The Nehru-Gandhi Legacy: India’s First Family
The Nehru-Gandhi family shaped the political and economic landscape even before the country received its independence from Britain. From freedom fighters to prime ministers, what led this family to become the most influential family of post-British colonization? I argue that their popularity and power came from the personal sacrifices they made for India and not the privileged life they initially came from. The torch of power started with the patriarch Motilal Nehru, lawyer and politician. It was then passed to Jawaharlal Nehru, Motilal’s son. Jawaharlal was a freedom fighter, the first Prime Minister of India, and a savvy politician. The political star then fell on Jawaharlal’s daughter Indira Nehru-Gandhi. Indira was India’s first female Prime Minister, but her time as the leader of India was full of issues. Rajiv Gandhi was the last Nehru Prime minister to continue the legacy. From their beginnings, accomplishments, and each of their own legacies, each of the Nehru-Gandhis changed India in their own was and left their mark on the country. There are still many Nehru-Gandhis in the present day India political landscape. What has led this family to become “India’s First Family”?
“A time comes when for a great cause, even simple men and women become heroes. Great leaders have something in them which inspires a whole people and makes them do great deeds.” (Dynasty: The Nehru-Gandhi Story 1998) The new Nehru-Gandhi legacy did not begin with Jawaharlal Nehru, but with his father, Motilal. Born May 6th, 1861, Motilal Nehru received a western styled college education from Muir Central College at Allahabad. He went on to pass the Bar at Law from Cambridge and began practicing law with his older brother. Motilal did not become involved in politics until he was 46. He was president of the Indian National Congress twice. He also co-founded the Swaraj Party. He was the chairman of the committee that constructed India’s first constitution. The report of the committee, The Nehru Report, proposed domain status as the basis of India’ Constitution(My India,2018). This was shot down by both the British government and Muslim Leaders who felt excluded. Motilal was greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi who encouraged Motilal to give up his western influenced lifestyle for a more traditional Indian lifestyle. Motilal did participate in the noncooperation movement and was arrested at a civil disobedience protest in 1930 that was related to The Salt March (Britannia, 2018). Due to his old age and failing health, he was released from prison and died soon after. Motilal Nehru is remembered as the patriarch of India’s dominant political dynasty of which has produced three Prime Ministers.
Jawaharlal Nehru was born November 14th, 1889. He was born into a life of privilege. He dressed in the most beautiful western clothing and was well educated. He did his schooling from Harrow and completed his Law degree from Trinity College, Cambridge(I Love India, 2015). Jawaharlal, however, received a degree in natural sciences, but also study politics, economy, and history. Like many wealthy youths, he was interested in his appearance and was dressed from the best tailors in London. After graduating from Cambridge, He studied law at the Inner Temple in London and was called to the Bar in 1912. Jawarharlal returned to India after passing the Bar and tried to practice law like his father. However, he did not enjoy his career as a lawyer. His interest shifted from legal to politics. In 1919 he joined the Indian National Congress, which was fighting for greater autonomy from the British. His first prominent national involvement came in 1920 with the Non-Cooperation Movement. He was arrested and charged with anti-government activities in 1921. Like his father, he was greatly influenced by the Congress’s leader Mahatma Gandhi and his views(BBC,2014). Nehru played a central role in negotiations for Indian Independence. He opposed the Muslim League’s proposal for a separate state but was persuaded by Lord Mountbatten to allow the separation so that the Independence could be obtained faster. On the eve of Independence, Nehru gave a speech that reiterated his feelings on the partition. “All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations.” (The Gaurdian,2007) The responsibility of shaping a new country fell on Nehru, who was elected its first prime minister. A responsibility that he had until his death in 1964.
Nehru commitment to India’s economic development started with state control of the economic sectors. One of Nehru’s vital economic reforms was the introduction of the Five Years Plan in 1951(My India,2012). It was introduced to determine the mode of government expenditure and grants in important development sectors like agriculture, industries, and education. Nehru’s policies have often been described as socialist, but Nehru was not fond of the term. He strove for whatever policy best fit India’s needs. He entirely used India’s natural resources. He built dams that would produce electricity and help with irrigation of crops. Nehru knew that India needed industries, such as steel, iron, and power, that would lead to the development and modernization of India’s economy. Nehru was called a Nationalist. He believed that India would become self-sufficient. He was wary of foreign investment and made sure that the Indian government heavily regulated it. He co-founded the Non-Alignment movement that stressed neutrality between the USA and USSR. Nehru was also an advocate for higher education, and his government saw the establishment of several schools of higher learning. Nehru’s main objective via education was to do away with the narrow religious and communalistic views and promote a scientific and humanitarian mindset.(Chakrabarty,2015)He believed that freedom from ignorance is as essential as freedom from hunger (Nehru,1968). Jawaharlal Nehru’s health began to decline in 1962 and died of a stroke in May 1964. Nehru’s legacy is still felt today. India has remained a stable democracy, it has maintained its secular nature, that free and fair elections are held at regular intervals, are all due to his leadership. (Dharker,2017) He is the longest-serving prime minister, followed only by his daughter Indira.
