Who was Jawaharlal Nehru? - Biography & Rule

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  • 0:03 Who was Jawaharlal Nehru
  • 0:44 Early Life
  • 3:14 Major Accomplishments & Legacy
  • 6:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about the life of Jawaharlal Nehru. We will learn about his role in India's independence movement, and about his lasting impact on Indian national politics.

Who Was Jawaharlal Nehru?

We hear a lot about Mohandas Gandhi, but not as much about Jawaharlal Nehru. So, who was he? Jawaharlal Nehru was Indian's first prime minister and, along with Mohandas Gandhi, a leading figure in Indian politics throughout much of the 20th century. The protégé of Gandhi, Nehru was responsible for shaping India into a modern, democratic, secular nation-state. He governed India from its creation in 1947 to his death in 1964.

Early Life

Nehru was born in 1889 in Allahabad, India. Of course, India at this time was a British colony. Nehru was born into a privileged family. As a boy he took an early interest in science, philosophy, and religion. He attended Trinity College, part of the University of Cambridge, in Cambridge, England. He finished school in 1910 with a degree in natural sciences. After college, Nehru studied law and passed the bar in 1912. That same year he returned to India to work with the Allahabad court system.

Increasingly, Nehru found himself drawn to nationalist politics. Following World War I, he became a passionate opponent of British political censorship. He joined the Indian National Congress in 1919. He soon became involved in the non-cooperation movement, a movement led by Gandhi. He also worked with a number of political organizations with the aim of securing Indian 'home rule.'

Nehru played a leading role in India's declaration of independence in 1929. Nehru drafted the Indian Declaration of Independence, and on New Year's Eve, 1929, he raised the Indian tri-color flag above the Indian National Congress. When Great Britain refused to acknowledge Indian independence, Nehru and others followed Gandhi's program of satyagraha, or passive resistance based on truth or justice. This word was coined by Gandhi himself to refer to a form of civil disobedience in which the participant takes the moral high ground.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Gandhi's role in the independence movement became increasingly 'spiritual.' Nehru came to be seen as Gandhi's successor and the practical, hands-on agent charged with fulfilling Gandhi's vision for an independent India. By the way, Nehru's religious views are complex, but he is generally thought to have been agnostic. He tended to view organized religion as a harmful force within society.

Major Accomplishments & Legacy

India was granted complete independence in 1947. Both Gandhi and Nehru had hoped to establish a united Indian nation-state agreeable to both Hindu Indians in the East and Muslim Indians in the West. This was not to be, however. Given the strife between these two groups of Indians, Lord Mountbatten and many in the British government favored dividing British India into two states: India and Pakistan. Muslim Indians in what is now Pakistan were particularly determined to see the creation of their own Islamic state, separate from the religiously diverse India. Nehru reluctantly agreed to the Indian Independence Act of 1947, which formally divided British India into what is now India and Pakistan.

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