A short Note on Pandit Nehru and Nehru the Invention of India

Nehru: The Invention of India is a book written by Shashi Tharoor in 2003. It is a short biography that talks about the life of the first Prime Minister of India. It covers both personal aspects along with the historical and political aspects of India during the time of Pandit Nehru. On 14 November 2018 on the occasion of Jawaharlal Nehru's birth anniversary, Tharoor announced that Nehru: The Invention of India will be remade into a web series. This short biography examines a great figure of twentieth-century nationalism from the vantage point of the beginning of the twenty-first. Deftly weaving personal facets with historical events, it tells the fascinating story of Jawaharlal Nehru-aristocrat, socialist, anti-imperialist, the foremost disciple of Gandhi, diehard secularist and India's first prime minister, who sought to educate the Indian masses in democracy by his own personal example. Shashi Tharoor also analyses the principal pillars of Nehru's legacy to India, all of which were integral to a vision of Indianness that is fundamentally contested today.

Nov 16, 2021 - 07:38
Nov 16, 2021 - 07:39

he became India's Prime Minister in August 1947 in January 1948 Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by December 1950 Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel the only other Congress leader who could be said to enjoy comparable stature at that time also passed away from then onwards narrow was an unchallenged figure in Indian politics and if I were to look back in that period, it is all the more striking that the most important the contribution that I would let Narrows feet in those first 17 years of India's independence would be his contribution to building India's democracy precisely because.

he had the power the authority the popularity to do the opposite he could have gone the way of so many other leaders post-colonial heroes in developing countries who in so many cases.

when you look at Karuma in Ghana Kaunda and Zambia near an in Tanzania there are so many examples of leaders of anti-colonial struggles who brought their nation to freedom and then turned into dictators arguing always plausibly that they needed autocratic rule in order to promote the unity of the country and to direct development

Nehru could have made that argument remember that when he came to power it was after the tragedy of partition when the flames of violence were burning across the land a million people were killed 13 million were displaced billions of rupees of property damage occurred refugees were pouring across the new frontiers the whole nation was completely unsettled and yet Nehru insisted upon retaining democracy and the democratic way of life next door in Pakistan the first military coup occurred within a few years of independence in India democracy instead was deeply entrenched and one of the striking things is this is so much narrows instinct because before independence an article had appeared in the very prestigious in those days no longer exist now.

Calcutta publication the modern review and in that article there was an attack on Jawahar Lal Nehru having watched him campaign during the 1937 elections the the anonymous author of the article said we must be wary of giving too many temptations to narrow he enjoys his own popularity too much India wants no Caesars only years later was it discovered that the author of that attack or Nehru was none other than Nero himself and why did he write that article because he wanted to send the message across that in a democracy no a leader is bigger than the country the institution's estate and as Prime Minister he lived up to that it was striking that whenever he was crossed in the cabinet of people disagreed with him his instinct was to offer his resignation it was not the instinct of a dictator

it was the instinct of a Democrat he paid a great deal of respect to the ceremonial institutions of the presidency and the vice presidency he gave great respect to Parliament by tending every single day for having extensive Parliament discussions and by paying the tiny opposition a respect out of all proportion to its actual numbers the Parliament was a large body and the opposition was tiny but narrow insisted not only that he attend but that his cabinet attends that his officials attend and that every question criticism and issue raised by the opposition be answered in fact he also encouraged dissent against him from within his own party and as you know his own son-in-law Feroz Gandhi mounted such ferocious attacks upon the government that they actually resulted in the resignation of Nehru's finance minister titi Krishnamacharya at one point not only didn't Harrow do all of that but the respect, he paid to the opposition is there in no numerous anecdotes

