Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was a barrister, statesmen and a key figure in the Indian independence movement under the tutelage of Gandhi. He was also the first Prime Minister of India. He is widely considered as the architect of the modern Indian nation-state- a sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic. Pre-independence saw Nehru consolidate all his efforts towards gaining India its independence. Post-independence in 1947, he was chosen as India’s Prime Minister and served as PM until his death in 1964.
He is widely considered as a spearhead in the Indian Freedom movement and sought to establish and practice democracy in the country, which was largely ruled by the imperial colonialists and dynastic kingdoms before that. He was responsible for leading India through turbulent times; amidst communal tensions and political disorder.
Opinions of Pandit Nehru vary, from many people praising his achievements to many others criticising his failures, as well as the Congress party’s dynastic approach to Indian politics; something which Nehru himself was staunchly opposed to, ironically (As seen in his opposition to Indira Gandhi contesting for the Prime Ministerial position, and also through his refusal to include her in his cabinet).
However, his leadership as the first Prime Minister of India saw an array of social and infrastructural developments in the country. Here are some of the achievements of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as India’s first Prime Minister.
- I. Helped frame the Indian Constitution
- II. Integration of Princely states into a United India
- III. Resettling Refugees Post-Partition
- IV. Setting up the Election Commission of India
- V. Indus Water Treaty
- VI. Sound Foreign Policy
- VII. Infrastructure Developments
- VIII. Five-Year Plans
- IX. Focus on education
I. Helped frame the Indian Constitution
The Constitution of India was written by a 299 member assembly (Pre-partition, the number was 389), through 11 sessions over a 165-day period. It was written over a period a 3 years. Prominent figures like Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, C. Rajagopalachari, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Mualana Abul Kalam Azad, Nalini Ranjan Ghosh and Balwantrai Mehta; along with Nehru were the key figures in the assembly.
It was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on November 26th, 1949, and became effective on January 26th, 1950.
The constitution lays down the framework, for government institutions, demarcating fundamental political code, structure, procedures, powers and duty; along with providing a framework for fundamental rights, directive principles and duties for citizens.
II. Integration of Princely states into a United India
Under the Nehru administration, the then Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhai Patel (Also known as the ‘iron man’ of India) and his right-hand man, V.P. Menon set out to consolidate all fragmented territories and princely states into one nation.
At the time of independence, India was divided into territories under the British government in India, and under the suzerainty of the British Crown where the control over the internal affairs remained in the hands of their hereditary rulers.
On May 6th, Sardar Vallabhai Patel began lobbying the princes in an attempt to make them receptive towards dialogue with the future government, to fore-stall future conflicts.
Under the plan of 3rd June, more than 562 were given the option of joining either India or Pakistan, or choosing independence.
Over the next 10 years, the government of India under the Indian National Congress set out to integrate all these territories into India. Sardar Vallabhai Patel and V.P. Menon managed to convince most of the rulers of the various princely states to accede to India. They were successful in regards to most of the Indian states except for former princely states like Jammu & Kashmir, Manipur and Tripura.
III. Resettling Refugees Post-Partition
When the partition was announced on June 3rd 1947, 1/3rd of Delhi’s population, i.e. 3,29,000 out of 9,00,000 lakh people left for Pakistan. From the other side, 4,95,000 people poured in from Western Punjab, Sindh and the Northwest Frontier province.
Delhi had the challenge of finding homes and jobs for the almost half-a-million people at its doorstep, as well as try to assimilate their culture, languages and beliefs.
To accommodate the influx, 36 permanent rehabilitation colonies came up in erstwhile farmland and ridge forests. These rehabilitation colonies were named after freedom fighters- Lajpath Nagar, Rajendra Nagar, Patel Nagar, Tilak Nagar, Malviya Nagar, etc.
With having their shelter secured, the next task of the refugees was to find a means of livelihood. Those that had some capital tried to set up business they used to run in Pakistan. Others tried whatever menial jobs that came their way, never saying no to any opportunity.
