Jawahar Lal Nehru: Successor to Gandhi
On 15 January 1941 Gandhiji said, “Some say Pandit Nehru and I were estranged. It will require much more than difference of opinion to estrange us. We had differences from the time we became co-workers and yet I have said for some years and say so now that not Rajaji but Jawaharlal will be my successor.”
Jawahar Lal Nehru: Final years
Nehru had led the Congress to a major victory in the 1957 elections, but his government was facing rising problems and criticism. Disillusioned by intra-party corruption and bickering, Nehru contemplated resigning but continued to serve. The election of his daughter Indira as Congress President in 1959 aroused criticism for alleged nepotism, although actually Nehru had disapproved of her election, partly because he considered it smacked of “dynastism”; he said, indeed it was “wholly undemocratic and an undesirable thing”, and refused her a position in his cabinet. Indira herself was at loggerheads with her father over policy; most notably, she used his oft-stated personal deference to the Congress Working Committee to push through the dismissal of the Communist Party of India government in the state of Kerala, over his own objections. Nehru began to be frequently embarrassed by her ruthlessness and disregard for parliamentary tradition, and was “hurt” by what he saw as an assertiveness with no purpose other than to stake out an identity independent of her father.
Although the Pancha Sila (Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence) was the basis of the 1954 Sino-Indian treaty over Tibet, in later years, Nehru’s foreign policy suffered through increasing Chinese antagonism over border disputes and Nehru’s decision to grant asylum to the Dalai Lama. After years of failed negotiations, Nehru authorized the Indian Army to annex Goa from Portugal in 1961. While increasing his popularity, Nehru received criticism for opting for military action.
In the 1962 elections, Nehru led the Congress to victory yet with a diminished majority. Opposition parties ranging from the right-wing Bharatiya Jana Sangh and Swatantra Party, socialists and the Communist Party of India performed well.
In a matter of months, the border disputes with China turned into open conflict. Nehru assumed that as former victims of imperialism (India being a colony itself) they shared a sense of solidarity, as expressed in the phrase “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai” (Indians and Chinese are brothers). He was dedicated to the ideals of brotherhood and solidarity among developing nations. Nehru, credulously, did not believe that one fellow Socialist country would attack another; and in any event, he felt secure behind the impregnable wall of ice that is the Himalayas. Both proved to be severe miscalculations of China’s intentions and military capabilities. Following reports of his intention to confront Chinese occupation of the disputed areas – summarised in a memorable statement that he had asked the Army to “throw them (Chinese) out” – China launched a pre-emptive attack.
In a matter of days, a Chinese invasion of northeastern India exposed the weaknesses of India’s military as Chinese forces came as far as Assam. Widely criticized for his government’s insufficient attention to defence, Nehru was forced to sack the defence minister Krishna Menon and seek U.S. military aid. Nehru’s health began declining steadily, and he was forced to spend months recuperating in Kashmir through 1963. Some historians attribute this dramatic decline to his surprise and chagrin over the invasion of India by the Chinese, which he perceived as a betrayal of trust. Upon his return from Kashmir in May 1964, Nehru suffered a stroke and later a heart attack. He died in the early hours of 27 May 1964. Nehru was cremated in accordance with Hindu rites at the Shantivana on the banks of the Yamuna River, witnessed by hundreds of thousands of mourners who had flocked into the streets of Delhi and the cremation grounds.
Jawahar Lal Nehru: Legacy
As India’s first Prime minister and external affairs minister, Jawaharlal Nehru played a major role in shaping modern India’s government and political culture along with sound foreign policy. He is praised for creating a system providing universal primary education, reaching children in the farthest corners of rural India. Nehru’s education policy is also credited for the development of world-class educational institutions such as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Indian Institutes of Technology, and the Indian Institutes of Management.
In addition, Nehru’s stance as an unfailing nationalist led him to also implement policies which stressed commonality among Indians while still appreciating regional diversities. This proved particularly important as post-Independence differences surfaced since British withdrawal from the subcontinent prompted regional leaders to no longer relate to one another as allies against a common adversary. While differences of culture and, especially, language threatened the unity of the new nation, Nehru established programs such as the National Book Trust and the National Literary Academy which promoted the translation of regional literatures between languages and also organized the transfer of materials between regions. In pursuit of a single, unified India, Nehru warned, “Integrate or perish.”