Jawaharlal Nehru 1889-1940

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

Shri Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was born on 14 November, 1889 in the city of Allahabad, situated in North India. He is belovedly called as Chacha Nehru and his birthday is celebrated as Children’s day in India. He is mainly hailed as Architect of Indian Republic. And Nehru is also addressed as Pandit because his ancestors belonged to Pandit (Priestly) community. I say he should be called as Jawaharlal Nehru the Great.

He was not only an orator but also a writer. He authored famous books of, ‘Glimpses of World History’ in 1934, ‘Towards the Freedom (his Autobiography) in 1936, and Discovery of India in 1946. And by 1938 itself he drafted the main theme of Indian Constitution narrating Fundamental rights of the people and Democratic and Republican form of Government.

Architect of Indian Republic

No other leader in those days dreamt of forming of India as a Nation, but Nehru and Bose. At that time India was composed of Presidencies under British hegemony and also various Kingdoms ruled by the erstwhile Rajas and Nawabs. Everywhere people were treated as Subjects of respective Princely States and Presidencies. But after India became a Republic we are living as Citizens of Indian instead of being subjects of some Kingdoms. And now Indian people are blessed with the right of electing their ruler instead of ruled hereditary Kings. It is the gift of Nehru ji for India and Indians who give voting rights to all Indians based on adult franchise principle.

We know that Nehru’s biography cannot be read separately from freedom struggle of India. The story of Freedom struggle and life of Nehru are intertwined. So let us have a gist of the state of affairs in India at the time when Nehru entered into political scene and thereafter. And it must be remembered that before the advent of Shri Nehru and Shri Gandhi also, people fought for freedom.

Armed Resistances against the British

Freedom struggle was an ongoing process since the British entered into India, which may be sometimes sporadic sometimes organized but limited to some pockets of India.

Several people like Shri Balagangadhar Tilak, Rash Behari Bose, Vinayak Damodar Sawarkar, Arabindo Ghosh etc., raised their voices before. Sometimes from Indian soil and sometimes from foreign lands. Some took to arms and violence. One of the foremost freedom fighter was Tilak. He was jailed in 1897 for 18 months and in 1908 for 6 years on the allegations of writing instigating words against Britishers through his journals Kesari and Marathi and Tilak.

Then first major revolt occurred in 1909 after British declared direct hegemony on India in 1857. Some Britishers were killed and V D Sawarkar was implicated in the crimes and jailed for two 50 year terms. The second one was Gaddar revolt (1912-17) during First World War. Gaddar revolt was intended to instigate desertions from the British Indian Army in order to through the British out. The final and third armed revolt happened under the aegis of Subhas Chandra Bose (1940-44). And his army was called as Azad Hind Fauz (Indian National Army). This INA was formed actually by Rash Behari Bose operating from Japan. And Rash Behari bose handed over the INA to Subhash Chandra Bose in 1941. Japan helped them by handing over of the British Indian Prisoners of War to INA.


But all these attempts have failed for two reasons. These revolutionary Freedom fighters were dependent on foreign countries for Arms supplies, finances and logistics. Once these foreign powers were defeated by the British or when they joined hands with the British, the revolts automatically dwindled down putting the freedom struggle and the lives of freedom fighters in peril. For example, France handed over Sawarkar to the British. INA was also defeated and got disintegrated when Japan was defeated in II world war. And many a time British used to jail them or exterminate these armed freedom fighters.



And another important aspect of these revolts is that they were confined to some regions of India only. For example Tilak’s freedom movement was confined to Maratha region and that of Arabindo Ghosh to Bengal. However, Gaddar movement extends from Punjab to Bengal. It was Mahatma Gandhi who had succeeded to extend the horizon of freedom struggle against the British to all India level.

Gandhi had experienced and observed the military might and ruthlessness of the British in South Africa. Gandhi lived in South Africa for 21 years. There he devised a most powerful tool of nonviolent protest named by him as Satyagraha or non-cooperation movement to fight against the British. Gandhi returned to India in 1915. And he adopted this principle of Satyagraha in India to fight. Nehru and the like freedom fighters including vast masses followed Gandhi and succeeded in driving out the British from India ultimately by 1950. However, we have to remember that about 300000 Indians lost their lives while fighting the British parallelly. 

