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Summary Article: Nehru, Jawaharlal
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(jӘwähӘrläl' nā'rō, nĕ'–), 1889–1964, Indian statesman, b. Allahabad; son of Motilal Nehru. A politician and statesman of great skill, Nehru was enormously popular in India.

Early Career

Educated in England at Harrow and Cambridge, he was admitted to the English bar in 1912 and practiced law in India for several years. After the massacre at Amritsar (1919), he devoted himself to the struggle for India's freedom. His compelling oratory as well as his close association with Mohandas Gandhi contributed to making him a leader of the Indian National Congress, and in 1929 (the first of four times) he was elected its president.

A leader of the radical wing of the Congress, Nehru spent most of the period from 1930 to 1936 in jail for conducting civil disobedience campaigns. About 1939 disharmony developed between him and Gandhi. Nehru, who had been influenced by a study of Marxism, opposed Gandhi's ideal of an agrarian society and advanced a program calling for the industrialization and socialization of India. During World War II, however, Nehru and Gandhi were united in their opposition to aiding Great Britain unless India was immediately freed, and Nehru was imprisoned from Oct., 1942, to June, 1945. After his release, he participated in the negotiations that led to the creation of the two independent states of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Indian Prime Minister

Nehru became India's prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and led the country through the difficult early years of independence. The domestic problems of those years included the massive influx of Hindu refugees from Pakistan; the integration of the princely states into the new political structure (Hyderabad was incorporated by force in 1948, and Kashmir's accession caused the first India-Pakistan War, ending in the partition of the state); and controversy and unrest associated with the reorganization of the states on a linguistic basis. On the economic front the government launched a series of five-year plans with the declared goal of achieving a “socialist pattern of society.”

In foreign affairs Nehru adopted a policy of neutralism. He stressed the importance of the movement of nonaligned nations in international politics and became one of its leading spokesmen. He also opposed the formation of military alliances and urged a moratorium on all nuclear testing. Some observers felt that he lost stature as an advocate of peace by employing force in Kashmir and by seizing (1961) Goa from the Portuguese. It also appeared that he might be abandoning strict neutralism for a more pro-Western policy when he requested Western aid to defend India against Chinese border incursions in 1962.


Nehru wrote voluminously, especially while in prison; his notable works include Glimpses of World History (1936), comprising letters to his daughter (Indira Gandhi), and The Discovery of India (1946).

  • See also his autobiography, Toward Freedom (American ed. 1941, repr. 1958);.
  • biographies by M. Edwardes (1971) and S. Gopal (3 vol., 1976-84);.
  • Nanda, B. R. , The Nehrus (1962);.
  • von Tunzelmann, A. , Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire (2007).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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