hotel, told National Geographic: "We lost direct involvement with the people, in solving their problems and we feel sad for it."

In an agreement hammered out in 1947 the maharajahs, nawabs and nizams were given state pensions and other privileges—such as income tax exceptions and the right to a state funeral—for ceding their property to the new republic of India. The average stipend in 1965 was $37,800 a year. Despite previous assurance to the contrary, they were forced to merge their properties with the Indian states in 1949.

After partition the maharajahs lost their political authority but to keep the luxuries. "Privy purses" (government stipends) amounted to as much as $330,000 a year. In 1947 hunts were banned. Moguls sold their palaces, which were turned into office space.

In the 1950s, "ceiling acts" greatly reduced the size of the maharajah's estates often by as much as 90 percent. Later the maharajas were stripped of their "privy purses" and special legal privileges such as exceptions from taxes, customs duties and gun licenses and the right to use their titles.

Maharajahs Lose Their Privileges and Titles

Unlike the sultans of Malaysia, who retained some power and control over the land, as outlined by the constitution, after the British left in 1957, the maharajah were only allowed to keep their titles and personal assets. In 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi labeled the maharajahs as decadent and un-democratic and abolished all royal titles and privileges. The maharajahs lost their pensions and were forced to pay taxes. Even so the maharajah continued to use their titles and be addressed by others as maharajahs and be treated with great reverence by their former subjects.

After losing their positions some maharajahs retired to Europe with their money; some started working from the government; some launched political careers and others fought with family members for what was left of their estates. One member of a royal family that angered Indira Gandhi was sent to Delhi's notorious Tihar prison. Another led an uprising of tribals, armed with bows and arrows, and was shot and killed by police in his palace.

Wialyat Mahal, the self-styled Begum of Awadh, set up a campsite at the New Delhi Railway station with her children and her royal possessions, demanding a palace for her from the Indian government. After she killed herself in 1993, her son lived with her embalmed body for a year and had her jewels crushed when she was cremated.

To pay the heavy taxes suddenly imposed on them many maharajahs were forced to sell off the possessions and turn their palaces into museums or hotels. Visitors, for example, were permitted to sleep in maharajah's bedroom and use the princess bathtub at a the Ramabaugh Palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan for $625 a night. If that palace was fully booked, there are usually vacancies at the 347-room palace of the Maharajah of Jodhpur. The former Maharajah of Udaipur earned an estimated $8.5 million a year from his properties in the early 2000s.

Many Indians still lavish adulation on the families of former maharajahs. When asked why he still he still subserviently touches the feet of the 13-year-old Maharajah of Bastar, one man said, "Maharajah's have been de-recognized by the government, but for us, he's still king. Without him, the goddess Danteshwari-Ma will be unhappy."

Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) was an important figure in India's independence movement and independent India's first leader and prime minister. He was often called Pandit Nehru. Pandit means "wise man." It also refers ro a Hindu from the mostly-Muslim region of Kashmir.

Nehru was the chief architect of domestic and foreign policies between 1947 and 1964. Born into a wealthy Kashmiri Brahman family and educated at Cambridge, Nehru embodied a synthesis of ideals: politically an ardent nationalist, ideologically a pragmatic socialist, and secular in religious outlook, Nehru possessed a rare combination of intellect, breadth of vision, and personal charisma that attracted support throughout India. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Nehru's appreciation for parliamentary democracy coupled with concerns for the poor and underprivileged enabled him to formulate policies that often reflected his socialist leanings. Both as prime minister and as Congress president, Nehru pushed through the Indian Parliament, dominated by members of his own party, a series of legal reforms intended to emancipate Hindu women and bring equality. These reforms included raising the minimum marriageable age from twelve to fifteen, empowering women to divorce their husbands and inherit property, and declaring illegal the ruinous dowry system. *

Nehru was the father of Indira Gandhi, India's second leader, and grandfather of Rajiv Gandhi, India's third leader. Nehru jackets and shirts—worn by the Beatles and Monkees and others— had its heyday in the late 1960s. Many Indians consider Nehru, his daughter Indira and Mahatma Gandhi to be "modern gods."

Nehru's Early Life and Family

Nehru was born in Allahabad (100 miles southeast of Lucknow, one of the holiest places in the world for Hindus at the sight of the massive Kumbh Mela Festival. His family was from Kashmir and his father was a wealthy lawyer. When he was 15, Nehru moved to England. He was educated at Harrow, Trinity College, Cambridge and the London bar. He returned to India in 1912 and became a lawyer in Allahabad.