Actually Jawaharlal Nehru was born to Motilal Nehru and Swaruprani Thussu on 14 November 1889 (and Gandhi was 20 years senior to him). Jawahar’s father Motilal Nehru was born on 6 May 1861, to Gangadhar Nehru and Indrani. Gangadhar Nehru was a kotwal in Delhi city. Sepoy mutiny occurred in 1857. Sepoys declared Bahadurshah as Emperor of India. British retaliated by conducting carnage of Mughuls and their people. All Mughul lineage was extinguished including infants by the British. Nehrus being in the service of Mughuls suffered most.  Nehru family home in Delhi had been looted and burnt down.  Gangadhar left Delhi with his family and moved to Agra, and took shelter at their relatives there.

At this time, Motilal’s two older brothers, Bansidhar Nehru and Nandlal Nehru were nineteen and sixteen years old respectively. Nandlal secured a job as a clerk in the court of a Raja of Khetri and began supporting his mother and brother.

Thus, Motilal came to spend his childhood in Khetri of Rajasthan. And his elder brother, Nandlal gained the favour of Raja Fateh Singh of Khetri and rose to the position of Diwan. Afterwards, Nandlal left Khetri for Agra and studied law. He then began practicing law at the provincial High Court at Agra. Subsequently, the High Court was shifted its base to Allahabad, and the Nehru family (including Motilal) moved to Allahabad.

Thus began the Nehru family’s association with Allahabad. Nandlal helped Motilal receive modern education in both Agra and Allahabad. Motilal passed the matriculation examination from Kanpur, and went on to attend Muir Central College at Allahabad. Motilal was later qualified as “Bar at law” in 1883 from University of Cambridge and enlisted as a lawyer in the Indian courts. 

And it is important to note that Motilal refused to undergo penance (Prayashchitta) for the sin of travelling overseas defying dictums of Orthodox Brahmins. And Jawaharlal also did not undergo prayaschittta. This may be the main reason for critics to label Nehrus as non – Hindus or Muslims. (Whereas Gandhi did oblige and performed necessary rituals for his sin of foreign travel by sea. And it is interesting to note that Sawarkar also questioned the existence of God at some time.)

Motilal practiced as a lawyer at Kanpur. Three years later, he moved to Allahabad to join the lucrative practice already established by his brother Nandlal. The following year, in April 1887, his brother died at the age of forty-two, leaving behind five sons and two daughters. Thus Motilal at the age of 25 became sole bread-earner of the large family of Nehrus.

And with the success of his practice, in 1900, he bought a large house in Allahabad rebuilt it and named it Anand Bhavan. Jawaharlal was born here.

Jawahar did not went to school but got tutored at home mainly by Ferdinand Brooks and Annie Besant. Jawaharlal also learned Hindi and Sanskrit from Indian tutors. Jawahar was sent to England for formal schooling at Horrow in 1905. Afterwards Nehru joined Trinity College, Cambridge in October 1907 and graduated with an Honours degree in natural science in 1910.

After that Nehru moved to London and studied law at Inner temple Inn. So that Nehru was a Science graduate and Lawyer as well. And had also acquired knowledge of Hindu scriptures. Nehru married Kamala Kaul in March 1916,

Nehru met Gandhi for the first time in 1916 at the annual meeting of the Indian National Congress at Lucknow. Both were strangers to each other at that time except the fact that Motilal and Gandhi were acquaintances.

But we must know that it was strange and immature for Indians to think of throwing the British out of India in those days. Gopal Krishna Gokhale said that it was “madness to think of independence”. So Gokhale advocated Constitutional agitation. Motilal was also of the same opinion. Motilal Nehru acknowledged the limits of constitutional agitation, but counselled his son that there was no other “practical alternative” to it.

So until father and son met Mahatma Gandhi either of them did not develop any definite ideas on how freedom was to be attained. Jawaharlal was attracted by Gandhi’s insistence on fighting against British rule of India without fear or hate.

