Undisputed leader of the Congress


 Undisputed leader of the Congress
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India.

During his 17-year term as Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru dominated the political stage in India but never imposed his views on others. | Nithin Belle

By Nithin Belle

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Published: Fri 11 Jan 2019, 4:54 PM

Just about six years before he was born, Rahul Gandhi's great-grandfather, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, one of India's tallest leaders, the first Prime Minister of the country and a ferocious freedom-fighter, passed away.
When the Allahabad-born Nehru was just 15 - and a mere four years after the entry into the 20th century - he sailed away to England, where he pursued his higher education.

Over the next nearly 10 years, he studied at Cambridge University and was later called to the Bar from the Inner Temple. And when he returned to India in 1912, he swiftly got into the freedom movement.
Four years later, he first met Mahatma Gandhi and "felt immensely inspired" by him. And that was the start of a more than three-decades-long relationship between two of India's greatest leaders.

In 1919, Nehru became secretary of the Home Rule League in Allahabad and a year later organised an event for farmers - the Kisan March - in Pratapgarh district. After he got involved with the non-cooperation movement of 1920-22, Nehru was imprisoned on two occasions. In 1923, he became the general secretary of the All India Congress Committee.

An itinerant personality, he travelled across Europe and Russia during the 1920s, attending events like the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities in Brussels and the 10th anniversary of the October Socialist Revolution in Moscow.

Towards the end of the decade, he set up the Independence for India League, which sought complete severance of Britain's ties with India. He was also elected president of the Indian National Congress at the Lahore session in 1929, when complete independence for India was adopted as the goal.
The 1930s saw Nehru being arrested on several occasions, especially with the launch of the Salt Satyagraha and other anti-colonial movements. When he was in jail in Almora, he completed his autobiography, 'Towards the Freedom,' which was published in 1936.

Nehru once again went on a trip to Europe and China; he first visited his ailing wife in London in 1936, and then went to Spain which was facing a civil war. And then just before World War II, he was in China.
Back in India, he moved the historic 'Quit India' resolution at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) meet in Bombay in 1942 and was arrested soon thereafter and lodged at the Ahmednagar fort. He served his longest jail term there for about three years, and was released in 1945.

On August 15, 1947, he took over as the first Prime Minister of India and delivered his famous 'Tryst with Destiny' speech to the Indian constituent assembly at midnight on the eve of Independence.
"Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially," he declared. "At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity."

And he ended it with this remarkable sentence: "We are citizens of a great country, on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action."
After taking over as the head of the government, Nehru focused on his 'mixed economy' theme, encouraging co-existence between the public and private sectors.

Nehru also asserted and reiterated the concept of 'non-alignment' - first coined at the UN by his representative V.K. Krishna Menon - in Colombo in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Known as 'Panchsheel', the five principles covered:

- Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty
- Mutual non-aggression
- Mutual non-interference in domestic affairs
- Equality and mutual benefit
- Peaceful co-existence

During his 17-year term as Prime Minister, Nehru dominated the political stage in India but never imposed his views on others. He encouraged dissent and wanted to hear the opinion of others. He was an avid listener of views from others. Nehru used to get about 2,000 letters every day when he was the premier and he would sit late into the night, dictating replies to many of them.

Although he was the undisputed leader of the Congress, Nehru encouraged other leaders to think independently. He never selected chief ministers of states, but allowed the local unit of the party decide on their leader. A socialist, he wanted to bring land reforms in India. And when his reforms were challenged in the courts, he was not critical of them; he brought in constitutional amendments.

Ultimately, he was determined that India remained a plural, open and democratic polity and the government would work for the betterment of all citizens. "The only way to build for the future is to put aside or save something each year, and use this saving for some kind of progress," he declared once. "This may be improved agriculture, more river valley projects, more factories, more houses, more education or better health services. Our resources are limited and the most that we may hope to save has been indicated in the plan. Because of this limitation of resources, we have to make hard choices at every step and priorities become important."

- nithin@khaleejtimes.com

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