whether it is at all Bihari Vajpayee as a young parliamentarian recounting how Nehru praised him for a speech with which he disagreed but he certainly thought this young man had great promise wherever you think of the Congress MP Mishra marvel Mishra think his name was who in 1962 when narrow talking about the Chinese aggression in the North referring to oxide chin said that not a blade of grass goes there this Congress MP stood up pointed at his own bald head and said not a hair grows on my head will you give that to China also and this is a Congress MP talking to his own Prime Minister that was the kind of encouragement Nehru gave to criticism and to dissent he as you know have a daily darshan where he would receive people off the street without appointment without security he was incredibly attentive to building up the institutions of our democracy like our judiciary so that on one occasion because he was a short-tempered man he said something intemperate about a judge at a press conference before the day was over he had written a letter of apology to the judge and then a rather grovelling letter to the Chief Justice of India apologizing for having insulted the the judiciary now he doesn't need to do any of this is by far the most powerful man in India is far more powerful than our present Prime Minister is today

And can you imagine our present prime minister doing any of these things this was the great strength of Jawaharlal Nehru democracy democratic institution-building a second very important Aryan principle was undoubtedly what we call secularism which has been wrongly caricatured as moving away completely from religion Nehru actually understood the place of religion in Indian society while he personally was agnostic his secularism was not a denial of religion he just wanted a situation where the pluralism of India could be respected where all faiths would be allowed to flourish in his own phrase he didn't want to create a Hindu version of Pakistan he said we are not going to be a Hindu Pakistan we are going to be a country that represents everybody of every religion of every faith and that was the great strength of his so-called secularism?

to look up a dictionary secularism implies an absence of religion or a distance from religion I think in all fairness with Nehru what it really boiled down to was in fact a respect for all religions and the government staying above and beyond all of these faiths so that though he personally has written letters in which he said I have no patience with mullahs and maldis and and Sons and sorrows and I am NOT interested in what they can contribute to public life in very strong language like that that didn't mean that he disrespected the faith of the ordinary people of India he did he wanted the dams and the factories to be the new temples of modern India as he put it but he didn't mean that he was ready to abolish the old temples the great strength of Nehruvian secularism is there was not a bigoted bone in his body he drew his friends from all communities in fact some of the most remarkable letters in his collection of letters is to a close childhood friend side Mahmood and from for Nehru I don't think that he ever saw anybody in terms of what their religious background was and he would never have condoned appealing for votes

the basis of religion at any point but India's pluralist identity as a country where every faith and people of every faith could flourish was to my mind something that never helped entrench I grew up in but I was eight years old when there who died but I grew up in the Earth's as it were just after his death and this was very much the prevailing doctrine my parents from that generation, of course, younger than era but from the nationalist generation the generation that came of age with independence would never mention the religious affiliation of any of my classmates or friends when they came home to play at no point was religion or even caste considered a relevant determinant of a person's human worth and that again is something that Nehru said the example from the very top and made it work the two other aspects the two other great pillars of nerubian ISM which are of course contested with changing times are his economic policy of socialism and his foreign policy of non-alignment.

I'll take them each briefly because I do want us to have a more meaningful exchange together when you look at socialism Nehru's argument would be two things first his own commitment to overcoming the desperate difficulties being faced by the majority of our population the British left us after 200 years of colonial exploitation and drain of resources they left us with just 10 percent of the Indian population living above the poverty line ninety percent of the Indian population in 1947 live below the poverty line from narrows point of view the only meaningful Public Policy had to be something that paid do you heed and due attention and due respect to those large numbers of people living at the subsist level and at a poverty line drawn barely this side of the funeral pyre that was very socialism came from it did as a result, end up in a form of states capitalism that became denounced by Raja Ji famously as the license permit quota raj and the bureaucratization of the the economy probably did do more damage.

then Nehru would ever have wanted or intended but it is also true that because of his faith in the state as the instrument to pull society out of its economic backwardness he was able to create a number of institutions that have served in their well to create a robust public sector that was able to get India into a number of areas where there was no significant national industry in the private sector to get India into areas like space exploration satellite technology Outerspace technology which in which today India is a world leader because of the grounding led by Nehru his great faith and the importance of growing a scientific temperament meant that he became for the the first prime minister in the world to regularly attend the Indian Science Congress laying down a tradition that every Prime Minister after him has felt obliged to follow he somebody who gave India the IITs .