And it happened like this, when Nehru wished to participate in freedom struggle Motilal ridiculed him and warned him of prospective jailing. Then Nehru rehearsed sleeping on floor at home. And Motilal used to give Jawahar enough money for his needs in order to drive Jawahar to pursue his profession for money. But Nehru’s mind was immersed on the issue of sending British out and make Indians and India free of shackles. This attitude reflects Nehru’s conviction and determination to sacrifice his life for the freedom of his native land. Obviously he just like many other Indians, who went to England, imbibed the values of Nationalism and dreamt of throwing the British out of India. But Nehru had put his ideals into practice in order to achieve freedom in a systematic way. But it should be noted that at that time no one was sure of any freedom for India in near future. About 3 lakh people died fighting the British between 1847 and 1947. Bose and Nehru only insisted upon fighting for total freedom. Even Gandhi ji did not agree for Total Freedom thinking that it cannot be fructified.

Non-Cooperation movement 1920-21

Nehru participated in the Non-Cooperation movement of 1920 which was called by Gandhi. Gandhi led the movement in the United Provinces (Uttar Pradesh). Nehru was arrested on charges of anti-governmental activities in 1921, and was released a few months later. Thus Nehru went to prison for the first time in 1921. Over the next 24 years Nehru spent more than nine years in jail in eight different occasions. His last imprisonment lasted for almost three years. His final release occurred in 1945.

In 1923 he served Indian National Congress as general secretary for two years, and again in 1927 for another two years. 

Both Nehru and Bose opposed Ganghi’s decision to withdraw Second Non-Cooperation movement after the Chauri Chaura incident in 1922. However, Nehru remained loyal to Gandhi. For example, Jawahar lal did not join the Swaraj Party formed in 1923 for which his father Motilal Nehru was General Secretary.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Swaraj

And let us know about incidents leading to sentensing and jailing of Tilak. Two Britishers Rand and Ayerst were killed by Chapekar Brothers in 1897. It was alleged that they did that act based on Tilak’s provocative writings in his journals Kesari and Maratha. Tilak was convicted under the charges sedition for allegedly inciting violence against the British and sentenced for 18 months in prison in 1897. Later in 1908 Bengali youths, Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose thrown a bomb on a carriage of a Britisher. Tilak, in his paper Kesari, defended the revolutionaries and called for immediate Swaraj or self-rule. Tilak was charged with sedition. Tilak served his sentence at Mandalay Jail of Rangoon from 1908 to 1914. Tilak did not plead guilty. And did not urged for mercy.

On being asked by the judge whether he had anything to say, Tilak said:

“All that I wish to say is that, in spite of the verdict of the jury, I still maintain that I am innocent. There are higher powers that rule the destinies of men and nations; and I think, it may be the will of Providence that the cause I represent may be benefited more by my suffering than by my pen and tongue.”

Tilak was famous for his declaration, FREEDOM IS MY BIRTH RIGHT I SHALL HAVE IT. He was firsts to call for boycott of British goods and gave a call for Swadeshi. It is interesting to note that Gandhiji began his all India movement for Swaraj by popularising Swadeshi movement. And people responded well by donating Rs. 1 crore to Tilak Swaraj Fund in a few months time in 1919.

After coming back from long imprisonment Tilak did not backtracked from his commitment to fight for freedom. He tried to convince Congress committee to call for a national movement for Home Rule. But moderates rejected it. Upon which Tilak started Home Rule League. And Annie Besant formed another Home Rule League in 1916. Nehru joined both the leagues but worked especially for the Annie Besant’s HRL. Later Tilak died in 1920 and Gokhale in 1915.

And Nehru ji attended the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities in Brussels in Belgium in 1927 as representative of Indian National Congress. The meeting was called to co-ordinate and plan a common struggle against imperialism. Nehru was elected to the Executive Council of the League against Imperialism there.

Another watershed in his political and economic thinking happened when Nehru conducted a tour of Europe and the Soviet Union during 1926–27. And destiny proves like that, Nehru’s father held the Presidentship of INC in 1928 and Nehru was elected President in 1929.

