Jawaharlal Nehru. Photo: Getty Images
Jawaharlal Nehru. Photo: Getty Images

Nehru’s India

On the 50th anniversary of his death, the patriot, statesman and our first prime minister is something of an anomaly. We revisit the ideas, objects and icons of his era

The first election to the Lok Sabha

The 2014 election with 814 million voters may have been the biggest in history, but India’s first general election was no less challenging. With the Election Commission set up in 1949, Nehru wanted the first election to be held as early as spring 1951.

Women receiving their ballot papers at a poll booth in New Delhi in the first genral election in 1952. Photo: Popperfoto/Getty Images

The other numbers were staggering even by present-day standards. Voting had to be carried out for 4,500 seats—500 for Parliament and the rest for provincial assemblies—and it took place in 224,000 polling booths. About 56,000 presiding officers supervised the voting with a staff of 280,000, while 224,000 policemen helped with the security, according to figures from Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi.

Easily recognizable symbols, such as bullock carts and huts had to be selected, and multiple ballot boxes were used—with each party having its own box at each polling station.

The poll was finally held in the early months of 1952. Such was their success that Sudan asked Sen to help organize its first election.

Ravi Krishnan

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Against the US, for NAM

The Gandhi family’s reputation might be at an all-time ebb here at home, but out on a group of islands in the northern Adriatic Sea, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi are still spoken of in admiring, dare we say worshipful, tones. Locals say it was on the Brijuni islands—now a part of Croatia, but once Yugoslav, that Nehru, Marshal Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt first came up with the idea of a Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). NAM was meant to be an organization of developing countries that sought to navigate the maze of Cold War international relations without having to belong to the US or Russian camps. It first met in Belgrade in 1961; its initial membership of 25 nations has since grown to around 120.

Nehru and US president Dwight D. Eisenhower on the cover of a ‘National Geographic’ issue in May 1960
Nehru and US president Dwight D. Eisenhower on the cover of a ‘National Geographic’ issue in May 1960

It was also perhaps an attempt by heads of some of the world’s newer nations to establish themselves as organizers and statesmen, and emerge from the shadows of the major world leaders who loomed over proceedings at the United Nations and other platforms.

Nehru always harboured ambitious roles for India, and himself, on the international stage. But one wonders, if his initial interactions with the Americans had been more fruitful, would he have been so keen on the principle of non-alignment? Nehru’s visit to the US in 1949 was successful with everyone except the people who mattered. Secretary of state Dean Acheson later wrote that Nehru was “one of the most difficult men with whom I have ever had to deal".

Sidin Vadukut

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The red rose

Both Nehru and Babur shared a passion for the rose. The first Mughal emperor not only composed a poem on gul, Persian for rose, but also made sure the word was part of his daughters’ names. The first prime minister was democratic enough to spare his family—he just tucked the flower into the third button of his sherwani.

In the 1940s, Nehru started wearing a red rose, like the one seen in a glass display case at Teen Murti Bhavan, Delhi. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
In the 1940s, Nehru started wearing a red rose, like the one seen in a glass display case at Teen Murti Bhavan, Delhi. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

On his last visit to the US in 1961, Nehru was invited for lunch by president John F. Kennedy to his wife Jacqueline’s childhood home, Hammersmith Farm, Newport. The glamorous first lady got her daughter Caroline to pick a rose from their garden to present to the Indian guest.

The gardens of Teen Murti Bhavan, Delhi, have roses to this day.

In Nehru, In His Own Words: His Replies To Various Questions, a series of conversations with Nehru, the interviewer, Ramnarayan Chaudhary, asked the prime minister about the sartorial accessory:

“Chaudhary: One (question)I have often intended to ask you—why do you always wear a red rose?

Nehru: There is nothing special about it.

Chaudhary: Nothing special?

Nehru: No. I began wearing it casually 10 to 15 years back. And I like a deep red, not faint."

Two years after Nehru’s death, his daughter defeated the powerful Morarjii Desai in the battle to lead the ruling Congress parliamentary party. As the new prime minister designate emerged from Parliament, the cheering crowd roared, “Lal gulab (red rose) zindabad." The same year, film-maker, novelist and journalist Khwaja Ahmad Abbas came out with Indira Gandhi’s biography, subtitled Return Of the Red Rose.

Mayank Austen Soofi

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Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh

It took a Swiss-French architect to turn the Nehruvian dream of a modern India into reality.

The assembly building at the Capitol Complex in Chandigarh, designed by Le Corbusier. Photo: Zackary Canepari/Mint

Le Corbusier took his mission to heart, bringing his utilitarian aesthetics into play, and creating India’s first planned urban centre. He shaped the city on the principle of helping cars, the emerging mode of transportation, to ply freely and without interruption. To this end, he divided the city into self-sufficient sectors. He also stressed on the use of cement as a building material, creating angular houses to optimize space, public gardens and parks for the elderly and children to enjoy, and a network of arterial roads to facilitate movement across the city. He had the blueprint for a mini Singapore in the heart of India. He designed some buildings in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, as well.

