Jawaharlal Nehru: Architect of Modern India

Nehruji had a multi faceted personality. He had wide range of interests and had qualities like rationality, humanity and respect for individual, independence of spirit and secular. He wanted to inculcate these qualities in co-workers as well as people. Nationalism is his foremost quality which even his enemies wouldn’t deny. This he retained even after 1947.

He wanted to build a socialist society – equitable, egalitarian, just, humane with democratic and civil libertarian polity. He tried to link his dual commitment to nationalism and socialism. The most important task before Nehru was to build a nation and neither of his two idols Gandhiji or Marx had any guidance on this matter. He set upon his task with excitement and optimism.

Under his leadership India had an independent foreign policy which wasn’t inclined towards either of the two blocs – US and USSR. He also was responsible for the economic policy of making the nation self-reliant and self sustaining. He set upon building world class institutions in science and technology, develop indigenous capabilities for research, public sector industries for strategic sectors and self sufficiency in agriculture. Nehru believed that independence depended on economic strength of a country.

The motto of Unity in Diversity was a good example of his ideology. He recognised that the separatist factors like caste-ism, regionalism, communalism which had transcended during the independence struggle had risen again. India had to embrace all diversity and yet remain united. He succeeded in keeping the secessionist forces in check and at the same time pushed forward the process of national integration and nation building.

Nehruvian ideology: Democracy and Parliamentary Governance

Nehru believed in the power of democracy. He pushed forward the system of parliamentary governance based on universal adult franchise and secret ballot. He made elections the norm not exception. His firm commitment to democracy, civil liberties, free speech and press, independent judiciary are what made India into a vibrant democracy.

His aim was to turn the country into a self governing institution. He believed that people would realise their power and soon push reforms that would end social inequality. The political party would merely implement popular mandate or be swept away. This firm commitment to democracy superseded all. Even on matters of economic development as most modern countries had used authoritarian measures but Nehru preferred democratic way. He argued that this method would be slower but Indians are ready to pay this price.

Nehru always believed that democracy and civil liberties were not means but ends and a diverse country like India would remain united only when democracy flourished as it would allow different viewpoints to come forward.

Nehruji was attracted by Socialism and wanted it to be in India. However he didn’t want the Soviet version of socialism but the idea behind socialism like a society free from inequalities, class distinction, having equal income distribution, just and humane society. He favored co-operative ownership of means of production rather than the capitalist view of profit making. But he knew that equitable distribution can be of riches not poverty so a country should have tremendous economic growth.

He quoted ” We cannot have a welfare state in India with all the capitalism and communism in the world. What we need is high growth rate sustained over a long period of time to bring the poor out of poverty”.

Nehru’s policy was to have public sector as the commander of the economy and private sector as subordinate to it. Public sector meant not only The State but also cooperatives in trade, industry and production. For a long time profit making and market forces were too become back runners. This policy had its weaknesses and and India did reach its commanding heights but due to the reintroduction of the market based economy and capitalism. But at the time of Nehru, his economic agenda was most suitable for India.

He believed in connection of means and ends and refused to allow violence even if the cause was good like establishment of socialism. His idea of India was Socialist society in a democratic polity. Since he believed in keeping people together and making decisions. He preferred the approach where decisions had to be delayed as consensus had to be built. He believed that the leaders were to exist only for implementing people’s mandate. A good decision if opposed by majority in the society would lead to fascism as the large section would start a counter revolution and overthrow democracy itself.

Nehruvian era was criticized as a a period of weak leadership and slow progress but this was due to Nehru’s style of consensus building rather than a confrontational approach.


Nehruvian ideology: Communalism

Although he was himself a Nationalist and secular person he couldn’t launch a crusade against communal forces. His policy of firm faith in secularism and democracy was right but also suffered from weaknesses. He failed to use the Congress against communal forces and had to compromise on his principles when Congress allied with Muslim and Christian communal forces in Kerela. He also failed to ensure States took steps in the administration to crush communalism. Riots on religion also occurred during his last years.

The Congress: 1947 – 1964 

Polity of India was democratic in which large number of parties thrived. After independence these parties played a major role in the opposition and managed to win sizeable number of votes in General elections. All these parties were Pan India in terms of objectives and ideology. They had leaders of impeccable integrity and even when the base of the party was narrow geographically but the character was All India. These parties played an important role in Parliament and provided high quality debates on questions of national importance. One reason for this was Nehru’s nature of accommodating everyone.

However the opposition parties couldn’t unite and so never challenged the hegemony of the Congress till 1977. Opposition parties to the congress would influence it through various agitations and since Congress had a mixture of various groups it was successfully influenced and even absorbed the agitating parties. Sometimes it would lead to opposing parties having a more radical stance to ensure that its base wouldn’t be absorbed in the Congress but this meant having an extreme rightist or leftist stance that affected the public opinion of the party and made it vulnerable to splits.

