Jawaharlal Nehru was the first prime minister of India following the country’s independence from Britain. A close ally of Gandhi, Nehru was a prominent figure in the Indian National Congress and was elected its president in 1928. Following independence, Nehru brought economic reforms to India and sought to tread a middle path between the US and the Soviet Union as a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. Nehru’s later years in office were marred by an unsuccessful war with China, and he died shortly thereafter, in 1964. Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, and grandson, Rajiv Gandhi, went on to serve as prime ministers as well. Unlike Nehru, both Indira and Rajiv were assassinated while in office.
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TRYST WITH DESTINY
Nehru is remembered as a great orator, and perhaps his finest speech was 1947’s “Tryst with Destiny” speech. Nehru delivered the speech to the Indian Constituent Assembly shortly before India’s independence became official, on midnight of August 14th 1947. The speech emphasizes the promise of the new era of independence: “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new.” At the same time, however, Nehru acknowledges that work remains to be done: “The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to ‘wipe every tear from every eye.’…so long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.” The greatest man referenced above is likely referring to Gandhi.
MUHAMMAD ALI JINNAH AND PARTITION
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the first governor-general of Pakistan, was initially an ally of Nehru and Gandhi in the fight for Indian independence. The founder of the All-India Muslim League, Jinnah eventually became convinced that Indian Muslims would need to form their own state. His relationship with Gandhi and Nehru soured due to this difference of opinion. Nehru was personally opposed to the partition of India to create a Muslim state, but Jinnah’s view eventually won out. British lawyer Cyril Radcliffe drew the borders of the newly independent India and Pakistan.
THE LIGHT HAS GONE OUT OF OUR LIVES
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Hindu fundamentalist Nathuram Godse in 1948. In response to this national tragedy, Nehru delivered another speech over All India Radio. Nehru first stated that “the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere.” However, he later clarified that statement, saying that the light would still go on: “That light represented something more than the immediate past, it represented the living, the eternal truths.” Nehru also spoke out urging people to not become violent or angry in the wake of Gandhi’s death.
In the aftermath of independence Nehru sought to rapidly develop India’s economy. He felt the best way to do this was to keep his country out of the sphere of influence of both the US and the Soviet Union. Nehru was an enthusiastic participant in the 1955 Bandung Conference of newly independent Asian and African nations that eventually led to the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement. The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, also known as the Panchsheel Agreement, formulated between India and China in 1954, influenced the guiding principles of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The McMahon Line forms the border between the northernmost points of India and Tibet. Although India recognized this line, China did not, maintaining that Tibet was not independent and thus unable to make treaties with foreign powers. These disputes led to a brief 1962 war between China and India. China pushed into Indian territory but eventually declared a unilateral ceasefire, withdrawing to what they called the Line of Actual Control.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
Read this article to learn more about Nehru’s formative role in India’s foreign policy.
For a deeper dive into Nehru’s economic policies check out this article.
Nehru and Jinnah disagreed intensely on many issues, but they did hold some views in common.
Watch this video to listen to Nehru’s “Tryst with Destiny” speech.
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