for example, he realized the importance of technology and if today we rejoice in the fact that India is a world leader in technology particularly in computer technology and software's because of the infrastructure for Science and Technology laid as a conscious part of Nero's vision so we can object to the excessive state-directed development that we may have seen particularly when it became as I said bureaucratized into licenses permits and quotas but the flip side of the same coin was the laying down of a solid infrastructure in science and technology in the state structures and heavy industry and so on which India arguably could now say we have move well beyond it but at that time we didn't have it and it was narrows approach that gave it to us.

and finally it's easy to sneer at non-alignment today because since 1991 there are no longer two superpowers to be non-aligned between but in the early years the 17 years of nero's prime ministership there is absolutely no question that the only choice confronting India had seemed to be between one superpower block and the other and narrow who had been fiercely anti-colonial had spoken for the Indian nationalist movement in a multiple series of international conferences socialist conferences anti colonial conferences and so on narrow understood as no one else could have how important it was to have India's own voice he felt that for 200 years foreigners had been representing India on the global stage foreigners had decided what to say for and about India and the time had come for our own leadership to have its own sovereign independent voice and so strategic autonomy was what it was all about non-alignment was a consequence of Nehru's determination not to allow others to decide our stand for us by joining either the Western bloc or the Soviet bloc and so.

there is an apocryphal story I think I do cite it in the book but I may not have because it really is not established fact where the story goes that Eisenhower Secretary of State John Foster Dulles a man who had once famously or notoriously said that non-alignment been good and evil as itself evil allegedly john foster Dulles said two heroines in a phrase that has been more made more famous in the lips of another American president later he said are you with us or against us and Niro replied yes, in other words, we are with you when we agree with you we're against you and we disagree with you and we will decide what stand to take on the positions that you are adopting and that I think in many ways were the essence of Nehru's non-alignment I agree that we have moved since then,

we have moved on in the post-cold war world the binary divisions are no longer there you no longer need to be non-aligned between two superpowers but you certainly can represent an India that is an autonomous independent sovereign voice in the world stage that makes its own strategic decisions and speaks for itself and that too I would argue is a direct result of the Nehru legacy one final point and then I'll take your questions and comments one of the charges that has been laid against Nehru is that he started a dynasty and therefore is no Democrat that is simple nonsense the truth is that Niro was directly asked about this at one point you may remember Indira Gandhi became Congress president for one year in 1959

the year in which she was responsible for advocating the dismissal of the EMS governments look at the Congress the communist government in Kerala after the vmotion of Samara but only for one year and then she herself stepped aside and didn't want to continue and later as he began getting older and particularly after the China war people were speculating what will happen the American journalist Wells hangen wrote a famous book asking the question after Nehru who and indeed many people wanted after Nero what so there was this question in the minds of people and one journalist it was an American journalist asked him do you think you'll want your daughter to succeed you and he reacted with asperity and said I cannot rule from the grave I certainly have no such intention my entire focus is in creating democratic institutions that make Indians capable of governing themselves Indians will find their own leader and as you know that's exactly what happened when he passed away the Congress party got together and elected Lal Bahadur Shastri a man with no relationship to Giovanna

