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Nehru, Jawaharlal

Nehru, Jawaharlal

Nehru, Jawaharlal, 1889-1964, Indian statesman, b. Allahabad; 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).

The Nehru-Gandhi family (which is not in fact descended from Indian independence leader, Mahatma Gandhi) is an Indian political family which has been dominant in the Indian National Congress for most of India's early independent history. Three members of the family (Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi) have been Prime Minister of India, two of whom (Indira and Rajiv Gandhi) have been assassinated. A fourth member of the family, Sonia Gandhi, is currently Congress President, while her and Rajiv's son, Rahul Gandhi, is the youngest member of the family to enter active politics when he contested and won a seat in the lower house of the Parliament of India in 2004.

Family tree


The Nehru family is of Kashmiri Brahmin descent. The name "Nehru" is derived from the Hindi "nehar", meaning canal. Pandit Raj Kaul moved to Delhi from Kashmir at the behest of the then Mughal emperor Farrukhsiar in the early 18th century. A "jagir" (estate) with a house on the banks of a canal was presented to Raj Kaul . (Raj Kaul was a scholar of Persian and Sanskrit). Because of the canal, the family came to be known as Kaul-Nehrus. Later Kaul was dropped and the surname became "Nehru". After the 1857 mutiny, the Nehru family moved to Allahabad, and settled there.

The family's political fortunes were founded by Motilal Nehru (1861-1931), who was a prominent lawyer and early activist in the Indian independence movement. Motilal was succeeded as President of the Congress by his son, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), in 1929. Jawaharlal then became one of the most prominent Indian nationalist leaders, in close alliance with the movement's spiritual leader, Mohandas Gandhi

Rise to power 1947-1991

In 1947, India became independent and Jawaharlal Nehru became Prime Minister, holding this post until his death in 1964. Nehru's sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (1900-1990), was also prominent in Congress politics. She became a diplomat, serving as ambassador to the USSR, High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and later as President of the United Nations General Assembly in 1953.

Nehru encouraged his only child, Indira Gandhi (1917-84) (who acquired this last name through her marriage to Feroze Gandhi) to be active in Congress politics. She entered the Cabinet in 1964 when Lal Bahadur Shastri became Prime Minister upon Nehru's death. Then in 1966, following the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, she became Prime Minister, holding the position until her defeat in the 1977 elections. During her Prime Ministership her younger son, Sanjay Gandhi (1946-80), wielded enormous political influence without holding any accountable government office. His alleged abuse of power was one of the reasons for the government's 1977 defeat. Sanjay died in a plane crash in 1980.

Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980 and remained in office until her death in 1984. After she ordered an invasion of the Sikh religion's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, on 6 June 1984 to flush out Bhindranwala and his supporters, she was assassinated by two of her bodyguards on 31 October 1984; the remaining bodyguards killed one of the assassins and captured the other. She was succeeded by her elder son, Rajiv Gandhi (1944-91), an airline pilot, who was initially reluctant to enter politics, but was persuaded by the Congress that no-one else could lead it. He was defeated at elections in 1989, but was about to return to office when he was assassinated in 1991 by a suicide bomber, suspected to be linked to the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). He was survived by his widow Sonia, and two children, Rahul and Priyanka.

The rise of Sonia Gandhi

Arun Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi's cousin, was Minister for Power and then Minister for Internal Security in Rajiv Gandhi's government, but later defected to the rival Janata Dal.

After Rajiv Gandhi's death, the Congress was led by P. V. Narasimha Rao, who became Prime Minister. After his defeat in India's 1996 General Elections, the power in the Congress party shifted to Sitaram Kesri, an aging loyalist of Indira Gandhi. During this period, Sonia kept herself and her children out of the public limelight, not wanting them to face the fate of her husband and mother-in-law.

The party loyalists always wanted a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to lead the party, as its fortunes slipped in elections around the nation. Despite her reluctance, Sonia Gandhi was eventually persuaded to become active in the Congress Party, and she quickly became its center of power, forcing Kesri's resignation and allowing her uncontested assent to the party's Presidency in 1998.

The following period saw her becoming increasingly visible in politics (She is attributed to engineering the downfall of the Vajpayee government in 1999, in an unsuccessful attempt to install a Congress government). During India's 2004 General Elections, Sonia was projected the Congress's Prime Ministerial candidate, and the party and its allies emerged as the largest group in the Lok Sabha, with the Communist parties supporting the coalition from outside. Initially, every coalition partner and the Communist parties had accepted her as the Prime Minister. The opposition BJP held nationwide protests against a 'foreigner' ascending the Prime Minister's post.

On May 18, 2004, Sonia Gandhi declined the Prime Ministerial position, passing it on to Dr. Manmohan Singh. At these elections Rahul Gandhi was elected to the Parliament for the first time, representing a fifth generation of the family in politics from a traditional Gandhi stronghold, Amethi (Uttar Pradesh). Her daughter, Priyanka Vadra, did not contest the elections, but campaigned for the party. Many Congress leaders and supporters have vocally promoted her future as the party's leader, but she has not accepted a life in active politics, so far.

Sanjay's legacy

Sanjay Gandhi's widow Maneka and their son Varun were excluded from power in the Congress after Sanjay's death, and are now members of the BJP. Maneka fell out with her mother-in-law Indira, following Sanjay's death, and was even thrown out of her home. She joined the opposition Janata Dal and became a Union Minister in the VP Singh Government which followed Rajiv Gandhi's electoral defeat in 1989. She continued to contest from Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh, with a defeat in 1991 and victory in 1996. She left the Janata Dal, and during the 1998 and 1999 elections, contested as an Independent supported by the BJP. She supported the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance Government at the Centre and became a Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment. During the 2004 General Elections, she formally joined the BJP along with her son, Varun Gandhi. Maneka won her seat again, but Varun did not meet the age requirement to contest, and spent his time campaigning. In October 2006 Varun Gandhi was tipped to contest the by-elections to the Lok Sabha parliamentary Constituency of Vidisha (the vacancy was necessitated by the resignation of the incumbent, Mr. Shivraj Singh Chauhan who was elected as the Madhya Pradesh chief minister). Varun Gandhi could not succeed in getting nomination from the BJP national executive and instead the party nominated Mr. Rampal Singh a minister in the Madhya Pradesh government.


The Nehru-Gandhis are the most prominent example of the tradition of dynastic leadership in Asian democratic countries.

Motilal Nehru->Jawaharlal Nehru->Indira Gandhi->Sanjay Gandhi==Rajiv Gandhi->Sonia Gandhi->Rahul Gandhi

Other well-known examples in the region include:

See also

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