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During his time as India’s first Prime Minister, the ideology of Jawaharlal Nehru was that of a man who was constantly vacillating between past and present. His position was often “located between the ‘India-traditional’ and the ‘Western-modern'” (Perera 181). However, in his earlier years, Nehru’s values and political views rested in the ambitions of the social middle class of India that he was born into: stolid, vacant, and vapid. In the years leading up to his time as Prime Minister, Nehru’s personal, social, political, and economic principals were sizably influenced by his personal experiences and interactions with others. Particularly influential were his interactions with Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi’s influence impacted Nehru in countless ways, but the most substantial was that of attracting Nehru back to his Indian roots and culture after being exposed and seduced by the West’s modernizations.
Long before being the first Prime Minister of India, and before becoming a leading figure in India’s independence movement, and even before meeting Gandhi, Nehru studied first at Harrow School in London, then Trinity College of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. He was fortunate enough to have this opportunity coming from a wealthy, and politically prominent family. The environment Nehru was raised in was much more progressive than other Indian families at the time. His father, Montilal Nehru, encouraged that English be spoken in the home and made sure that Nehru was well educated. He even brought English and Scottish tutors into their home for lessons.
During Nehru’s time at Cambridge he was not overly attentive to politics or nationalism. “The emotional concern with nationalism [was] seen at Cambridge only in stray passages [in] letters to his father and clearly did not go very deep” (Gopal 787). The lack of attraction and attentiveness to these things is thought to be due to the fact that Nehru needed to be “emotionally stirred and involved before he could react; and this explains why there was little that was striking about him for nearly the first thirty years of his life” (Gopal 787). Nehru was a romantic nationalist; he knew little of economic policies and was blinded to India’s struggle for independence by the West’s modernized cultures.
Nehru was fundamentally, in both heart and mind, a man of the West. The complex culture, the lifestyle, and the school of thought that the West embodied entranced him. His ideologies about social equality, socialism, and democracy were all very much swayed by Western influences. Even though this would not become apparently until his return to India. Nehru was always looking to the future. The modernization of the West was a driving force behind this outlook.
Nehru continued on, unconcerned with nationalism, until three major events stimulated him: Annie Besant was interned, the Amritsar Massacre took place, and Gandhi’s satyagraha campaign commenced. Annie Besant published a newspaper called New India that was known for its hash attacks on Government. For this reason New India became a very popular paper. She also gave political speeches demanding Home Rule for India. She was interned for giving such speeches and this caught Nehru’s attention. He was beginning to pay attention to India’s struggles.
Next the Amritsar Massacre took place. Thousands of unarmed Indian civilians were killed when British soldiers opened fire on them. The large group of civilians, including men, women, and children, was gathered in a public area to pray. When Nehru heard of the incident he was disgusted. He was even more enraged later when he heard that General Reginald Dyer was bragging that he was the one who gave the order to open fire. Nehru was finally getting emotional about nationalism and India’s Independence Movement.
Satyagraha is a philosophy and practice known for its non-violence resistance. In this case, deployed to further India’s Independence Movement from British rule. Gandhi’s campaign went further than just passive resistance. It sought strength in non-violent practices of activism. For this reason Gandhi did not like the English term ‘passive resistance’. “Satyagraha required activism” (Tharoor). While the first two events that Nehru took notice of were actions taken by the British, satyagraha was instead a reaction to British rule. “By abstaining from violence Gandhi wrested the moral advantage. By breaking the law nonviolently he demonstrated the injustice of the law. By accepting the punishments imposed on him he confronted his captors with their own brutalization. By voluntarily imposing suffering upon himself in his hunger strikes he demonstrated the lengths to which he was prepared to go in defense of what he considered right” (Tharoor). The satyagraha movement was campaigning that Indian materials and cloth should be use instead of imported goods from Britain. Educational institutions run by the British were boycotted and Indians refused to pay taxes. The movement was widely popular and gaining momentum when Gandhi called it off. He did so after twenty-two policemen were killed in a fire started by an angry mob in the town of Chauri Chaura.
After these three occurrences, Nehru’s emotions began to stir and he became much more conscious of the world around him. He was outraged at what was going on around him. After finishing college, Nehru left England and returned to India. He returned with a transfigured stance of political, economic, and social ideologies. Nehru also came to realize that the West had transformed his views of his own country. It was not that he no longer respected Indian tradition, but he had an urge to move forward and modernize and industrialize the country. Instead of looking to the past, he was now looking forward to India’s future.
To Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi appeared to be the only man effectively standing up against the British. Seeing that Gandhi was a man of action attracted Nehru. Gandhi’s idealistic views and personality also engaged Nehru. To Nehru, Gandhi appeared to be one of the only Indian leaders at the time that was capable of handling the entire nation and captivating their attention. In Gandhi, Nehru felt as if he had found a supreme leader. At first he adopted Gandhi’s ideals without question. “Nehru was a natural disciple with a taste for heroes; and he was never happier than when under the influence of stronger characters” (Gopal 791). Nehru threw himself into India’s Independence Movement. He began touring rural Indian villages and farms as well as organizing nationalist volunteers. He also became well known for his public speaking.
Nehru swiftly began to build a reputation not only as a new leader in India’s Independence Movement, but also as Gandhi’s protégé. They made a charismatic pair. Gandhi was idealistic, determined, and spiritually focused. Nehru on the other hand was known to be moody and a deep thinker with a multifaceted personality. Gandhi would travel the country, speaking out against India’s caste system, child marriage, and the poor sanitation conditions in most parts of the country. He chose to live a lifestyle that was near poverty, but he felt he must do so in order to be able to speak from the heart about what he believed in. Gandhi also practiced “physical self-denial, self-reliance, a belief in the human capacity for selfless love, religious ecumenism, idealistic internationalism, and a passionate commitment to equality and social justice” (Tharoor). Nehru was drawn to Gandhi’s magnetic personality and lifestyle from the beginning. Though he had not adapted to living a lifestyle such as Gandhi, the two were creating a powerful personal and political duet.
Shortly after Nehru had graduated from college his father had urged him to become a member of the Indian National Congress. The Congress was one of two major political parties in India at the time. With over 15 million members, it was one of the largest political parties in the world. At that point in his life Nehru was still blinded by his romanticized view of socialism and had no intentions of joining the fight for India’s independence. Motilal had been a great influence on the early part of Nehru’s life, but as time passed, Nehru was slowly pulling away from Motilal’s views on political policies.
Nehru was becoming deeply invested in the Indian National Congress and would even be elected as President of the Congress later in 1929. The Congress had become the leaders in the Indian National Movement. While Motilal was still alive, Nehru refused to choose between the politics of his father or his spiritual mentor, Gandhi. “So [Nehru] avoided taking hard decisions and pursued the politics of compromise” (Ghose 38.) Sankar Ghose, the author of Jawahrlal Nehru, a biography, explains how the influence of Gandhi interfering with the political policies of Nehru’s own father resulted in a trait that would help lend a hand to Nehru’s success in the future:
So this is the path that he instinctively followed then, and also in the future whenever he could not take sides or decide between conflicting issues. This refusal to take sides, not to align with any group, not only suited his nature but also helped him politically. Thus he did not come to be designated as a factional leader, by acquired the status of a national leader. It is this policy of not taking sides, of non-alignment, that he pursued in future with great skill and still greater success, not only on many domestic but also in most international issues. (39)
Nevertheless, after Nehru’s father passed away, Gandhi came to influence more than just Nehru’s views on India’s independence. “Under Gandhi’s influence, Nehru transformed himself from a “brown Englishman” into an Indian scholar-politician, replacing his silk underwear, suits and top hat with clothes made from khadi (homespun), studying the Baghavat Gita, and practicing yoga” (Mohandas). Most importantly, Gandhi brought Nehru’s focus back to India and stressed the “continuous culture, vitality, and staying power through all ups and downs” (Gopal 788). Nehru’s ideologies had been overexposed to Western cultures, and his attitude about his Indian heritage began to shift from outdated and idealistic, to an attitude of deep respect. Gandhi’s ideals were deeply rooted in the past. Nehru was influenced by this immensely but could never quiet free himself of the undercurrent that was the modernized West.
As Nehru continued his travels through rural India, he came to realize the importance of peasant villages and the power that those peasants held. He believed that these peasants would become the backbone of the nationalist movement (Gopal 788). He also felt a great empathy for these people, for they were the foundation of India. The core of India’s movement against the British was broadly based in the poor economy of the country, specifically at the village level. While visiting these villages and speaking publically about the nationalist movement “[Nehru] always took care to make clear that non-violence was not an imperative ethic but a suitable technique for India. It had helped to tone down local opposition to the national movement and to reduce civil conflict. Mass violence seemed impractical against the British while individual acts of terrorism had a counter- revolutionary effectâ€¦” (Gopal 789). At the time, neither Gandhi nor Nehru thought “that social or economic change must run parallel to political change. [They] believed, on the contrary, that amelioration of the lot of peasants would have to wait till after political swaraj [(self-governance or ‘self-rule’)] was attained” (Ghose 35).
