Among the many notable men and women who guided India in its struggle to end colonial rule and—to take a grander perspective—have guided the subcontinent’s negotiation with the forces of modernity over the last 200 years, Jawaharlal Nehru arguably ranks next only to Mahatma Gandhi.
Click here to view a slideshow of Nehru’s different moods
Nehru was Gandhi’s lieutenant in the fight against British rule, and he laid the foundation of post-colonial India’s institutional framework. It is small wonder then that in the post-1947 decades, especially when frustration over the pervasive failure of governance and the mismanaged state-controlled economy has run high, the blame for India’s myriad ills has often been laid squarely at his feet. But if criticism of Nehru has become less shrill of late, it is because renewed optimism about the future has been accompanied by a renewed appreciation of the enormity of his sacrifices, contributions and achievements.
He was born into wealth and privilege but on Gandhi’s call he joined his family in giving it all up and spent nine years in prison; he was known for his genuine connection with the humblest of people; and his warm, witty and charismatic personality made him a natural leader—from his youth he dedicated himself wholly to the nation and, 120 years after he was born, Nehru’s vision, as well as his magic, endure.