Opinion: Nehruvian legacy is his idea of India

Venkat Parsa

The Nehruvian Legacy, or the legacy of Free India’s First Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, is under concerted assault. Nehru’s death anniversary on May 27, can serve as an occasion for a reassessment of his immeasurably immense contribution to the making of Modern India.

It was Congress President Jawaharlal Nehru in 1929, who moved the Poorna Swaraj Resolution and set the goal of nothing short of Complete Independence for India. January 26, 1930, was declared as the Independence Day. However, after Independence, Indian Constitution came into force on January 26, 1950.

Gandhiji handed over charge of managing the Congress to Nehru, himself taking up the wider Village Reconstruction programme. Emerging as the key leader during the Freedom Struggle, Nehru went on to shape Modern India after the Indian Independence on August 15, 1947.

Nehru plunged headlong into the Service of the Nation. Though unsure of the future, Nehru dared and defied Imperialism and the Colonial might and spent the best part of his life, around 9 years, in jail, perhaps longer than any prominent freedom-fighter and after the Indian Independence, he worked relentlessly, without rest or respite, to build a Modern India.

The Nehruvian legacy is the Idea of India, based on the four pillars: Democratic Institution-Building, Staunch Secularism, Socialist Economy and an Independent Non-Aligned Foreign Policy. This Nehruvian legacy is the proud national heritage of India, which needs to be zealously guarded.

Nehru is truly the Architect of Modern India. This is so, because credit goes to Nehru for transforming an ancient civilization into a Modern Nation and, that, too, within a democratic framework, which is not only unmatched but is unparalleled.

The Nehruvian stamp on the Indian Constitution is his everlasting and enduring contribution and the defining characteristic of the Indian Nationhood. He started the Sahitya Akademi, Sangeer Natak Akademi and Lalit Kala Akademi, to give a new direction to the cultural life. He was instrumental in reigniting the economic engine, sparking social change and bringing about renaissance of the human spirit.

Significantly, India under Nehru was neither a military power nor an economic power. Yet, in the world councils, Indian voice was heard with rapt attention. Reason being that Nehru had an authentic moral standing, which helped him shape his principles, policies and programmes on ethical foundations.

Examples are aplenty of Nations attaining progress under totalitarian regimes. But, it is this attempt to secure development within the four corners of democracy that makes the Nehruvian achievement so unique and so special.

Partition Holocaust

Partition holocaust, Pakistan aggression in October, 1947, within two months of Indian Independence and the dastardly assassination of the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948, pushed the nation to the precipice. Globally doubts were expressed whether India can survive as a nation and hold together.

Delhi was burning, when Nehru assumed charge as Prime Minister. Nehru would rush to the trouble-spots, climb on to the bonnet of his car to address the people. He tried to drive sanity into the minds of the people to give up the pointless and mindless violence.

On the one hand, Nehru tried to instill a sense of security and confidence into the Muslims, who chose to stay back in India, but were facing threats, insecurity and uncertainty. On the other hand, Muslims, who came away from Pakistan to India as refugees, had to be resettled in Faridabad and Mewat in Haryana.

Insistence on Secularism

For Nehru, Secularism was no distant ideal to be achieved, but a practical, pulsating necessity, in order to hold the nation together. Secularism became the thread for him to weave together people belonging to different religions.

India has the unrivalled and unique distinction of being home to all the principal religions of the world, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Parsee, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist.

Secularism is the way to manage her diversity. This is not something new or novel, but it has been that way since the times of Emperor Ashoka, through the times of Mughal Emperor Akbar and Mahatma Gandhi, in our own times. Thus, Secularism is not a borrowed Western concept, but part of the hallowed Indian heritage.

Emperor Ashoka was a Buddhist and sent his daughter Sanghamitra and son Mahinda to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism, but his subjects were Hindus. During the Mughal period, rulers were Muslims, but subjects were Hindus. During the Colonial period, rulers were Christians, but subjects were Hindus. Thus, Secularism has been a way of life in India since the times immemorial.