As Nehru and Gandhi became closer it became apparent that despite their common views on non-violence and India’s independence, their vision for India’s future did not coincide. They both believed that India’s greatest challenge after independence from the British Empire was going to be tackling poverty. “Gandhi looked to India’s past for the answer, which he believed lay in self-sufficiency at the village level, with a spinning wheel in every hut” (Mohandas). Previously, as stated, Nehru’s political views were too narrow to consider that economic and social change had anything to do with political revolt. To him, freedom had been a wholly political concept. But now Nehru’s ideologies were progressively adapting to depict a socialist future for the country of India. He acknowledged the idea that economics might terminate the communal difficulties. His outlook for the country’s future was rooted in the principles of Fabian socialism. He began to envision self-sufficiency on a national level (Mohandas).
Nehru had returned from England with a strong mind for socialism, and also democracy. While it was Gandhi’s non-violence that drew Nehru into India’s independence movement in the first place, “Nehru remained faithful to parliamentary democracy” (Spear 19). Being mentored by Gandhi had deepened his nationalism towards the country of India. But differing from Gandhi, Nehru felt no ties or connection to Hinduism. “His Western experience had left him an agnostic liberal individualistâ€¦” (Spear 19). He often became impatient with Gandhi’s spirituality. Nehru was becoming increasingly focused and impatient in regards to India’s future. He wanted freedom immediately, and the only future he could envision for his own country was a democratic socialist society.
Nehru remained loyal to Gandhi even though his views were extensively veering further away from Gandhi’s ideologies. Gandhi “would never accept any laws of history and change. His political ideology was built round on emphasis on God and faith, the acceptance of the existing economic order and a stress on compromiseâ€¦” (Gopal 791). Therefore, Gandhi would never accept Nehru’s ideology of a democratic socialist future for India. They both had the same final objective, national freedom, “but Gandhi’s ideology was such that he did not need to concern himself about the clear dichotomy between ideology and practice. Nehru on the other hand, was now striving to close the gap between thought and practice; and therefore Gandhi’s ways were increasingly alien to him” (Gopal 791). Nehru’s admiration for Gandhi’s idealism kept him from abandoning his mentor. In return, Gandhi kept Nehru connected to the Congress.
In 1929 Nehru was elected as President of the Indian National Congress with the support of Gandhi. While holding this position he slowly began to turn the ideals of the Congress toward socialism. Doing so was no easy task. “Nehru’s socialism was out of tune with the bourgeois capitalism of the main body of Congress, his secularism with their general Hindu sentiment, his reforming ideas with their various degrees of attachment to orthodoxy or tradition” (Spear 16). He had an artful way of making the Congress discuss socialist ideals, without them recognizing they were doing so. He also had the Indian middle-class talking in socialist dialogue without outright breeching the subject. As time went on, Nehru did begin to speak outwardly about a socialist society in India.
The different movements that were fighting for independence over time lead to both India and Pakistan becoming dominions in June of 1947. Eventually Pakistan was declared as separate nation on August 14, 1947 and just after 12:01am on August 15, 1947 India was declared independent from the British Empire. After independence the Indian National Congress became the nation’s main political party. As an Indian statesman, Nehru was chosen and supported by Gandhi to be the first Prime Minister of independent India. Though there visions for the future still differed greatly, Gandhi had been and was still, Nehru’s most influential relationship on his path to office. As India’s first Prime Minister, Nehru had high hopes. His time in office was spent formulating the socialist policies he had envisioned and that still influence India today.
Post-independence in India was a trying time for the new country. It was marked with characteristics of communal violence, famines, cast conflicts, inflation, as well as other social, political, and economic issues. Hindus and Muslims were breaking into violence all over the country. The separation of Pakistan from India in was creating an overflow of refugees in India’s capital cities. The capital city of the Indian state of Punjab had been allocated to Pakistan. Nehru, being the idealist that he was, saw this as an opportunity to rebuild India’s capital cities in a way that would show the world that India was capable of becoming as modernized as the West.