IV. Setting up the Election Commission of India
Under Nehru’s leadership, the Election Commission of India was set up in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950. It is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering election processes in the country. The commission administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and state legislative assemblies, as well as the offices of the President and Vice-President of the country.
Article 324 of the Constitution dictates the terms of operation for the Election commission.
Originally, there was only one Chief Election Commissioner of India, but the Election Commissioner Amendment Act 1989 made the commission a multi-member body. There is now a Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners, who are usually retired IAS officers.
V. Indus Water Treaty
A water distribution treaty was signed between India and Pakistan on September 19th 1960, between Jawaharlal Nehru and the then president of Pakistan, Ayub Khan. The deal was brokered by the World Bank.
All water from the eastern rivers shall be available for unrestricted use in India, according to the treaty. India should allow unrestricted flow of water from the western rivers to Pakistan. That doesn’t mean India can’t use water from the western rivers. India can use water from those rivers on a ‘non-consumption need’ basis. What this means, is that water from these rivers can be used for irrigation, storage and (some) for electricity production.
The treaty allocates 80% of water from the six-river Indus water system to Pakistan.
A Permanent Indus Commission was set up as a bilateral commission to implement and manage the treaty.
VI. Sound Foreign Policy
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru played a pivotal role in shaping India’s foreign policy. The Ministry of External Affairs, which was a holdover of the British Raj, was established in 1948. It was previously known as the ‘Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations’ under the Imperial government. Prime Minister Nehru held the portfolio as an additional charge up until his death.
The formation of India’s foreign policy was largely influenced by international developments after World War II, which was categorised by the weakening of Imperialism and the growth of Democracy and progress.
It was because of Nehru’s efforts that the Congress party began to take an interest in international affairs. Post 1927, Nehru took an active part in formulating the foreign policy of the Congress where it resolved to support subjected people and races in their struggle for freedom and equality. They also decided to condemn racial discriminations throughout the world.
India took strong stands against imperial aggressions staged by Japan, Italy and Germany in the 1930s. It also had no sympathy for fascist countries. Indian also strongly condemned the dropping of the atom bomb by the US in Japan.
The formation of the interim government in 1946 saw India taking steps to establish friendly relations with all countries. The formation of the interim government also saw India establish diplomatic relations and exchanged ambassadors with USA, USSR, China and a few other countries.
Post-independence saw Nehru becoming the virtual director of India’s foreign policy.
India became the first country to adopt the Policy of Non-Alignment, under Nehru’s guidance. India organised the Asians Relations Conference at Delhi, in 1947, where independent India’s principles of foreign policy were proclaimed. It was attended by representatives of 29 countries. The solidarity of all Asian countries was strengthened as a result of this conference.
VII. Infrastructure Developments
1. The Bhakra-Nangal Dam
The Bhakra-Nangal Dam project is a series of multi-purpose dams that were among the earliest river valley developments schemes undertaken by the government of India after independence. The project, though, had been conceived long before independence. Preliminary works started in 1946 while construction was started in 1948. As a symbolic initiation of the work, Nehru poured the first bucket of concrete into the dry riverbed of the Sutlej on November 17th 1955.
The chief architect of the dam, post independence was Rai Bahadur Kunwar Sen Gupta. The dam’s construction was done in the fall of 1963, but follow-up work in successive stages resulted in the dam being finished in the early 1970s.
2. Bhilai Steel Plant
Bhilai, located in Chhattisgarh, was home to massive iron-ore deposits at Dalli Rajhara. Taking this into consideration, the government of India and the USSR entered into an agreement which was signed on March 2nd 1955, at New Delhi. The agreement was done for the establishment of an integrated iron and steel works Bhilai, with the intention of producing 1 million tons of steel ingot.
The plant got commissioned on February 5th 1959, with Dr. Rajendra Prasad inaugurating the first blast furnace in the country.