Nehru as Prime Minister and what was important was the fact that he had helped stabilize the institutions in such a way that it was possible for this to happen I would even tell you that he could well have witnessed this in his own lifetime because after his second re-election in 57 he decided he'd had enough and he actually resigned in February of 1958 as Prime Minister of India this is not spoken about very much but he officially sent his resignation to the President of India and announced it and that was because he said he had done his duty by the country for 10 years now it was somebody else's turn and he booked a six-month hiking holiday in the Himalayas his beloved Himalayas in Kashmir what happened was there was a massive outcry the public went out into the streets the Congress party Working Committee in the ICC met unanimously passing a resolution begging him not to resign letters and telegrams started pouring in from around the world both President Eisenhower and America and Khrushchev in Moscow they both begged him to continue and it was only because of the incredible pressure put upon him from all quarters that a sense of duty - - and a sense of duty to the country prompted him to accept to withdraw his resignation he converted the six-month hiking Trek into a two-week climb in the mountains instead and he returned to his so narrow was somebody who was certainly not interested in clinging to office himself let alone in handing over bat authority to his own daughter his own family so I want to stress that if indeed many members of his family have risen to the top position later it is a reflection of later developments nothing to do with narrow zone wishes nothing to do with the practices or the institution that he had created which as you well realize gave us indeed a very different leader in Lal Bahadur Shastri when narrow passed away looking back on eras life these are the four big pillars that I believe he contributed and I believe as I've tried to summarize for you that all of them remain relevant to the India of today

it has become fashionable to attack him fashionable to denigrate his accomplishments but I do want to say that this is a man who is frankly above and beyond the limitations of either his followers or his critics I I remember writing an article in in the publication the week about Nehru the writer he was also one of the finest political writers of the 20th century in the English language he was a remarkable mind and he led behind a number of foundations for the india that we have built and lived in ever since so I'm going to pause there and take your questions and comments thank you very much before we take the questions from the audience let me ask you this one single question so you are of the view that Naru is in danger of being repudiated in his own country and interestingly you sums up your book by with a rather sad note I guess you're saying Nehru kept two totems on his desk in his office and

one was a gold statuette of Mahatma Gandhi and the second was a bronze caster of the end of Abraham Lincoln .

which he found as great social freedom he would Jia's Ron's comfort so and you lamenting that it in some ways it says that the country's is losing its intellectual heritage narrowing its intellectual heritage because his highest naruse has just kept the desk and the two totems ended up in the museum so the repudiating forces are not just from from his political and ideological opponents is it also from his legacy as well so how would you respond I think if you want a symbol for what has happened to his legacy it is that the narrow jacket has been rebaptised the moody jacket now it seems that the hero's name cannot be attached to anything they the thing that I Sheik mentioned he actually used to keep a bust of Mahatma Gandhi and a bronze cast of the hand of Lincoln and

I was told used to touch Lincoln's hand periodically for inspiration to try and drive the nation forward to help it rise above the forces of division and Gandhiji of course was his great hero father figure for narrow in many ways especially after his own father's death so be the symbolic thing is indeed that those things have ended in the museum the successors kept the desk but it's also that today there is such a systematic attempt to attack him to criticize him to rename everything that he tried to do and and I find it sad because you know our politics ought to have been able to rise above such petty Ness and I'll tell you who did rise above this pettiness was a ttle Bihari Vajpayee when he became prime minister he walked into the office and found that a portrait of Neru which used to stand there had disappeared and what had happened was that the officials thinking that as a BJP man

he would not want Nehru's picture there had had it removed and he ordered it to be brought back so this is one of our great for my great predecessors of course I want to have his picture that mentality is gone that mentality is not there in those who rule us today as I mentioned in a different context we will get the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi you find that there is I'll take two minutes and tell you a story because it's it's relevant to this question that was asked I don't know how many of you read Milan Kundera's wonderful novel the book of laughter and forgetting but it begins with this moment in which in Czechoslovakia as it used to be the Czech Republic today after the communist takeover there's a episode that Kundera describes in which the communist leadership the politburo standing on a balcony waving at crowds marching past during a big national celebration and one of the leaders of fellow corps Clementis notices that the first Secretary of the Communist Party Gottwald is bareheaded and snow is falling so he takes his hat off and puts it on the head of God Walt .