Congress itself saw a major change in structure. It had now to evolve into a party from a movement but this transformation was slow. The Congress was to get a organizational cohesion by Sardar Patel’s suggestion that no member of other political party could be a member of congress. This however upset the Congress Socialist party and its members decided to exit. However again Nehru succeeded in placating them and kept the Leftist and Rightist members together while trying to give the Congress a leftist perspective.

This was to be an arduous task as the Congress had a Pan India base and support of all sections of the society. It also believed in ruling through consensus and this meant unifying diverse views. The Congress itself had a democratic structure with multiple levels of decision making at provinces and center.

Party vs Government

Nehru became head of the Interim government from 1946 and this led to his resignation from president-ship of Congress. His replacement Kriplani argued that the President of the Congress should be taken into confidence on government policy initiatives. But this view wasn’t shared by either Nehru or his political associates like Patel or Rajendra Prasad. All felt that government must be responsible to the people not a party and should be in control of all decisions related to governance. The Congress should restrict itself to party activities and not demand consultation by the government.

Nehru vs Sardar Patel

Sardar Patel was the Leader of Right wing of Congress. He was a believer in capitalism and free markets but also shared Nehru’s vision of egalitarian society. Although both had a tense relationship and offered to resign from government at one point or another but what commonality they had was more important than their differences. Both believed in Gandhiji’s leadership and when Gandhiji died both realised the importance of cooperation. Patel argued for Right to Property as a fundamental right and succeeded in making it one. This was firmly opposed by Nehru although he accepted it later.

Patel would argue strongly for a point but if on basis of arguments he couldn’t succeed in convincing Nehru he would accept Nehru’s view. Patel’s though was a great organizer and able administrator but lacked Nehru’s mass support and wide social and developmental perspective.

Sardar Patel was the inspiration behind creation of Indian National Trade Union Congress.

Nehru vs Purshottam Tandon

This conflict was mainly a fight between the Rightist and leftist wings of the Congress. Nehru had supported Kriplani as the Party president indicating that working with Tandon who was a Right-wing candidate supported by Sardar Patel would be difficult for him. In the elections, Kriplani won and Nehru offered to resign but Tandon accepting Nehru’s important role in the forthcoming elections resigned and Congress Working Committee offered president-ship to Nehru. Although Nehru felt that a Prime minister should act as President of Congress but he accepted.

Nehru – Tandon conflict was also related to the old issue of Party vs Government. Party wanted the government to be implementing the party policies. However the government wanted full control over its working. This system was followed in most democracies but in India wouldn’t be suitable as Party had deep roots even in villages and thus could act as interfaces of people to government. They would be useful in gauging public opinion and keeping a check on bureaucracy. The party leaders would decide who could contest on a party ticket and so decide indirectly future government leaders.

One important failure of Nehru was not recognizing importance of party work and relegating party cadres to unimportant positions. This led many cadres to ignore party work which was essentially mass mobilization and focus only on becoming parliament leaders.The cadres would take up party work only when left out of Government posts and this too only to gain popularity and reenter Government.

Congress and the Downhill Journey

The Communists had left the congress in 1945 and ideological differences emerged against the Socialists in post independence period due to Sardar Patels “One Party membership rule”. This led to their walking away from the Congress. This made congress to become controlled by Right-wing or conservatives.Nehru himself was in favor of Socialist policy and wanted to make the Congress a “Left of Center” party. However differences emerged between him and Socialist leaders later on. Nehru attacked their ideology and the Socialists accused him of abandoning his principles and becoming partisan.

Although Socialists never were a grave threat in the opposition and their radical stance against congress gradually led to erosion of their public support and splits but Congress was facing other problems too. The leaders that had risen during independence struggle couldn’t organize the party post-independence and so new leaders didn’t emerge. Next generation saw congress as a party of no strong ideology and preferred joining the opposition. Nehru though a great Nationalist was never a Party organizer and so couldn’t stem the rot.

Second problem was that power had seduced many of the leaders. The cadres were now mainly interested in power and neglected party work. Government though belonged to Congress but those in power too neglected to see the important role the party could play in gauging public opinion of the government. This led to atrophy.

Thirdly, as Socialists and Communists left the party the conservatives stepped in. The Congress now took stands in favor of capitalism and isolated its old support base. Even where agrarian reforms and other socialist policies were decided, failed to gain support and had to be abandoned.


A late plan of reform was decided by Nehru and K Kamaraj known as the Kamaraj plan. This meant that all Congress leaders in executive roles would resign in favor of other cadres and focus on party work. This would revive the party. But this reform arrived too late and Nehru’s death in 1964 meant that it couldn’t be implemented fully.