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Looking at Pandit Nehru’s Legacy

This year marks the 125th anniversary of Pt. Nehru, one of the best recognised faces of India’s freedom struggle. Policy Pulse looks at what people have felt about him - then and now

Policy Pulse
Publish Date: Nov 30 2015 2:37PM | Updated Date: Nov 30 2015 2:37PM

This year marks the 125th birth anniversary of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the founding fathers of free India. He was born the eldest of three children in an illustrious family based at Allahabad. Through his formative years, he was schooled at home under Indian and British tutors. At the age of 16, he was sent to the prestigious English boys’ school – Harrow, from where he went on to Trinity College in Cambridge. After securing his degree in 1910 in Natural Sciences, he stayed on in England for another two years studying law. 


On his return to India he did not like working at the Allahabad High Court, and got involved with nationalistic movements. Swimming against the tide of his times, he turned out to be radical unlike most peers who tended to be moderate. He joined Annie Besant’s home-rule movement, and actively espoused the cause of communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims. As the freedom movement started to take many under its warm fold, he threw his lot with Mahatma Gandhi, and the rest as, they say, is history!


Policy Pulse offers perspectives on the first Prime Minister of India, right from his early days until now as his rich legacy continues to warm and guide and shape the ethos of post-independence India


Sardar Patel, Member, Indian National Congress


Jawaharlal and I have been fellow- members of the Congress, soldiers in the struggle for freedom, colleagues in the Congress Working Committee and other bodies of the Congress, devoted followers of the Great Master …..


Having known each other in such intimate and varied fields of activity we have naturally grown fond of each other, our mutual affection has increased as years have advanced, and it is difficult for people to imagine how much we miss each other when we are apart and unable to take counsel together in order to resolve our problems and difficulties. This familiarity, nearness, intimacy and brotherly affection make it difficult for me to sum him up for public appreciation, but, then, the idol of the nation, the leader of the people, the Prime Minister of the country, and the hero of the masses, whose noble record and great achievements are an open book, hardly needs any commendation from me.


A clean and resolute fighter, he always fought hard and straight against the foreign government. Having received the baptism of “fire” in his early thirties as an organiser of peasants’ movement in the U.P., he imbibed to the full the knowledge of the art and science of non-violent warfare. His ardent emotionalism and his hatred of injustice and oppression converted him into a crusader in the war against poverty, and with an instinctive sympathy for the poor he threw himself heart and soul into the struggle for the amelioration of the lot of the peasantry. His sphere of activities widened, and he soon blossomed forth into a silent organiser of the great institution to which we all dedicated ourselves as an instrument of our emancipation.


Gifted with an idealism of high order, a devotee of beauty and art in life, and equipped with an infinite capacity to magnetise and inspire others and a personality which would be remarkable in any gathering of world’s foremost men, Jawaharlal has gone from strength to strength as a political leader. His trip to foreign countries necessitated by the ailment of his wife raised his conception of Indian nationalism to an ethereal international plane. That was the beginning of that international phase of his life and character which has throughout been noticeable in his approach to internal and world problems. Ever since, Jawaharlal has never looked back. He has grown in stature both in India and abroad. The sincerity of his convictions, the breadth of his outlook, the clarity of his vision, and the purity of his emotions – all these have brought to him the homage of millions in this country and outside.



As one older in years, it has been my privilege to tender advice to him on the manifold problems with which we have been faced in both administrative and organisational fields. I have always found him willing to seek and ready to take it. 


Contrary to the impression created by some interested persons and eagerly accepted in credulous circles, we have worked together as lifelong friends and colleagues, adjusting ourselves to each other’s point of view as the occasion demanded, and valuing each other’s advice as only those who have confidence in each other can. His moods vary from juvenile buoyancy to the seriousness of age and maturity, and exhibit that resilience which is at once disarming and accommodating. He is equally at home in the company of sportive children and deliberative elders. It is this variety and this adaptability which are the secret of his eternal youth, the amazing vitality which he exhibits and the invigorating freshness of his presence. -- As said on October 14, 1949


Dr Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President 


The history of Bharat during the last thirty years or more is inextricably intertwined with the life and activity of Jawaharlal Nehru. He has been in the forefront of the struggle for freedom of the country, having courted imprisonments more times than I can recall and spent more time in jail than I and perhaps even he can mention off-hand…


It is well known that he did not accept Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings, instinctively as it were. His life and training had not prepared him for any such sudden conversion. He accepted them to the extent he did after much mental struggle and cogitation, and I feel I shall not be misrepresenting him if I state the he had never accepted them even mentally in their entirety. 


