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Nehru, Jawaharlal (1889–1964)

Title: Jawaharlal Nehru
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Indian nationalist leader and first prime minister of India (1947–1964). Born in Allahabad, India, to a wealthy and influential family on 14 November 1889, Jawaharlal Nehru was tutored in Indian culture and language from an early age. His formal education took place in Britain, where he graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1910 and the Inner Temple, London's venerable law school, from which he earned a law degree, in 1912. He returned to India in 1912 and joined his father's legal practice but soon entered politics and in 1919 joined Mohandas Gandhi's campaign of civil disobedience to gain Indian autonomy.

However, Nehru wanted more than self-rule and sought complete independence from Britain. In spite of this difference, both Gandhi and Nehru supported and encouraged one another. Nehru's influence on the Indian Congress (INC) was significant, and almost single-handedly he extended the independence movement's agenda to include myriad issues, both domestic and international, that affected the interests of the Indian people.

Nehru also prompted members of the INC to consider the full future of India, that is, what form of government it should have, what rights should be incorporated into its constitution, what India's place in the world should be, and what planning would be necessary to bring about full and unfettered independence. Nehru's involvement in the independence movement resulted in his imprisonment by British authorities on several occasions during the 1930s and 1940s.

During the 1930s, the British government moved tentatively toward granting India self-rule. World War II postponed that plan, however, as the Japanese threat and increased violence between Muslims and Hindus created a turbulent environment during the early 1940s. Following the war, the British Labour government under Prime Minister Clement Attlee moved ahead with plans for an independent India. The major impediment to independence resided in the controversy over whether India would be a single unified state or two separate states: a Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan. Nehru envisioned a single state but was persuaded by Lord Louis Mountbatten, viceroy of India, to accept a partitioned India. In August 1947 India and Pakistan gained full independence, and Nehru became India's first prime minister.

By the time India's independence had been established, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was already well under way. While following a general theme of nonalignment, India's foreign policy tended to reflect Nehru's personal preferences. In the 1920s Nehru had visited the Soviet Union and was sympathetic to the goals of communism. In 1949 he made a state visit to the United States and found the experience unnerving, as he found the postwar materialism of American society and the politics of anticommunism very unappealing. Many historians have argued that Nehru's sympathy for the Soviet Union and antipathy toward the West was evident in 1956 when he openly condemned Britain, France, and Israel for their involvement in the Suez Crisis but remained almost silent during the Soviets' brutal suppression of the Hungarian Revolution that same year. Over time, however, he moved toward a more centrist position as Anglo-American policies became more tolerant of nonaligned nations.

In the late 1950s Nehru was confronted by People's Republic of China (PRC) incursions into Tibet and regions along the border between India and China. At the same time, Indian-Pakistani tensions were repeatedly exacerbated over the contested region of Kashmir. Indian and Pakistani forces clashed frequently in the mostly Muslim Kashmir. In 1962 a border conflict escalated into the Sino-Indian War. The United States supported India in its conflict with China but not in India's struggle with Pakistan, then an American ally. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, expressed support for India in its clash with Pakistan but remained noncommittal regarding the India-China conflict.

Nehru continued his nonaligned stance in spite of these crises, while India's independent foreign policy was viewed admiringly by many of the newly independent states of the developing world. He died in office on 27 May 1964 in New Delhi. Nehru left an indelible mark not only on modern Indian history but also on the history of independence and nationalist movements all around the globe.

William T. Walker

Further Reading
Dube, M. P., ed. Jawaharlal Nehru, Legacy and Legend. Nainital, India: Kumaun University, 1989.; Nanda, Bal Ram. Jawaharlal Nehru: Rebel and Statesman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.; Nehru, Jawaharlal. Jawaharlal Nehru: An Autobiography. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1980.; Wolpert, Stanley. Nehru: A Tryst with Destiny. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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