When he was young, Nehru married his wife Kamala. She was an insecure woman who developed into a stunning beauty in her 30s and was dominated by Nehru's sisters. She was often ill, enduring bouts of tuberculosis and pleurisy. Nehru's sisters’ were particularly abusive to her when he was in prison. She died in 1936. After Kamala died Nehru had affairs and fell in love with Edwina Mountbatten.

Nehru was the son of Motilal Nehru, the patriarch of a dynasty that would produce three Indian prime ministers—Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandi. Motilal was an early member of the Indian National Congress. In 1929 the Congress drafted its own constitution under the guidance of Motilal, demanding full independence for India.

Indira Gandhi was Jawaharlal Nehru's only child. She was born on November 19, 1917 in Allahabad, an ancient city on the banks of the Ganges that retains much of its elegant charm. She was brought up in a grand manor house with Serves porcelain, grand pianos, libraries and Saville Row suits. Indira was controlled by her father and her grandfather. When she nine, her grandfather tried to prevent her from having physical contact with her beloved mother. She was brought up to be strong and uncomplaining. Her father insisted she run everyday "breathing through her heels." Indira was traumatized by her father's period in prison and her mother's illnesses.

Nehru's Character and Philosophy

Nehru was perhaps more at home in the Wast than in India. He was an intelligent, well-bred, moody, dynamic, erudite, debonair, and gentlemanly figure. Thoroughly anglified, he delivered his famous independence day speech in English rather than Hindi, the language most Indians spoke.

Nehru was influenced by Fabian notions of socialism taught in the 1940s and 50s at the London School of Economics, where many young Indian leaders studied. He was taken by Fabian socialism, an ideology which he attempted to put into practice in India. "He and his generation of 'freedom fighters,” Fareed Zakaria wrote in Newsweek, "created a new India that was secular, democratic and republican, with a strong centralized state that defined the nation and directed, in socialist fashion, its economic development. It was a model an English Labour Party leader could have created."

Jawaharial Nehru once wrote, "Poverty and uttermost misery have long been the inseparable companion of our people" and said his job was to end "poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity." He also said, "I am not interested in excuses for delay; I am interested only in a thing done."

Nehru, His Early Political Career and Gandhi

Nehru met Gandhi in 1916. For a long time he was a Gandhi disciple. Nehru' second cousin B.K Nehru wrote in Time: "Nehru would never have become the man and leader he was without Gandhi. Gandhi was the leader of everybody in those early days, around 1919 onward. Many people disagreed with him. Nehru's often disagreed with him—there was nothing Nehru's father agreed with him on—but he was Gandhi's follower, as was Jawaharlal. Gandhi had very peculiar ideas on the economy, about how people should live. Jawaharlal was a modern man, and Gandhi was not. But nothing could be done without Gandhi, from the smallest thing.” Gandhi "wanted spiritual development. Jawaharlal wanted spiritual development too, but he wanted economic development too. That was the big difference between them."

Nehru joined the Indian National Congress party and became its leader in 1929 and was arrested several times. When he wasn't he jail he traveled around the world trying to win supporters for Indian independence. "It is often remarked that Nehru was the last Englishman," wrote Zakaria in Newsweek, "but Nehru spent more years in his Majesty's prisons than in his schools. He was above all an Indian nationalist. But his conception of nationalism was entirely European, a product of Enlightenment ideals about self-determination, liberalism, and rationalist in politics."

Jawaharlal Nehru spent ten years in British prisons between 1921 and 1946 for leading the struggle for independence against the British. In prison he wrote Glimpses of World History and his autobiography Toward Freedom.

Nehru and Efforts to Create a Unified India

The negotiations between Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah for the handover of power from the British and the partition of India and Pakistan was overseen by Lord Louis Mountbatten, the final viceroy of India, and the great-grandson of Queen Victoria. Lord Mountbatten began work in March 1946 and worked at a feverish pace because it seemed that India was teetering on the edge of civil war. He sent frequent memos to his staff reminding them how little times was left. He also told them to be ready to leave the country on a moment’s notice in case the negotiations became unraveled and blew up in their faces.

Nehru, Gandhi and Mountbatten were all angered by Jinnah's stubbornness and his unwillingness to compromise. Nehru told Mountbatten that because success came so late in life to Jinnah he had a "permanently negative attitude." Jinnah regarded Nehru as a "busybody." Gandhi and Jinnah were formal to each other but not without invective. Gandhi once said of Jinnah, "You have mesmerized the Muslims." To which Jinnah retorted, "You have hypnotized the Hindus."