Independence for India League

Nehru Report of 1928 did not demand Total Freedom from the British. But was asking for Dominion status for for India on the lines of Canada and Australia. It is interesting to note that Nehru Report was prepared by Motilal Nehru, father of Jawahar Lal Nehru. And Jawahar and Bose were demanding Congress to declare Purna Swaraj (Total Freedom) as its aim. Then a forum called as “Independence for India League” was formed with Jawahar Lal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose as Secretaries and S. Srinivasa Iyengar as President and started pressurising Gandhi and Patel to agree for a resolution demanding Purna Swaraj as Congress’ goal.

Bhagat Singh and Nehru

And Nehru met Bhagat Singh and his comrades in prison on August 8, 1929 who were on the death roll. And Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy of India the following letter against execution of Bhagat Singh,

M. K. Gandhi
March 23, 1931

The Viceroy,
Govt. of India.

It seems cruel to inflict this letter on you, but the interest of peace demands a final appeal. Though you were frank enough to tell me that there was little hope of your commuting the sentence of death on Bhagat Singh and two others, you said you would consider my submission of Saturday…..

Execution is an irretrievable act. If you think there is the slightest chance of error of judgment, I would urge you to suspend for further review an act that is beyond recall.
If my presence is necessary, I can come. Though I may not speak I may hear and write what I want to say.
“Charity never faileth.”

I am,
Your sincere friend,
M. K. Gandhi

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Saraswati river

It is interesting to note that Gandhi addressed Governor in the letter as Friend not used any honourary words. And it should be noted that Hedgewar distanced himself from the Congress in 1925. And Sawarkar was released from house arrest in 1924. And Gandhi and Nehru were at loggerheads with the British over Constitutional question and waging war against the British in the form of Non-cooperation movement and Satyagraha. Moreover Sawarkar was in good relations with the British after 1924. I think Sawarkar would have used his good offices and / or joined hands with Gandhi and Nehru for the release or commutation of the sentences of Bhagat Sindh and two others.

And after the Lahore session of Congress in 1929, Nehru emerged as the leader of the country’s intellectuals and youth. And Nehru was one of the first leaders to demand that the Congress Party should resolve to make a complete and explicit break from all ties with the British. His resolution for independence was approved at the Madras session of Congress in 1927 even though Gandhi opposed the move. As a protest against INC for not accepting his proposal, Nehru formed Independence for India League, as a pressure group within the Congress.

Swaraj struggle

Ultimately in 1928, Gandhi agreed to Nehru’s demands and Gandhi himself moved a resolution calling for the British to grant dominion status (Swaraj) for India within two years. If the British failed to meet the deadline, the Congress would call upon all Indians to fight for complete independence, Poorna Swaraj. Nehru was one of the leaders who objected to the two year time frame given to the British by Gandhiji – Nehru and Bose pressed Gandhi to demand immediate actions from the British. Gandhi compromised and reduced the time limit to One Year. Upon which Nehru agreed and voted for the new resolution calling the British to grand Dominion status for India within one year. So it was decided that if Dominion status is not agreed upon by British then Congress would fight for Total Independence.

Poorna Swaraj became sole aim of Congress in 1929

By the way we have to know why Congress just like other revolutionaries did not press or fight for complete freedom till 1929. It happened like that because Indians being intelligent very well know that if British withdrew or forced to leave there as a likelihood of another European power filling the vacuum. So they feared replacement of British by another European power instead of getting Freedom. That’s why Indians under Congress demanded Dominion status with British hegemony. After the World war I and Russian revolution, rise of Fascism, defeat of Russia by Japan like events around the globe emboldened the Congress with the initiative of youth leaders like Nehru and Bose made a shift and called for Poorna Swaraj.

