Sunday, November 14, 2010

In Memoriam: Jawaharlal Nehru

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was an influential figure in the Indian independence movement, serving as that country's first Prime Minister beginning in August 1947; his daughter Indira and grandson Rajiv would later follow him into that office. Yet his influence continues unabated throughout India in many other ways, even though he died more than forty years ago...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Born on this day in 1889 - the son of a Brahmin barrister named Motilal Nehru - young Jawaharlal was mentored by Mahatma Gandhi, who was determined to break down India's caste system; it was a determination soon shared by teacher and pupil alike.

Educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, when he was 27 Nehru's marriage was arranged to Kamala Kaul, who was just 16; conflicts arose between the thoroughly Westernized Nehru and his deeply Hindu bride, yet the marriage managed to produce its only child, the fabled Indira, within 18 months.

In fact, it may have been his wife's influence (as much as his mentor's) that soon had Nehru going native, which dismayed his still-Anglicized family. His zeal for social justice meant Nehru attracted the support of many women, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. In 1920, he was elected President of the All India Trade Unions Congress; he was later also one of the youngest-ever leaders in the history of the Congress Party.

At the same time as Nehru was championing independence, his father was lobbying on behalf of dominion status for India, going so far as to author a report to that end; none of which stopped his son from famously hoisting the Indian flag over the Union Jack on the last day of 1929. Four weeks later Nehru and his party would be calling for Purna Swaraj, or complete independence from the British Empire. His defiance would see him incarcerated between August 1942 and June 1945.

Independence for India would finally be obtained in August 1947, when Nehru would deliver his stirring inaugural address, A Tryst With Destiny.

In power Nehru's first years were marked by the sectarian violence that accompanied Partition; even though he'd supported the move, it had been a reluctant support, and soon history would prove that his reluctance had been well-founded. The young nation was also rocked by the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in January 1948. At the same time as Nehru's government was struggling to maintain the peace, it was also attempting to impose some semblance of planning on the infant democracy; probably his greatest concern throughout this time, though, was with increasing educational opportunities for all of India's children.

Nehru died of a combination stroke and heart attack in May 1964; his legacy is one of egalitarianism, tempered by the failures of central planning which caused widespread famine in Bihar in the final years of his life. Only a massive infusion of humanitarian aid from the United States prevented Nehru's devotion to Communist ideology from causing a genocide by malnutrition on a scale that would have put those committed by his heroes Mao and Stalin to shame.

Nonetheless, his birthday is still celebrated as Children's Day in India.
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