Indira Nehru Gandhi was born November 19th, 1917. She is the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru. She received her education in Geneva and at Oxford. In 1941 she married Feroze Gandhi and had two sons, Rajiv and Sanjay. Indira was exposed to politics at an early age. Coming from the Nehru family, it is no wonder that she became involved in politics. She served as her father’s personal assistant during his time as Prime Minister. In 1959 she was elected President of the Indian National Congress. She was elected Prime Minister in 1966, two years after her father’s death. She was India’s first female Prime Minister and by the time of her assassination in 1984 was one of the most controversial. She was accused and found guilty of election corruption of her successful 1971 campaign (History.ca,2017). Despite calls for her resignation, Gandhi refused to give up India’s top office and later declared martial law in the country when public demonstrations threatened to topple her administration. (History.ca 2017) During the next few years, Indira faced civil unrest caused by food shortages, inflation, and regional fighting. Once she was charged with election corruption, people thought she would have to resign. Instead, she declared a state of emergency, arrested political enemies, and restricted personal freedoms. One of the proposed programs was the forced sterilization of men and women to control the population(Morse,2014). In 1977 general elections were held and Indira was voted out of office. However, in 1980, after the failed attempts to correct the countries poverty problem by the opposition, Indira was re-elected as Prime Minister. In 1984, the holy Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, was taken over by Sikh extremists seeking an autonomous state. In response, Gandhi sent Indian troops to regain the temple by force. In the barrage of gunfire that ensued, hundreds of Sikhs were killed, igniting an uprising within the Sikh community. On October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated outside her home by two of her trusted bodyguards, seeking retribution for the events at the temple. (History.ca 2017) For large numbers of Indians, Indira Gandhi remains a progressive and idealistic figure. However, for others, she remains a master political manipulator who drifted from her promise of democratic socialism to blatant dynasticism and suppression of dissent. (The Hindu,2009)It was long assumed that her son Sanjay would take over the reins of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy, he had been an advisor to his mother through her political career. However, Sanjay died in an airplane accident in 1980. Sanjay’s death led his mother to push her other son, Rajiv, into politics.
Rajiv Gandhi was the oldest son Indira Gandhi. Rajiv went to Cambridge and Imperial College. He returned to India in 1966 and was a professional pilot for India Airlines. He had stayed away from politics, leaving that for his mother and brother. However, after the death of his brother, his mother pushed him into politics to carry on the legacy. His mother was assassinated in 1984 and Rajiv took over as Prime Minister, the third Prime Minister of the Nehru-Gandhi. He became the youngest Prime Minister in India’s history. He was only 40. Rajiv remained Prime Minister until 1989. During his time in office, he oversaw an overhaul of national education policy and the major expansion of the telecom sector. His time in office was not scandal-free. It was alleged that he was involved in the Bofors scandal. The Bofor scandal was a major weapons-contract scandal between India and Sweden. It is said that Rajiv and his party received kickbacks for winning the contract to supply India with field howitzers. In 1987, the Indian Peace Keeping Force was formed to end the Sri Lankan Civil War between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan military. (Cultural India,2013) Rajiv Gandhi refused to withdraw the IPKF. The idea also turned out to be unpopular in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu. May 21st, 1991 Rajiv was at a campaign rally in Sriperumbudur for a fellow Congress candidate. A woman approached him, then bent down to touch his feet and detonated a belt laden with explosives tucked under her dress. The act of violence was reportedly carried out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in retaliation to the involvement of Indian Peace-keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka (Cultural India,2013).
“The Nehru Gandhi brand has no peer in the world — a member of the family has overseen India for 40 of the 60 years since independence. The allure of India’s first family blends the right to rule of British monarchy with the tragic glamour of America’s Kennedy clan.” (Guardian,2007) From Patriarch Motilal to the current Gandhi in the spotlight is Rahul Gandhi, who is the president of the Indian National Congress. How long will this dynasty last? With a name like Gandhi, we will never know