Nehru said the plan to create a unified India was subject to change by the National Congress. Jinnah was apoplectic. Nehru was too proud to admit he might have made a mistake and India's last chance of becoming a single unified state collapsed. Jinnah was also angered by the statement "we cannot allow minorities to veto advances by the majority" made by the British prime minister. Jinnah responded, "The Muslims of India are not a minority but a nation, and self-determination is their birthright." Nehru and Jinnah also argued over whether Gandhi should be addressed as "Mister" or "Mahatma." Gandhi is partly blamed for the partition for not trying hard enough to keep Jinnah in the Indian National Congress and failing to object when the Jinnah attacked him by calling him "Mr. Gandhi" instead of "Mahatma." As a last ditch effort Jinnah was offered the prime ministership as a way of avoiding partition.

Nehru as Prime Minister

Nehru was 57 when he became India's first prime minister in 1947. He was prime minister for 17 years until his death in 1964. He was reelected in 1952, 1957 and 1962 elections. He made his home in the former residence of the British commander and chief. He was chauffeured back and forth between his office in a white Ambassador, an Indian-made car. Because Nehru was a widower, his daughter Indira acted as first lady. As a member of the legislature Nehru first represented the Phulpur constituency near Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. He and Indira Gandhi held the seat of Rae Barelu almost continuously from 1952 to 1984. The home district of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is now centered around Amethi, a small town in Utter Pradesh.

The four pillars of Nehru's rule were: 1) alignment; 2) secularism; 3) socialism; and 4) democracy. As the leader of India, Nehru attempted to combine parliamentary democracy with the principals of Fabian socialism. One historian said he had democratic instincts and a very English sense of propriety. He created a strong secular democracy and a powerful army that never tried to seize power.

Educated in the West, Nehru tried to amend the constitution to make India "a casteless society with equal opportunity for all.” He believed that capitalism was inherently evil and immoral in a poor country like India. He imposed high tax rates that discouraged economic growth, established a centrally planned economy with a powerful bureaucracy, nationalized industry and discouraged international commerce.

In 1951, Nehru implemented a program to build "temples of modern India"—roads, dams, power plants, hoping the wealth would trickle down to the poor. The same year the Nehru government instituted the first family planning program among developing nations. The goal was to reach zero population growth by the beginning of the 21st century. In 1956, feudal tenures were abolished and noblemen were depreived of their estates.

The threat of escalating violence and the potential for "red revolution" across the country seemed daunting in the face of the country's growing population, unemployment, and economic inequality. Nehru induced Parliament to pass a number of laws abolishing absentee landlordism and conferring titles to land on the actual cultivators who could document their right to occupancy. Under his direction, the central Planning Commission allocated resources to heavy industries, such as steel plants and hydroelectric projects, and to revitalizing cottage industries. Whether producing sophisticated defense matériel or manufacturing everyday consumer goods, industrial complexes emerged across the country, accompanied by the expansion of scientific research and teaching at universities, institutes of technology, and research centers. [Source: Library of Congress]

One politician told National Geographic, "Indian socialism made Indian capitalism possible. In 1947 barely 10 percent of our population was in the market place. Our problem was to pull the remaining 90 percent into it. Now, thanks to Nehru's policies, 30 percent of so are involved and in a far better position to help the remaining 70 percent."

Nehru’s Foreign Policy

Nehru, Sukarno, Nasser and Tito were leaders in the non-aligned nations movement which tried develop a sense of pride, unity and strength among Third World countries. Renouncing his vow to never build nuclear weapons, Nehru decided to launch India's nuclear program after China conducted its first nuclear test in 1964.

Nehru demonstrated tremendous enthusiasm for India's moral leadership, especially among the newly independent Asian and African nations, in a world polarized by Cold War ideology and threatened by nuclear weapons. His guiding principles were nationalism, anticolonialism, internationalism, and nonalignment. He attained international prestige during his first decade in office, but after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956--when New Delhi tilted toward Moscow--criticisms grew against his inconsistency in condemning Western but not communist aggression. In dealing with Pakistan, Nehru failed to formulate a consistent policy and was critical of the improving ties between Pakistan and the United States; mutual hostility and suspicion persisted as a result. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Despite attempts at improving relations with China, based on his much-publicized five principles--territorial integrity and sovereignty, nonaggression, noninterference, equality and cooperation, and peaceful coexistence--war with China erupted in 1962. The war was a rude awakening for Nehru, as India proved ill-equipped and unprepared to defend its northern borders. At the conclusion of the conflict, the Chinese forces were partially withdrawn and an unofficial demilitarized zone was established, but India's prestige and self-esteem had suffered. *

War Between India and China

The border area between Ladakh-India and Tibet-China, some of the world's most inhospitable and unlivable land, is disputed by the Indian and Chinese governments. In 1962, the world's two most populous nations went to war over it. Mao was leader of China and Nehru was the Prime Minister of India. Mao made a mockery of Nehru declaration that “Indians and Chinese are brothers” Zhou Enlai said the aim of the war was to “teach India a lesson.”