Hindu-Muslim Unity

Nehru hailed Mughal Emperor Akbar as the Father of Indian Nationalism. Akbar was the first to recognize Hindu-Muslim Unity as the basis of Indian Nationhood. In our own times, Gandhiji emphasized on Hindu-Muslim Unity through his historic decision to extend support to the Khilafat Movement.

Nehru carried forward this great tradition of India, which he realized, was in the national interest.

As the bard puts it, “Karti hai fariyaad yeh dharti, kayee hazaaron saal, tab hota hai jaakar paida ek Jawaharlal.”

Imprint on Constitution

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru moved the Aims and Objects Resolution in the Constituent Assembly on December 13, 1946, laying out the broad contours of the Indian Constitution.

The Indian Constitution drew heavily from the Nehru Report of August 28, 1928. The Nehru Report got its name from Jawaharlal Nehru’s father, Pandit Motilal Nehru, who was the Chairman and Jawaharlal served as the Secretary.

The Nehru Report was planned by the Congress as its response to the Simon Commission. While the Simon Commission Report became the basis for the Government of India Act, 1935, the Nehru Report became the basis for the Indian Constitution.

Nehru introduced Bill of Rights in Nehru Report, which became the Fundamental Rights Chapter in the Indian Constitution. Other salient features proposed by Nehru that now form part of the Indian Constitution are: State will have no Relgion (Secularism); power will be derived from the people and exercised through bodies set up under the Constitution (Democracy); Independent Judiciary with Supreme Court at the apex (Rule of Law); Federal Structure with Residuary Powers vested in the Centre; No separate electorates for any Castes or Minorities, with only Reservations for SCs and STs, as proposed by Mahatma Gandhi during the Pune Pact of 1932, when Dr B R Ambedkar’s proposal for Seperate Electorates for SCs was roundly rejected; and States Reorganization on the basis of the Linguistic Principle.

Another major recommendation of Nehru in the Nehru Report was that Hindustani, written in Devnagari or Urdu, will be the Official Language, with English continuing as the Link Language. Hindustani was proposed by Nehru with the fullest backing of Gandhiji. But in the Constituent Assembly, during the voting, there was a tie, when Dr Rajendra Prasad, as Chairman of the Constituent Assembly, clinched Hindi, with his Casting Vote.

The Indian Constitution is a shining testament to the Nehruvian Idea of India. On the advice of Mahatma Gandhi, the Drafting Committee Chairmanship was given to Dr B R Ambedkar. The likes of Sir B N Rau and M Ananthashayanam Ayyangar put together the Constitution, with Nehru imprint on each and every section. On the contentious issues on which there was no consensus, Nehru pushed these into the Directive Principles of State Policy that were not enforceable in a court of law.

Secularism and Socialism, besides the Westminster Model of parliamentary democracy, as opposed to the US Presidential system, were all the pet themes of Nehru that came to define the Indian Constitution.

Secularism and Socialism imprint was visible all through the Indian Constitution. But to make it more pronounced and crystal-clear, Indira Gandhi had Secularism and Socialism incorporated into the Preamble to the Indian Constitution through the Constitution 42nd Amendment in 1976. This comprehensive Constitution 42nd Amendment was based on the recommendations of the Sardar Swaran Singh Committee Report of the All-India Congress Committee (AICC).

True Democrat

Given Nehru’s mass popularity, he could have easily turned into a dictator. He could have said or done anything and got away with it; but No. That was not the way of Nehru. He took seriously to Parliament and heard out even the sharoest criticisms of the Opposition.

Despite miniscule presence of Opposition, both inside and outside Parliament, Nehru always heard his critics and detractors with respect. He took pains to take Parliament into confidence on his way of thinking and the line of his approach. His Fortnightly Letters to Governors showed how meticulously he approached the institutions that he had himself created.