It is this gift of discerning and discriminating between differing ideas and principles that distinguishes him at once from what may be called a bhakt or devotee and an unsympathetic and un-understanding critic of the great Master…


We are not yet out of the woods. The problems which independence and partition of the country have created, many of them still remain to be solved. We have achieved independence, but it still needs constant and careful watching and nursing to be firmly established and able to withstand and counter and conquer all forces of aggression from without and of disorder from within. We have succeeded under the guidance of his great colleague, co-worker – and if I may be permitted to put it – counterpart – in integrating the whole of Bharat as it is today. But the great task of conquering and removing poverty, disease and ignorance and establishing a society which will ensure to all, in the words of our Constitution, justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, still remains to be accomplished.


Indeed, we have only just launched our boat of independence on the limitless ocean, and the great work of making Bharat worthy of its great past and fit for a greater future has just begun. It needs a great vision to peer into the future, and a greater determination and capacity to act in the present to fulfil and complete it. Jawaharlal Nehru possesses these in abundance, and has been hailed not only by his own countrymen but by others who count in the world today as a great leader of men and statesmen. -- As said on November 14, 1949


Dr S Radhakrishnan, Philospher and Educationist and India’s first Vice-President  


While Nehru does not belong to the Socialist Party, he represents the socialist movement in the country. While he is keenly appreciative of the social work which the Soviet Revolution has achieved, he is critical of the mechanisation of life which it has produced. As a sensitive artist and believer in human freedom, he has no sympathy with the tendency to standardise men’s lives, their work and play attitudes. By making all citizens at home and school, in factory and field, conform to certain rigid patterns, we create deep discords, tensions and inhibitions. Nehru is opposed to any system which eliminates the human from man.


In the supreme issue which divides the world today, democracy versus totalitarianism, Nehru’s sympathies are clear. Democracy is based on a growing solicitude for freedom and justice while totalitarianism is based on a negation of both. Nehru is on the side of democracy, but he knows clearly the motives which help to spread communism, the attraction it has not only for the proletariat but for the intellectual cynics…


Communism thrives on the mental and social wreckage which the two world wars have produced. Hunger and misery generate hate and Communism. – As said on April 15th, 1949


Govind Vallabh Pant, 


Jawaharlal’s genius has many facets. His writings hold a high place in the world’s literature. His study of modern philosophy is profound and extensive. His acquaintance with world affairs is his understanding of world affairs. Even in the midst of his preoccupations he keeps himself well posted with the latest developments in modern science, art, literature and poetry are not neglected. Though in the midst of vast problems of high policy, he is still full of energy and irrepressible willfulness of spirit, as he was in younger years. Yogic exercises and riding, mountaineering, swimming, skating and skiing are his favourite pastimes and keep him in good health and spirits at sixty. He has a strictly disciplined life, distinguished by the most scrupulous attention to detail.


It is the nation’s great good fortune that it is led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. He is the personification of our hopes and aspirations. Today the world knows India because of Nehru. His success is our glory, and his strength our greatness. May he live long, to strive for the peace of the world and the prosperity of India. -- As said on August 25, 1949




Jawaharlal Nehru was a man of three extraordinary epochs. He was a leader in the long anti-colonial struggle to free his own land and to inspire a fighting will in other lands under bondage. 


He lived to see victory and to move then to another epochal confrontation - the fight for peace after World War II. In this climactic struggle he did not have Gandhi at his side, but he did have the Indian people, now free in their own great Republic. 


It would be hard to overstate Nehru's and India’s contributions in this period. It was a time fraught with the constant threat of a devastating finality for mankind. There was no moment in this period free from the peril of atomic war. In these years Nehru was a towering world force skillfully inserting the peace will of India between the raging antagonisms of the great powers of East and West. 