Now a few months later Clemente's falls out of favor as you know with the communists he's immediately dismissed as a class enemy traitor to the state he's arrested jailed and within two years he's executed and in in that system in the in the communist system of Eastern Europe you didn't just get executed you had to be wiped out of history you had to become a non-person so they started removing references to his name from everything including from the days when the communist it'd taken over Czechoslovakia and they started airbrushing his picture from all the photographs now the funny thing is according to Kundera that in the historic photograph of this balcony scene they have wiped out Clementis but his hat still remains on got walls head and that is pretty much what has happened to Gandhiji they have taken away completely the spirit of granthi everything he stands for all his beliefs and principles but they have retained his glasses as the symbol of this governments much Maratha mission that is why the answer is relevant to our Sheikh assir

I think we can take some questions from the audience if you have Union there's a very persistent young male who's raised his hand several times hello hello sketches of myself a rocking after you awesome my question is in the present political situation of India on one side we see cultural nationalism on the rise majoritarianism on the rise and influence of hindu time and going turns on the others side we are seeing persons like you writing a book on why you are a Hindu differentiating between true Hinduism and what Hindu 12 hatred is they also we see Rahul Gandhi in the parliament Hawking Prime Minister openly and telling or addressing him that this is what true Hinduism is .

so my question is is Congress trying to attack the Hindu tois of BJP and RSS with the law of Hinduism in the present political situation right I mean I think the answer is that we are demonstrating the Hindu tradition do ISM Hindutva is a political doctrine born in the 1920s alongside similar political doctrines in Europe at that time which were also militaristic corporatist nationalistic jingoistic muscular fascism Nazism and so on very similar doctrine applied to the Indian context in terms of identity politics but distanced from and unconnected to the inclusive and accepting nature of the Hindu faith so what we have tried to do mean my book ral Gandhi in his statements and temple visits is to recapture the authentic Hinduism that really makes what we call secularism possible when Indians say they are proud to be Hindu in the Hindu tradition it is a very negative narrow exclusionary and bigoted version of Hinduism we don't think that Hinduism at all we hark to the Hinduism preached by people like Swami Vivekananda by Mahatma Gandhi

who spoke of Hinduism with deep reverence but at the same time said their faith does not in any way put itself in opposition to other faiths it they both spoke of the recognition of the idea that all ways of worship are equally valid very current used to say it comes at Vapor Abajo Dhamma don t there is one truth the sage is called by different names he used to quote the shiva maha minnesota room which says that just as many rivers flow in different directions straight and crooked to the same see-saw so all different forms of for the divine we'll reach the same divinity so therefore a true Hindu in the vein of Swami Vivekananda or mahathma Gandhi would never want to attack anybody else's faith .

The logic of the Hindu philosophy acceptances I respect your truth please respect my truth that is the essence of the message and that I think is the best recipe for living in a multi-religious Society like India pardon me please be brief with your questions because we have some time limitations here explicitly so it's an honour asking you a question my friends time these are from supports different parties but they all respect you so my question is Nehru was a visionary he had many plans for India Shastri was of his Ashley's he was a visionary he had green revolution for India that is him our hours a visionary he had economic plans for India Manmohan Singh watch by Swann dr. Kalam was visionary.

so are we excusing ourselves from their vision like what they dreamed and it's been 70 years and we have not to achieve much specially in education I would say we don't have any since I am a student we don't have any education the University and top 10 forget about it being number 1 so what is the problem why are we lacking sir well I think honestly we can do better I don't disagree with you but we haven't done as badly as your question implies think of where we were in all of these fields as I said 90 percent below the poverty line in 1947 life expectancy in 1947 was 27 and Indian born in 1942 the average Indian could not expect to live beyond the age of 27 maternal health mortality infant mortality were record highs we had disease rampant across the country literacy was 16% and as far as female literacy was concerned it was 8.8% super 13 women in a room only one could read and write so given where we were in 1947 we have come a long way okay so you've got female literacy now up to close to 70