In the midst of India-China War in 1962, when the then Jan Sangh leader Atal Behari Vajpayee demanded immediate convening of Parliament Session, Nehru readily agreed and convened the Winter Session of Parliament in November, 1962, well after Chinese agression commenced in October, 1962. Vajpayee made a scathing attack on Nehru, but the Prime Minister took it in his stride.

From left to right: Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel

Gandhian Idealism

Indeed, today, if India is a Nuclear Power, and if the nation is a leader in launching satellites into the outer space, primarily the credit goes to the holistic vision of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

Besides, Nehru took the Gandhian position in saying No to Nuclear Weapons of Mass Destruction. He insisted on adhering to Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy.

Homi Bhabha was asked to lay the foundation for the Indian Nuclear Programme. The Atomic Energy Act was enacted as early as in 1948, within a year of the Indian Independence. Under this Act, the Atomic Energy Commission was set up. Thrust of Nuclear Policy was to use Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Purposes. His idea was to convert deserts into greenery, but not to make the world into a desert.

Similarly, Nehru favoured outlawing war as a means of settling international disputes. After seeing the fate of Japan, when the United States dropped Atom Bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August, 1945, the dynamics of war have totally changed. Nehru was convinced that the nuclear war leads to untold and unimaginable devastation and destruction, where there will neither be the victor nor the vanquished and even the fruits of victory could turn into ashes in the mouth.

Similarly, Vikram Sarabhai was asked to start the Indian Space Programme.

Nehru considered both the Indian Nuclear Programme and the Indian Space Programme as equally important as National Reconstruction.

In Foreign Policy, Nehru was instrumental in launching the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) along with Gamel Abdul Nasser of Egypt and Josip Broz Tito of erstwhile Yugoslavia, during the Cold War period. That was one of the greatest examples of Nehru’s moral standing. When the world was divided in Bloc Politics into the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc, a majority of the emergent nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America joined the NAM.

Nehru took the position that the fight of the Indian people was against British Imperialism and not against the British people. That is why he decided on the Indian Republic remaining within the British Commonwealth, thus changing its very character.


Nehru formulated the Panchsheel in the context of Sino-Indian relations. But it provides a new policy architecture for governing the international relations based on peaceful coexistence.

These shining principles, which signal a more ethical approach to international relations, are: Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; Mutual non-aggression; Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; Equality and mutual benefit, and Peaceful Co-Existence.

UN China Seat

Likewise, the Permanent Seat of China, which was occupied by Taiwan from 1945 till 1971 in the UN Security Council, was offered to India. But Nehru rejected it out of hand, on the ground that if the most populous nation is kept out of the United Nations, then it can no longer remain a representative world body.

Thanks to the principled Indian stand and the sustained Indian campaign, China got the UN Security Council Permanent Seat in 1971.

Taking J&K Issue to UN

One may strongly disagree with him, but Nehru had the courage of his convictions to take Pakistani aggression on Jammu & Kashmir in October 1947, to the United Nations Security Council on January 1, 1948. Nehru drafted Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah for presenting the Indian case at the UN. That only strengthened the Indian case, by making out Pakistan as the plain aggressor and that the Pakistani aggression should forthwith be vacated.

The initial UN Resolutions were all in India’s favour. But later on, the US and the UK chose to use the Jammu & Kashmir issue to their advantage, to gain a foothold in South Asia, by backing Pakistan. With the signing of the Shimla Agreement of July 2, 1972, Indira Gandhi persuaded Pakistan to put the Kashmir issue back in the bilateral mode, taking it away from the UN purview.

While Mahatma Gandhi led the nation to Independence, Nehru laid the foundation for modernization and scientific growth. Apart from expanding the agricultural and industrial infrastructure, he considered it equally important to inculcate in the people a scientific spirit, which is vital for the modernization of society and the nation.

