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Competing Nationalist Visions of Development, 2: Nehru

Connections from previous weeks:

One cannot understand Gandhi without Nehru and Nehru without Gandhi

Nationalist visions of development: village India as the squaring of the circle


Factoid overview: Nehru as nationalist leader (and independent India’s first Prime Minister)


Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964):

Educated at Harrow (1905-07),

Trinity College, Cambridge (1907-10) (Natsci 2:2)

Inner Temple (1910-12);

1912 returns to India,

1916 marries, joins Home Rule League, meets Gandhi,

‘discovers’ the peasants in 1920 during first rural political campaigns,

Becomes more radicalized in the 1920s asking for complete political independence

(Simon Commission protests of 1928-9),

Attends Brussels Conference of Oppressed Nationalities and visits Moscow in 1927

Elected Congress President for the first time (1929) as well as president of AITUC imprisoned, then released to consolidate his position of leader of the Congress left

cf Lenin’s critique of imperialism as the final stage of monopoly capitalism

Socialism offering a “scientific” approach to the problem of resource

management under late colonialism

Language of social justice: socialism and anti-colonial struggle

chairs National Planning Committee (1938)

sworn in as Prime Minister of Provisional Government (1946)

Prime Minister of Independent India (1947)


Indian socialism, according to Nehru, was a natural outgrowth of Indian conditions and cultural values.


On the profit motive:

“There is no such admiration for it in India as there is in the West. The possessor of money may be envied but he is not particularly respected or admired. Respect and admiration still go to the man or woman who is considered good and wise, and especially to those who sacrifice themselves and what they possess for the well-being of the community as a whole.” (Discovery of India, p. 512)


On the village as they key social and economic unit of India, despite its decay during British rule:

“…still it holds together by some invisible link and old memories revive. It should be easily possible to take advantage of these age-long traditions and to build up communal and cooperative concerns in the land and in small industry. The village can no longer be a self-contained economic unit (though it may often be intimately connected with a cooperative or a collective farm), but it can very well be a governmental or electoral unit, each such unit functioning as a self-governing community within a larger political framework and looking after the essential needs of the village (Discovery of India, p. 534)


Key points:

Left-leaning Congressman


First Prime Minister of Independent India (1947-64)

Gandhi’s acknowledged political heir

Cold War legacies—to be continued next term


Nehru and the problem of connecting with “the masses”—Discovery of India