However, demands for dominion status were rejected by the British in 1929. In the meantime Nehru became President of the Congress party. And at the Lahore session of Indian National Congress on 29 th December of 1929 Nehru introduced a great resolution calling for complete independence, that is for ‘Poorna Swaraj’. Nehru hoisted the Tri-colour flag of India on the banks of the river Ravi in Lahore. And it was decided to celebrate as India’s Independence Day every year by hoisting Tri-colour National flags all over India starting from 26th of January 1930. Thus Freedom struggle acquired a new colour and a new dimension from that day onwards. Because British banned hoisting of the National flag and treated it as crime. Lakhs of people suffered from the wrath of English by hoisting Flags across India since then. Freedom struggle was being called as Flag struggle. Because British saw the Flag hoisting as threat to their existence in India. RSS asked its men to not to participate in the Flag struggle. However, the RSS hoisted the tricolor National Flag of India at its Nagpur headquarters only twice, on 14 August 1947 and on 26 January 1950. But discontinued it after that. Again RSS hoisted tricolor national flag again in 2002 at RSS HQ.

Declaration of Independence by Congress on 29.12.1929

Nehru drafted the Indian declaration of independence as follows:

“We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth. We believe also that if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them the people have a further right to alter it or abolish it. The British government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually. We believe therefore, that India must severe the British connection and attain complete independence, the Purna Swaraj.”

A pledge of independence was read out, which included a readiness to withhold taxes. Nehru had spoken openly “of the politics of non-cooperation, of the need of resigning from honorary positions under the government and of not continuing the futile politics of representation”

Upon which Gandhi called for Civil disobedience and Satyagraha. And he made a beginning of third Civil disobedience by braking Salt laws. Gandhi began his famous Dandi march (240 KM) on foot on 12 March from Sabarmati and reached Dandi on 5th April and made salt on 6 th April 1930 braking salt laws with a few hundreds. As Gandhi proceeded thousands joined him on the way and at Dandi the volunteers were beaten severely by Indian Sepoys of the British. But no one resisted the beatings physically and simply fell down with injuries, mostly head injuries. It seems Indians learnt from the happenings of salt satyagraha that they can fight against a strong enemy without using arms. But by suffering themselves. Lakhs of people from all corners of India participated in the Salt Satyagraha and 60,000 People got arrested across India. I think people restrained themselves during the atrocities conducted by the British in order to prove that they obey the orders of Gandhi ji and they fully accept the gandhian way of satyagraha. And they did not want Gandhi to discontinue freedom struggle as happened after chauri chaura.

Nehru had addressed a huge meeting and led a vast procession and ceremoniously manufactured some contraband salt at Allahabad. He was arrested on 14 April 1930 while travelling by train from Allahabad for Raipur. He was charged with breach of the salt law, tried summarily behind prison walls and sentenced to six months of imprisonment.

As the protests gathered steam, Nehru remarked about the unprecedented popular response to the Dandi march, “it seemed as though water from a spring had been suddenly released”. He is said to have remarked like this, Non-cooperation movement dragged Indians out of the mire and gave them self-respect and self-reliance under the leadership of Gandhi.

Fundamental Rights for all Citizens of India

Congress passed a resolution on “Fundamental Rights and Economic Policy” of the Congress party in 1931 at its Karachi session. Earlier in 1929-30, Nehru drafted a resolution stating that the aims of the congress were,

Freedom of religion,

Right to form associations,

Freedom of expression of thought,

Equality before law for every individual without distinction of caste, colour, creed or religion,

Protection to regional languages and cultures,

Safeguarding the interests of the peasants and labour, abolition of untouchability,

Introduction of adult franchise,

Imposition of prohibition,

Nationalization of industries, socialism, and establishment of a secular India.

And also all these aims were adopted in the resolution on the “Fundamental Rights and Economic Policy” of the Congress party in 1931. This resolution was passed at Karachi session, under the chairmanship of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. In fact these issues were prepared and submitted to Patel and Gandhi at Madras session of AICC, 1929 but were rejected by Patel and Gandhi. Ultimately in 1930 Nehru succeeded in convincing both of them to accept his agenda democracy and Socialism for New India.

Again shortly after Gandhi’s return from the second Round Table Conference in London, Gandhi was jailed in January 1932. He was charged with attempting to mount another Civil Disobedience movement; Nehru was also arrested and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.