national literacy above about about 80 you've got life expectancy heading close to the biblical threescore and ten education you know will do ranked the American historian wrote in 1913 that the entire British government's education expenditure in India at all levels from the lowest to the highest University put together was less than half the high school budget of the state of New York one American state so we had a long way to go we had to expand dramatically from a handful of universities to the over 600 we have today we had to go from I don't know two hundred three hundred colleges to something like thirty thousand colleges in India today and so on so the expansion has taken place it has brought into the educational system a lot of Indians who previously were excluded from educational opportunities by gender by caste by region by language and so on .

and therefore there has been a tremendous tremendous improvement you are right to be impatient and say that's not enough we need more we need amongst the best in the world why do Indian parents have to spend two billion dollars a year sending their students their children to study abroad I don't want that to happen I want foreigners to send their students to my country to study as happened in the days of Nalanda so there is a lot more we can do and we are determined to get there but these things don't happen overnight young man and the truth is if you look at where we were and you look at where we've come you would agree progress has been made I would like to accelerate that progress and I would like to do more and that vision we do have we must have him we must take it forward big question from dead safe .

my question is Nehru had worked with great person lived and worked with great personalities like Mahatma Gandhi Alibi Patel Ambedkar etc but throughout his political life at least as Prime Minister some sort of a edging these people out and maybe putting him projecting himself knowingly or unknowingly and maybe because of the vast popularity he enjoyed Vallabhbhai Patel is also America more interestingly in terms of the caste politics which came up so badly later could have been you know brought into a certain channel where we could have sort of adjusted with them and sort of brought that importance down cast his politics but that was not done was it done purposely or was that just an accident no no it was done in fact both served in the narrow cabinet Patel was Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister and what is more he also used to give narrow advice on other subjects including on foreign policy one of the letters that is held against Nehru today is his letter on Tibet which Patel wrote to Nehru.

so Patel worked very closely with nehru and even when they had differences they resolved them with mutual respect and Patel wrote a famous letter around the time of Mothma Gandhi's assassination saying in a combination lies our greatest strength because the two of them were indeed opposites but very very compatible and very United Ambedkar was a different story Nehru invited and bethe care to join his government made him law minister and Ambedkar was a very strong and influential voice in the cabinet it was unbeaten and the reason he chose to resign was he felt that the Congress party wasn't trying hard enough to push through the Hindu code bill there I think he he died in 56th year the bill was adopted he would probably have realized that he was being a bit unfair

change is very difficult to bring about with the snap of the fingers and lots of people have to be persuaded resistance has to be overcome there was resistance a lot of traditionalists didn't want Hindu personal laws to be reformed and the Hindu God will be passed but Nehru fought hard he did work with various sectional interests he managed to divide the code bill into two or three different bills and get them passed one after the other so finally a Hindu personal law was all reform by 1956 had Ambedkar been patient enough to wait I think he would have seen that narrow did share his own conviction that caste must disappear narrow actually believed that caste would wither away it's an unrealistic thing looking at it today but narrow .

if you knew talk about Ambedkar writing anihilation of caste narrow might not have used a word like annihilation but he would certainly have wanted caste to disappear and I've seen things he has written in which he said that caste is an old-fashioned idea that would become irrelevant with time what he didn't realize was in our democracy caste itself would become an instrument for political mobilization and thereby caste interest will get more deeply entrenched I'm not sure that even Ambedkar could have prevented that sadly the way things have gone in our country now as you know we've reached the stage where we're going back to 1931

the practice of conducting a car census in our country so people are being encouraged to identify by their caste and a lot of benefits now in our state ask you to cast as well excuse me so you know the recent bill on the economic reservation so would you find it an attack on the constitutional mechanism of positive discrimination and on part of the naru vien ideology of socialism and social justice would you find it an attack on that self well you know the fact is that as a political party we are concerned about the difficult conditions of the poor amongst the non-reserved categories so if this is the solution that the government can offer we will not oppose it and we did not oppose it we voted for it in Parliament.