Bhilai Steel Plant is an eleven time winner of the Prime Minister’s trophy for the best integrated steel plant in India. The plant is the sole supplier of the country’s longest rail tracks. The plant also produces merchant products and steel rods.
3. Bokaro Steel Limited
Jawaharlal Nehru described Bokaro as being one of the ‘temples of modern India’. The steel plant was an initiative by Pandit Nehru with the intention of constructing the first ‘Swadeshi steel plant’ with the help of the Soviets.
It is the fourth integrated public sector steel plant in India. The steel plant was incorporated as a limited company and was later merged with the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), and came to be known as Bokaro Steel Limited.
Bokaro Steel Limited currently houses five blast furnaces with a total capacity to produce 5.2 megatons of liquid steel. The plant’s capacity is being expanded upon with a modernisation drive, with the intention of increasing the output to cross 10 megatons of liquid steel.
4. Bhabha Atomic Research Centre
The Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay (AEET), was started by the government of India on January 3rd 1954 with the intention of consolidating all research and development activities for nuclear reactors and technology under the Atomic Energy Commission.
Scientists and engineers engaged in the fields of reactor design and development, instrumentation, metallurgy, material science, etc. were transferred from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) from AEET.
VIII. Five-Year Plans
The planning commission was a government institution which formulated India’s ‘Five-Year Plans’. It was initiated by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose who had been convinced by Meghnad Saha to set up a National Planning Committee.
Jawaharlal Nehru was made head of the Planning Commission after M. Visvesvaraya was asked by Saha to graciously step down, as the commission needed ‘reciprocity between science and politics’.
The period, post-independence saw a formal model of planning being adopted which was to be reported directly to the Prime Minister, according to the Planning Commission. It was finally established on March 5th 1950, with Nehru being appointed as chairman. The authority for creating the commission did not derive from the Constitution, rather it was an arm of the Central government.
The main objectives of the government in its plans were; efficient exploitation of resources, increase in production, and offering employment opportunities in service to the community. The commission was charged with the responsibility of making an assessment of all resources in the county, augmenting deficient resources and formulating plans for the most effective and balanced utilisation of resources.
The first Five-Year Plan was presented by Nehru to the Parliament of India on December 8th 1951. The plan was based on the Harrod-Domar model.
IX. Focus on education
Jawaharlal Nehru was an educationist whose theory was based on rationalism, empiricism and positivism. His views on education are partly influenced by Marx‘s ideas and partly by Gandhi’s ideology.
Nehru was first schooled at home by private governesses and tutors. Under the tutelage of Ferdinand T. Brooks, he became interested in science and theosophy. He began his institutional schooling at Harrow School in Harrow, England. He graduated with an Honours degree in Natural Sciences in 1910. After the completion of his degree, he moved to London to study law at Inner Temple Inn.
He did not concern himself with philosophy as much as he did with humanity, and kept his faith in science rather than religion and based his facts on intelligence, experience and reason. He propagated that education was the only means to achieving social change.
Under his governance, the government of India oversaw the establishment of institutes for higher learning like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) and National Institutes of Technology (NIT).
In his five-year plans, he outlined a commitment to guarantee free and compulsory education to all the children of India. He oversaw the creation of mass village enrolment programs and the construction of thousands of schools across the country. Initiatives like free milk and meals to children, were provided to combat malnutrition. The organisation of adult education centres, and vocational and technical schools, were done especially in rural areas.
Today, opinions are divided about the iconic leader. While Nehru always had his critiques even back in the day, a significant section of the masses despise the dynasty politics of the Congress that ensued after his passing in 1964. He has also received the ire of critics for being associated with several women including Lady Mountbatten and Padmaja Naidu, after the death of his wife Kamala Kaul Nehru in 1936.
However, his contributions to India’s freedom, and as a Prime Minister to his country are acknowledged by people both within and outside India. His shortcomings do not take away from the legacy he cemented as a propagator for freedom, and as the free nation’s first Prime Minister.