It should be noted that war against the British hegemony was fought by Indian National Congress in utter hostile conditions. In 1915 itself Gokhale remarked that Indian bureaucracy was extremely selfish and working against National aspirations. Later Nehru ridiculed the Indian Civil Service for its support of British policies. And all most all Zamindars, Rajahs and Nawabs sided with the British. This must be the reason for Nehru and his ilk for detesting the Police, Military, Zamindars and former Rajas and Nawabs after India became a Republic. And also we have to also remember that Indian Sepoys serving the British actually carried out the arrests and harassment of Freedom fighters. For that matter who fired on unarmed Indian at Julianwalabagh ? Indian Sepoys only. But at the orders given by their British masters.

Historians used to blame the British for divide rule policy they adopted to rule India. But it should be noted that all kinds of people from all regions and from all Castes/Communities joined the Military and Police of the British and the British used the very Indians to quell the agitation and kill Indian freedom fighters. This was the ground reality at that time. So it is not proper to blame a particular individual or a community or a region for siding with the British.

Democracy and Republican form of Government

And, after 1925, Hindu organizations and Muslim organizations started working against freedom struggle. They were against Democracy and Republican form of Government. Ambetkar did not participate in freedom struggle. Ambetkar was against Democracy based on the principle of majoritarian rule. He opposed freedom struggle for a purpose because he thought that serving his community is more important that the imagined Nationalism of those days. Rabindranath Tagore and several other prominent persons also did not participate in freedom struggle but not opposed the freedom struggle. For that matter, even Congress also did not fight for Total freedom till 1929. Nehru and Bose was instrumental in persuading Gandhi to declare Total freedom as Congress’ sole agenda in 1929.

Nehru was in Europe in early 1936, visiting his ailing wife, and she died in Switzerland. Europe was on the brink of war at that time.

Nehru emphasized that in the event of war in Europe India’s place was alongside of the democracies, but he insisted that India could fight in support of Great Britain and France but only as a free country.

Nehru worked closely with Subhas Chandra Bose in developing good relations with governments of free countries all over the world. However, the two split in the late 1930s, when Bose argued for seeking the help of fascists (Italians and Germans) who were enemies of the British to achieve freedom. At the same time, Nehru had supported the Republicans who were fighting against Francisco Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War. Nehru along with his aide V. K. Krishna Menon visited Spain and declared support for the Republicans. Nehru refused to meet Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Italy even though Mussolini expressed his desire to meet Nehru.

In the meantime constitutional process made a big leap with conduction of Provincial elections in 1937.

At the 1936 Lucknow session of 1936, the Congress party decided to contest the provincial elections to be held in 1937, congress argued that by participating in the Government through provincial councils we can wreck the British Government from within. First Nehru opposed the move but accepted the mandate of the Congress party and agreed to lead the Election campaign. The elections brought Congress party to power in majority of the provinces. Nehru’s popularity increased. This was the beginning of establishment of autonomous governments in Indian provinces. And it also marked the beginning of a future federal system of the Indian Union. 

In all the provinces Congress swept the polls. And Hindu Maha Sabha and Muslim league were routed. Hence, these election results should be construed as an endorsement by people of India of the Nehru’s policies of Democracy and Republican form of Polity.

As World War II began in 1939, Nehru hurried back from a visit to China, and announced that, in a conflict between democracy and Fascism, “our sympathies must inevitably be on the side of democracy.

On 23 October 1939, the Congress condemned the Viceroy’s announcement of India joining the war without consulting Legislatives of Provinces. And called upon the Congress ministries to resign in protest. Before this crucial announcement, Nehru urged Jinnah and the Muslim League to join the protest but the latter declined.

Pakistan demand

And in March 1940 Muslim league under Jinnah passed “Pakistan Resolution” in Lahore, declaring “Muslims are a nation according to any definition of a nation, and they must have their homelands, their territory and their State.” This State was to be known as Pakistan, meaning “Land of the Pure”. Nehru angrily declared that “all the old problems … pale into insignificance before the latest stand taken by the Muslim League leader in Lahore”. Before this Sindh Provincial council, in 1939, in which Hindu Mahashabha and Muslim league shared power, passed a resolution for formation of Pakistan.