but there are some real questions which the Supreme Court will have to answer case has been presented to them because the Ambedkar notion was that reservations is a way of compensating for social backwardness that is that the costs that were deemed to be so-called untouchable and so on those costs were excluded from all the benefits of society and the state and therefore when Ambedkar wrote dr. Ambedkar wrote the affirmative action provisions of the Indian Constitution they were a way of guaranteeing not only equality of opportunity but actually guaranteed outcomes so reserved places and universities in government jobs in Parliament 85 seats in parliament are reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe communities so that was a different philosophy from a philosophy that says that you must reserve

Jawaharlal Nehru was an Indian anti-colonial nationalist, secular humanist, social democrat and author who was a central figure in India during the middle third of the 20th century. Nehru was a principal leader of the Indian independence movement in the 1930s and 1940s.

Upon India's independence in 1947, he served as the country's prime minister for 17 years. Nehru promoted parliamentary democracy, secularism, and science and technology during the 1950s, powerfully influencing India's arc as a modern nation. In international affairs, he steered India clear of the two blocks of the cold war. A well-regarded author, his books written in prison, such as Letters from a Father to His Daughter (1929), An Autobiography (1936), and The Discovery of India (1946), were read around the world.

The son of Motilal Nehru, a prominent lawyer and Indian nationalist, Jawaharlal Nehru was educated in England—at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge, and trained in the law at the Inner Temple. He became a barrister, returned to India, enrolled at the Allahabad High Court and gradually began to take an interest in national politics, which eventually became a full-time occupation.

He joined the Indian National Congress, rose to become the leader of a progressive faction during the 1920s, and eventually of the Congress, receiving the support of Mahatma Gandhi who was to designate Nehru as his political heir. As Congress president in 1929, Nehru called for complete independence from the British Raj.

Nehru and the Congress dominated Indian politics during the 1930s. Nehru promoted the idea of the secular nation-state in the 1937 Indian provincial elections, allowing the Congress to sweep the elections, and to form governments in several provinces. In September 1939, the Congress ministries resigned to protest Viceroy Lord Linlithgow's decision to join the war without consulting them. After the All India Congress Committee's Quit India Resolution of 8 August 1942, senior Congress leaders were imprisoned and for a time the organization was crushed.

Nehru, who had reluctantly heeded Gandhi's call for immediate independence, and had desired instead to support the Allied war effort during World War II, came out of a lengthy prison term to a much altered political landscape. The Muslim League, under Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had come to dominate Muslim politics in the interim. In the 1946 provincial elections, Congress won the elections but the League won all the seats reserved for Muslims, which the British interpreted to be a clear mandate for Pakistan in some form. Nehru became the interim prime minister of India in September 1946, with the League joining his government with some hesitancy in October 1946.

Upon India's independence on August 15, 1947, Nehru gave a critically acclaimed speech, A Tryst with Destiny; he was sworn in as the Dominion of India's prime minister and raised the Indian flag at the Red fort in Delhi Nehru was sworn in as the Dominion of India's prime minister and raised the Indian flag at the Red fort in Delhi. On January 26, 1950, when India became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations, Nehru became the Republic of India's first prime minister. He embarked on an ambitious program of economic, social, and political reforms. Nehru promoted a pluralistic multi-party democracy. In foreign affairs, he played a leading role in establishing the Non-Aligned Movement, a group of nations that did not seek membership in the two main ideological blocks of the 1950s.

Under Nehru's leadership, the Congress emerged as a catch-all party, dominating national and state-level politics and winning elections in 1951, 1957 and 1962. Nehru remained popular with the Indian people despite India's defeat in the Sino-Indian War of 1962 for which he was widely blamed. He died as a result of a stroke on 27 May 1964. His birthday is celebrated as Children's Day in India.

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