Like Gandhiji, Nehru believed that political freedom is not an end in itself, but only the beginning for bringing about economic welfare, social equality and the renaissance of the spirit.

Nehru reimagined India, based on the principles of National Unity and Integrity, Democracy, Secularism, Socialism, Non-Alignment and World Peace.

Fighting an Unpopular Battle

Nehru was instrumental in bringing the Hindu Code Bill for women’s emancipation and empowerment. He felt the insistent and imperative need to modernize the Hindu society, if the nation is to advance.

Doggedly, Nehru fought the unpopular battle against superstition and outmoded ritualistic habits that hamper and obstruct progress. Like a true Democrat, he took issues to the people and explained the events taking place globally, besides emphasizing to them the importance of science and technology for achieving development.

National Reconstruction

Credit goes to Nehru that he pulled the nation back from the brink of disaster. He brought focus back on to National Reconstruction.

The States Reorganization Commission (SRC) was set up, for reorganization of the States. Nehru stuck to the sound principle for Reorganization of States on Linguistic Basis.

In 1938, the then Congress President Subhash Chandra Bose appointed Nehru as Chairman of Congress Planning Committee. After Independence, Nehru set up the statutory Planning Commission, with Prime Minister as Chairman, as he believed in planned development.

In a country, where not even a pin was produced, Nehru built up heavy industry. With major irrigation dams, he gave a huge push for agricultural production. Education and healthcare received his utmost attention. Alongside starting the IITs, IIMs and setting up of universities, he brought about expansion in school education. A chain of Regional Research Laboratories were set up. Focus was on indigenous R&D.

In healthcare, the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Primary Health Centres (PHCs) across the States and the fight against diseases like Polio, TB and Cholera received his attention, when he inducted Rajkumari Amrit Kaur as the Health Minister.

Nehru believed in the power of science and technology to trigger transformational changes in the country and with single-minded devotion, he worked for uplifting the millions of people caught up in the vice-like grip of feudalism, superstition, inequality, illiteracy and backwardness.

As Interim Prime Minister from September, 1946, and again since Independence on August 15, 1947, till his demise on May 27, 1964, Nehru served for a record 18 years as Prime Minister.

Gram Swaraj

Nehru had launched the Community Development Programme on October 2, 1952, and National Extension Service on October 2, 1953. But he wanted to strengthen the Panchayati Raj system in the country to achieve the Gandhian dream of Gram Swaraj.

Accordingly, Nehru set up the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee on January 16, 1957. Based on its recommendations, the Panchayati Raj, as the third tier at the grassroots level, with Legislatures at the State level and Parliament at the national level.

It was Rajiv Gandhi who sought to confer Constitutional status on Panchayati Raj by bringing the Constitution 63rd and 64th Amendments in 1989. When BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee got it defeated in the Rajya Sabha, Rajiv Gandhi dissolved the Lok Sabha and went for a fresh mandate. He lost the General Election in 1989. In the midst of the snap polls in 1991, he was assassinated.

When P V Narasimha Rao became the Prime Minister, the Constitution 73rd and 74th Amendment Bills were passed in 1992, which came into force on April 24, 1993.

Gandhiji’s Choice

Mahatma Gandhi handpicked Nehru to be the First Prime Minister of Free India. Gandhiji declared that Jawaharlal will speak his language after him. Such was the confidence of the Mahatma in Jawaharlal Nehru.

Sardar Patel willingly agreed to be Deputy Prime Minister under Jawaharlal Nehru. What is more, Nehru and Patel worked in tandem on all matters of policy. For instance, Sardar Patel moved Article 370 of the Constitution in the Constituent Assembly, as Nehru was away abroad at that time.

In hindsight, it is easier to talk how differently things could have been done. But for Nehru treading an uncharted course and remaining undeterred and unfazed despite sharpest criticisms and terrible setbacks, is something that stands apart in his life. It shows the moral fibre of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi.

Views expressed are personal