In the late fifties, after China invaded Tibet, China built outpost on the edge of Ladakh and a road that connected the region with Tibet and the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. In 1958 an Indian patrol was captured and Nehru sent soldiers into the Aksai, a desolate 8000-square-mile plateau occupied by China. China answered back with an offensive during October and November, 1962 and captured 2000 more square miles before a cease-fire was called.

It was tense time, with the world's two most popular nations at war. Trenches were dug in Calcutta and Delhi, and the Hindu festival of Lights was canceled out of fear that the lit up cities would be easy targets for Chinese air raids. Up until that time India had been a neutral country like Switzerland. [Source: W.E. Garret, National Geographic May 1963]

During the fighting more men died of altitude-induced heart failure and brain hemorrhages than gun shot wounds. Helicopters carried victims that were in such bad shape their skin had decayed away leaving only bones. Chinese soldiers were better prepared than their Indian counterparts. They had spent a year in Tibet getting acclimated to the cold and altitude.

India was worried that China was going to invade disputed and largely undefended region of Assam in far eastern India. At that time Assam was the home of rich jute and tea plantations that provided one forth of India's exports.

The United States supported India. The Kennedy administration feared that India might fall like domino and contemplated using nuclear weapons if China invaded India a second time. In one meeting Robert McNamara told Kennedy: “Any large Chinese Communist attack on any part of the area would require the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S., and this is to be preferred over the large number of U.S. soldiers.”

The Chinese invasion of India came just after the Cuban missile crisis and there was a real concern that China seriously threatened India. One of Kennedy’s advisors told him using nuclear weapons wasn’t such a wise move because it was “going to create problems with the Japanese” and “all the yellow people.”

China captured 45,000 square kilometers of land---an area that makes up about 20 percent of Kashmir and includes a small area that Pakistan ceded to China---and has yet to relinquish any of it. A formal cease-fire line was never established. Even so the border remains mostly peaceful and "border peace and tranquilly" agreements were signed in 1993 and 1996. In 1995, China and India began withdrawing troops along the borders. Each side had a force with more than a 150,000 men.

Death, Aftermath and Legacy of Nehru

Physically debilitated and mentally exhausted, Nehru died at the age of 74 after suffering a stroke in New Delhi while in office in May 1964. He was carried to his funeral pyre on the same gun carriage that carried Gandhi in 1948. At the time of his death, India was divided by "political venality and deepening economic decay." His legacy of a democratic, federal, and secular India continues to survive in spite of attempts by later leaders to establish either an autocratic or a theocratic state.

Nehru's death left a power vacuum that was filled by his daughter Indira who in turn left behind a power vacuum filled by her son and Nehru's grandson Rajiv Gandhi. Historians argue whether Nehru wanted India by his family dynasty. Nehru first represented the Phulpur constituency near Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. He and Indira held the seat of Rae Barelu almost continuously from 1952 to 1984. The home district of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is now centered around Amethi, a small town in Utter Pradesh.

Nehru's long tenure in office gave continuity and cohesion to India's domestic and foreign policies, but as his health deteriorated, concerns over who might inherit his mantle or what might befall India after he left office frequently surfaced in political circles. After his death, the Congress Caucus, also known as the Syndicate, chose Lal Bahadur Shastri as prime minister in June 1964. A mild-mannered person, Shastri adhered to Gandhian principles of simplicity of life and dedication to the service of the country. His short period of leadership was beset with three major crises: widespread food shortages, violent anti-Hindi demonstrations in the state of Madras (as Tamil Nadu was then called) that were quelled by the army, and the second war with Pakistan over Kashmir. Shastri's premiership was cut short when he died of a heart attack on January 11, 1966, the day after having signed the Soviet-brokered Tashkent Declaration. The agreement required both sides to withdraw all armed personnel by February 26, 1966, to the positions they had held prior to August 5, 1965, and to observe the cease-fire line.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015


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