The world needed a mediator and an "honest broker" lest, in its sudden acquisition of overwhelming destructive force, one side or the other might plunge the world into mankind's last war. Nehru had the prestige, the wisdom, and the daring to play the role. 


The markedly relaxed tensions of today are Nehru's legacy to us, and at the same time they are our monument to him. 


It should not be forgotten that the treaty to end nuclear testing accomplished in 1963 was first proposed by Nehru. Let us also remember that the world dissolution of colonialism now speedily unfolding had its essential origins in India's massive victory. And let it also be remembered that Nehru guided into being the "Asian-African Bloc" as a united voice for the billions who were groping towards a modern world. He was the architect of the policy of nonalignment or neutralism which was calculated to give independent expression to the emerging nations while enabling them to play a constructive role in world affairs. 


The third epoch of Nehru's work is unfolding after his death. Even though his physical presence is gone, his spiritual influence retains a living force. The great powers are not yet in harmonious relationship to each other, but with the help of the nonaligned world they have learned to exercise a wise restraint. In this is the basis for a lasting détente. Beyond this, Nehru's example in daring to believe and act for peaceful co-existence gives mankind its most glowing hope. – As said in tribute to Nehru after his death 


Atal Behari Vajpayee 


Sir, a dream has been shattered, a song silenced, a flame has vanished in the infinite. It was the dream of a world without fear and without hunger, it was the song of an epic that had the echo of the Gita and the fragrance of the rose. It was the flame of a lamp that burnt all night, fought with every darkness, showed us the way, and one morning attained Nirvana.


Death is certain, the body is ephemeral. The golden body that yesterday we consigned to the funeral pyre of sandalwood was bound to end. But did death have to come so stealthily? When friends were asleep and guards were slack we were robbed of a priceless gift of life. Bharat Mata is stricken with grief today – she has lost her favourite prince. Humanity is sad today – it has lost its devotee. Peace is restless today – its protector is no more. The downtrodden have lost their refuge. The common man has lost the light in his eyes. The curtain has come down. The leading actor on the stage of the world displayed his final role and taken the bow.


In the Ramayana Maharashi Valmiki has said of Lord Rama that he brought the impossible together. In Panditji’s life we see a glimpse of what the great poet said. He was a devotee of peace and yet the harbinger of revolution, he was a devotee of non-violence but advocated every weapon to defend freedom and honour.


He was an advocate of individual freedom and yet was committed to bringing about economic equality. He was never afraid of a compromise with anybody, but he never compromised with anyone out of fear. His policy towards Pakistan and China was a symbol of this unique blend. It had generosity as well as firmness. It is unfortunate that this generosity was mistaken for weakness, while some people looked upon his firmness as obstinacy.


I remember I once saw him very angry during the days of the Chinese aggression when our Western friends were trying to prevail upon us to arrive at some compromise with Pakistan on Kashmir. When he was told we would have to fight on two fronts if there was no compromise on the Kashmir problem he flared up and said we would fight on both fronts if necessary. He was against negotiating under any pressure.


Sir, the freedom of which he was the general and protector is today in danger. We have to protect it with all our might. The national unity and integrity of which he was the apostle is also in danger today. We have to preserve it at any cost. The Indian democracy he established, and of which he made a success is also faced with a doubtful future. With our unity, discipline and self-confidence we have to make this democracy a success. The leader is gone, the followers remain. The sun has set, now we have to find our way by the light of the stars. This is a highly testing time. If we all could dedicate ourselves to the great ideal of a mighty and prosperous India that could make an honourable contribution to world peace for ever, it would indeed be a true tribute to him.


The loss to Parliament is irreparable. Such a resident may never grace Teen Murti again. That vibrant personality, that attitude of taking even the opposition along, that refined gentlemanliness, that greatness we may not again see in the near future. In spite of a difference of opinion we have nothing but respect for his great ideals, his integrity, his love for the country and his indomitable courage.


With these words I pay my humble homage to that great soul. --From speech in the Rajya Sabha on 29th May, 1964, on Nehru’s death