What is the role of Nehru in India’s struggle for Independence?

India's struggle for Independence

Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, though acknowledged in his role of Prime Minister by many, has not garnered much historical attention, relatively, for his role in the national freedom movement.  There might be a whole set of reasons for this; one of the major reasons to this was his success as a statesman after the independence and his leading role in steering India in the realm of international relations, overshadowing his role in winning the freedom for he country .Let’s see in detail the role of Nehru in India’s struggle for Independence?

Early years of Nehru in the India’s struggle for Independence

We can not deny the fact that Nehru was born in a family of politicians. His father Motilal Nehru started off as a congressman committed to the cause of Indian freedom for a long time. J.L Nehru spent many years of his life in England in pursuit of education. As a student, he had closely sensed the discrimination Indians were meted with and this oriented his inclination towards joining the freedom movement. It was therefore no surprise that after his return from the Britian in 1912, he joined the Indian freedom movement.

After Nehru’s return to India the condition of India turned out to be very bad than what Nehru had imagined. In order to develop a better understanding of the problems the country was confronted with, Nehru motivated by Gandhi, decided to travel across India, and was received warmly by the masses. He also realized that the direct application of Socialist measures would not suit India’s socio-economic profile, and therefore the seeds of his improvised Nehruvian Socialism  were sown.He then in order to understand the Indian society in detail read all the different scriptures of India. Around the same time Gandhi’s success in the Champaran and other places established Nehru’s believes in Gandhi and his way of non-violence or satyagraha, though there were instances when from Nehru’s own accounts it is found that he tended to disagree with many of such methods at times in terms of its applicability and practicality.However he ontinued to draw inspiration from Gandhi along with the support of masses and his commitment to the cause of Indian freedom movement assumed deep roots.

Role of Nehru in the non-cooperation movement (India’s struggle for Independence):

Nehru’s first major contribution can be said to be the Non-cooperation movement in the 1920. He participated whole-heartedly in the satayghara movement. Nehru was arrested for a few months on the charges of carrying anti governmental activities. Gandhi later suspended the non-cooperation movement under the pretext of violence that took place in the Chauri Chaura where angry mob set police station on fire. Following this Motilal Nehru and CR Das formed a separate Swaraja party.However JL Nehru continued to be a part of the Congress. Nehru’s leadership thus became a matter of undisputed debate. He then became the president of the Allahabad Congress Committee in 1923. Nehru in the decade following became increasingly dominant. In order to attain complete freedom he gave ultimatum to the British to grant India a dominant status creating a rift between Nehru and senior congress leaders, this could be openly seen in the Calcutta conference in 1928.

Role of Nehru in the Civil Disobedience movement (India’s struggle for Independence):

The Lahore conference in the 1929 was important in the Indian freedom struggle. Nehru was elected as a president of the congress for the time at a very early age. He used this platform to popularise the agenda of “Poorna Swaraj”. The civil disobedience movement was launched formally after the Lahore session. He was then arrested in 1930.

Role of Nehru Post-Civil Disobedience movement (India’s struggle for Independence):

Govt. of India Act 1935 created a complex dynamics in the country with the election-contest thrown open as the option.Nehru did not contest elections but supported and campaigned for the elections. In these years Nehru became an extremely important figure in the congress and a prominent leader, this can be seen by Nehru becoming the congress president for about two consecutive terms i.e, 1936 and 1937.

There was a rift seen in the congress during 1938 between Gandhi and Bose. However, Nehru’s  faith by that time in Gandhi was unwavering and decided to go with Gandhi and his methods. Bose then resigned as the congress president, Nehru thus gained a more important role. This started a new phase in Nehru’s career, especially after his denial to come to a compromise with the Muslim League.

Nehru’s role in the Quit India movement (India’s struggle for Independence):

The first and second round table conferences were failures. Gandhiji decided to start the Quit India Movement in 1942. The international skills of Nehru where tested here, the world was at a verge of world war II. He was against the policy of Bose taking help from the axis powers and was again arrested and released in the same year (1945) after the world war came to an end.

Nehru as the congress president in 1946:

Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad was made the congress president in the 1940 with a view to solve certain issues with the Muslim league and was the president of congress party for almost six years as most of the congress leaders where behind bars due to Quit India Movement.

An interim government was to be formed which was to be headed by the Congress president as Congress had won the maximum number of seats in the 1946 elections. All of a sudden, the post of Congress president became very crucial vis a vis the future leadership of the country .

Gandhi made it very clear that Nehru was the preferred choice for the congress President position. The last date for the nominations for the post of the President of Congress, and thereby the first Prime Minister of India, was April 29, 1946. The nominations were to be made by 15 state/regional Congress committees. Despite Gandhi’s well-known preference for Nehru as Congress president, not a single Congress committee nominated Nehru’s name.
The situation was that 12 out of 15 nominated Sardar Vallabhai Patel for the position and 3 were in favour of no one. J B kriplani, despite knowing the fact that only the working committee was allowed to nominate, convinced some members from the congress working committee to propose the name of Nehru. As there was no major support for Nehru, it is held that Gandhiji asked Patel to withdraw his name from the nominations and let Nehru become the president of the congress and eventually the Prime Ministerial candidate after independence.

The major reasons for this can be assumed as:
• Gandhi had a soft corner for Nehru. He always viewed Nehru who was moved by the socialist ideas, to be the upholder of socialist and secular values (though Gandhian secularism was different from Nehru’she secularism),well educated person where as Patel was branded as aggressive in the eyes of Gandhi.
• Another argument plays that Gandhi knew that sardar Patel would not defy him. On other side Nehru made it clear that he would not play a second fiddle to anyone, a great leadership trait .

• Perhaps, Gandhi wanted both Nehru and Patel to provide leadership to the country. He was convinced that if Nehru could cause problems in the way of India’s independence if he was not given the chance to become Prime Minister.

C. Rajgopalachary who blamed Sardar Patel for depriving him of the first presidentship of independent India, wrote, “Undoubtedly it would have been better if Nehru had been asked to be the Foreign Minister and Patel made the Prime Minister. I too fell into the error of believing that Jawaharlal was the more enlightened person of the two… A myth had grown about Patel that he would be harsh towards Muslims. This was a wrong notion but it was the prevailing prejudice.”

Nehru’s role in the attainment of final freedom 

The new Labour Government of Britain seemed willing to grant India its long-deserved freedom. The Labour Party, under Prime Minister Clement Richard Attlee, came to power in Britain. The Labour Party was largely sympathetic towards Indian people for freedom.
A Cabinet Mission was sent to India in March 1946, which after a careful study of the Indian political scenario, proposed the formation of an interim Government and convening of a Constituent Assembly comprising members elected by the provincial legislatures and nominees of the Indian states. An interim Government was formed headed by Jawaharlal Nehru. However, the Muslim League refused to participate in the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly under the leadership of Md. Jinnah and pressed for the separate state for Pakistan(putting forth the two nation theory.)

Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy of India, presented a plan for the division of India into India and Pakistan, and the Indian leaders had no choice but to accept the division, as the Muslim League was adamant. Thus, India became free at the stroke of midnight, on August 15 1947. (Since then, every year India celebrates its Independence Day on 15th August). Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minster of free India, setting up an exemplary legacy of leadership, balancing the regional assertions with the state’s centrality, communicating closely with his colleagues through letters, improvising India’s stand in international politics during  cold war, with Non alignment movement, carefully thought out and skillfully accentuated, and formed a rich literary account of not only India’s history but also envisioned the map for future, a compass for any political leadership of India.


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