The building of the city of Chandigarh, the new capital city of the Indian state Punjab, was chosen as one of the first building projects. “Chandigarh’s significance goes beyond being one of independent India’s first newly built state capitals; its importance cuts across global, nation and city scales. It [was] not only the highest-profile city-building project in independent India, but also one of the twentieth century’s globally significant city-building experiments” (Perera 176-7). Nehru anticipated a city built on modernism and internationalism. It was also of the general opinion at the time that in order for India to survive, it must industrialize. Nehru saw Chandigarh as an opportunity to showcase India’s new economic state. Chandigarh was to be a city unrestrained by history and free of European influence. As Gandhi had influenced him to be deeply rooted in his home country, Nehru in no way was opposed to India’s history or customs. Nehru simply wanted India to become modernized in a way that the country could still be traditional. “[His] idea of modernity was not the simple opposite of traditional, but was constructed within a continuity and change of tradition” (Perera 180-1).
Many people have interpreted Nehru’s strive for modernization as a strike against Indian tradition. “The idea that Nehru was unsympathetic to Indian history is [false]â€¦his thinking was dynamic and forward looking yet strongly rooted in India’s history. Instead of view tradition as stagnant, he focused on the changing spirit of culture” (Perea 180). Nehru was searching for a way to modernize Indian tradition. What he was not looking for was a way to completely extract India’s traditions from the newly formed country. Nehru wanted to “investigate what changesâ€¦should [be made] to make [their] buildings conform more to Indian conditions and at the same time have some artistic value” (Perea 181). Chandigarh would thus be designed and built in the style that came to be known as Indian modernity.
Gandhi’s influence of turning to the past for answers and guidance led Nehru to turn to both his foundations in India and those ideals which were based on Western culture for inspiration. What he was not interested in was any type of British influence on the planning and building of the city of Chandigarh. He wanted to free Indian cities from the feeling of colonialism, but he also did not wholly reject the idea of borrow from other cultures. This was apparent when the architect whose plan was chosen for the layout of Chandigarh was American. Nehru chose Albert Mayer, an American architect and city planner, to lead the project of building Chandigarh. Soon there after, Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect, replaced Mayer. Though Mayer’s plan was drawn up first, and Corbusier’s plans looked alarming similar to Mayer’s, Corbusier is credited as being the planner of Chandigarh. Some believe that the primary reason for giving Corbusier the reigns of the project was both economic and personal. Mayer’s design partner, Maciej Nowitzki, had passed away soon after the plans were drawn up and the American dollar’s value was increasing. Though others believe that Nehru began to “[fear] that a planner from England or American would not know the social background of India” (Perera 182). Therefore a planner with little knowledge of Indian culture could not possibly, in Nehru’s mind, plan a city with Indian modernistic features. Even though Corbusier was not himself of Indian roots, he was still awarded the project.
“Nehru was certainly not confined to learning from India alone. He made sharp distinction between directly borrowing from other countries and adapting aspects from other societies, making them compatible with Indian conditions and resources” (Perera 181). He wanted to ‘Indianize’ aspects of others cultures to adapt into Indian cultures and traditions (Perera 181). Again, if it had not been for Gandhi guiding Nehru back to the traditions of India, Nehru may have been overtaken by the urge to completely modernize the city of Chandigarh with no traditional elements at all.
Nehru had always considered himself a modernist. And Since India’s independence from Britain and the middle class’s control demolished, he had been searching for a way to spread an ideology that would hold the different social classes together. He felt that if he could create a modernized socialist environment that it could uniform the classes. “Modernists believed that the transformation of the built environment could instigate social change” (Perera 186). Nehru was therefore determined to build a city that would unify the new India.
When the building of Chandigarh was complete, Nehru believed that it was a great compromise between Indian tradition and modernist design. Nehru famously said about the city:
I have welcomed very greatly, one experimentâ€¦some like it, some dislike it, it is totally immaterial whether you like it or not. It is the biggest in India of this kind. That is why I welcome itâ€¦it hits you on the head and makes you think. You may squirm at the impact but it makes you think and imbibe new ideas, and one thing that India requires in so many fields is to be hit on the head so that you may think. (Perera 194)
The great city of Chandigarh could not have been as successful as it was without Nehru. No one will ever argue that. But we cannot look at the success of Nehru’s Indianized modernism without taking another look at those who influenced him before he became Prime Minister of India.
An influence often not considered when thinking of contributors to Nehru’s modernist thinking is that of the British Empire itself. Without growing up in the Anglicized middle class that he did, Western modernization and scientific theories might never have laid the foundation for his modernist views. Ironically, Nehru probably never considered this when making sure that little was drawn from the colonies for inspiration when planning his modernized Indian city of Chandigarh. Another influence, of course, was his father. Without Motilal, Nehru would have only seen the political policies of Gandhi. While Nehru was developing his own ideologies, seeing both sides of the issues was crucially important. Plausibly Gandhi was the most influential person on not only Nehru’s modernistic ideologies, but also on his outlook of India.
Returning to Nehru’s great strength in compromising, he did just that in his views of modernism. When returning from the West, Nehru’s ide of modernization was strictly based on Western influences. Without Gandhi, Nehru’s thinking would have continued down this path and could have eventually lead India to becoming a much more Westernized nation.
Nehru took Gandhi’s teachings very autocratically in the beginning. Because Gandhi was turning to the past in an attempt to non-violently combat the brutality of British rule, Nehru was also turning to India’s past. When Nehru began to follow Gandhi, he was at a turning point in his ideological thinking. His eyes were been opened to India’s Independence Movement and the power of the peasant class in rural India. He was a bank slate as far as developing nationalistic feelings for his country. The fact that Gandhi was leading him at this time increased the influence of Indian tradition on Nehru ten fold.
It is clear to see that developing nationalistic feelings towards India was not something Nehru had really delved into before following Gandhi. Conflicting this great nationalistic influence on Nehru’s ideologies, Gandhi’s political, economical, and social views did not stay the course with Nehru. Nehru already had developed his own ideas about political affairs, socialism, economic ideas, and modernization. Influences for these ideologies came from his exposure to the West and from other influences during his time away from India. His views on socialism were influenced a great deal by Stalin. His views on economics were developed in the process of leading the Indian National Congress. The great compromise of Nehru’s idea of Indian modernization was only a compromise because of Gandhi’s influence of Indian tradition.
Nehru had come back from his travels during college overexposed to Western modernization. If compromise was one of Nehru’s stronger suits, Gandhi’s was moderating. Nehru was so inundated with the West’s scientific theories, literature, culture, and lifestyle that perhaps Gandhi had felt the need to pull Nehru back into India culture, to ‘re-Indianize’ him. Gandhi may have been concerned that if he had not done so, Nehru would have progressed through life without much direction or attachment to his own roots.
When Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, Nehru became his political successor. Feeling a high degree of loneliness and without Gandhi’s guidance, advice, and the voicing of their differences in opinion, it is wondered why Nehru did not assume unrestricted power of India. But being the true democrat he was, “at the crest of his rise, he authored an anonymous article warning Indians of the dangers of giving dictatorial temptations to Jawaharlal Nehru. ‘He must be checked,’ he wrote of himself. ‘We want no Caesars'” (Tharoor).
Instead, after Gandhi’s death, Nehru concentrated on instilling democracy in the people of India. He launched the country’s first ‘Five-Year Plan’ focusing on increasing agricultural production. This was just one way in which Nehru was working to tackle India’s food shortage. This also was an impact of Gandhi shining through in Nehru’s actions even after he had passed away, “the belief in the human capacity for selfless love” (Tharoor).
Mahatma Gandhi was, without a doubt, the most influential person in Nehru’s life. Gandhi influenced not only Nehru’s politics, but also showed Nehru ways to connect with the country of India and its people. He continually kept Nehru grounded as his reputation grew. Aside from an influential personality in Nehru’s life, Gandhi was also a friend, a remarkable leader, and a Great Soul. Without Gandhi, Nehru would have never been presented with most of the opportunities that lead him to be the first and longest running Prime Minster of India.
With that said, Nehru was also a strong personality and leader himself. He listened to Gandhi and was attracted to his ideas and magnetic personality. But in the end, thinking for himself and having the ability to look at things from many different angles formed Nehru’s ideologies. The marriage of democracy and socialism is itself proof that Nehru wanted to try things that no one else thought possible. Gandhi was the root that tied Nehru to India. Without Gandhi’s guidance over the years and through the struggle of India’s Independence Movement, Nehru may have fled back to the modernized West.
Nehru is rarely spoken about, even in today’s society, without the mention of Gandhi. Their relationship has transcended both time and political revolution. Together they formed a captivating pair of leaders. They were leaders who were also profoundly bonded to one another through ideas and friendship. Even if those respected bonds were sometimes understood more as differences than coinciding ideologies.
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