In the last six decades, Chandigarh, like the rest of the country, has degenerated. In 2001, when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization wanted to turn it into a World Heritage site, it discovered that priceless items of furniture, designed by Le Corbusier, were being sold as scrap.

Somak Ghoshal

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The Nehru jacket

The Nawab jacket by Canali, now a classic in its menswear line across the world. Photo courtesy: Canali
The Nawab jacket by Canali, now a classic in its menswear line across the world. Photo courtesy: Canali

 Fitted and buttoned up (famously known as the bandhgala), it is sleeveless or full-sleeved. The Beatles dipped it in their rock chic in 1965 and when the British contingent wore a casual, sleeveless, red version for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, history paraded wearing irony on its sleeve. As the haute Armani jacket with a Nehru collar, Canali’s Nawab jacket, Ermenegildo Zegna’s Guru jacket or those created by a posse of Indian designers who continue to reinterpret it as formal menswear and wedding couture, the Nehru jacket retains its role on fashion ramps and in classy wardrobes around the world.

Shefalee Vasudev

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Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray (right) with actor Soumitra Chatterjee on the sets of ‘Ghare Baire’ in 1984. Photo: AFP

Sanjukta Sharma

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HMT advertisement that appeared in newspapers in 1960s
HMT advertisement that appeared in newspapers in 1960s

HMT watches

In 1961, several employees of HMT Watches, a newly created division of Hindustan Machine Tools Ltd, were sent to Japan. They would undergo training at the Citizen watch company’s factories and return to India to replicate the manufacture.

The project, according to the HMT website, was reflective of two of Nehru’s aspirations. The concrete aspiration was to develop Indian competence in micro-engineering. The more emotional aspiration was to give Indians access to cheap wristwatches and, therefore, greater discipline.

In 1961, the first batch of 800 watches was launched. This comprised 500 men’s watches called HMT Citizen and 300 women’s watches branded Sujata. The initial operations only involved assembling imported movements. Over the next decade, however, HMT began to indigenize more and more of the process, eventually making a full 84% of the watch in-house.

It was perhaps one of the greatest success stories in Nehruvian public sector self-sufficiency. At one point HMT is estimated to have accounted for at least 70%—and possibly as much as 90%—of the Indian watch market. It employed thousands of people across several factories.

But the watches are hard to find. India has moved on.

Sidin Vadukut

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India under a lens: the photojournalists

The making of independent India, as well as prime minister Nehru, provided a treasure trove of material for photojournalists, though few were able to capitalize on it as much as Homai Vyarawalla (1913-2012).

Credited as the first female photojournalist in the country, Vyarawalla was a singular presence in a male-dominated profession. Her favourite subject was the PM who, she said, had the “perfect figure for a photographer" and a personality that “electrified the entire atmosphere" wherever he made an appearance. He also had the gift of posing for pictures “as if unconsciously", allowing Vyarawalla to capture him in many moods—as the solemn statesman addressing the nation for the first time from the ramparts of Red Fort in Delhi on 6 August 1947; a loving brother hugging his sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit; or having a good laugh with his friends, the Mountbattens.

Her male contemporaries, such as Kulwant Roy (1914-84), Sunil Janah (1918-2012) and Madan Mahatta (1932-2014), also recorded the process of nation-building in their distinct styles.

Roy, who started at the Royal Indian Air Force, specialized in aerial photography before setting up Associated Press Photos. He became an innovator in the field by experimenting with techniques of manipulating photographs in the pre-Photoshop era. An intrepid chronicler of the 1965 India-Pakistan war, he shot Nehru in cricketing garb (he painted it for a reproduction printed by a British magazine), as a hero on horseback, and a loving family man, bidding farewell to his grandson Rajiv before a European tour.

Janah, who was co-opted by the communist leader P.C. Joshi to document the plight of the starving millions, wasted a golden photo-op when he had privileged access to Nehru by forgetting to adjust the lens of his camera to its proper working position.

Mahatta’s focus was less on the man than on his legacy. One of the finest architectural photographers in the country, he photographed some spectacular buildings in the Capital, designed by architects Charles Correa, Achyut Kanvinde, Joseph Allen Stein and J.K. Chowdhury, among others.

Somak Ghoshal

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Balraj Sahni in ‘Do Bigha Zameen’. Photo courtesy: Rinki Roy
Balraj Sahni in ‘Do Bigha Zameen’. Photo courtesy: Rinki Roy

Unlike Mahatma Gandhi, who famously rejected the seductions of cinema, Nehru enjoyed the movies and movie stars, and they embraced him in turn.

Some embraced the Nehruvian ideals of nation-building, progressive thought, and a belief in the goodness of the state—Ab Dilli Dur Nahin’s child actor travelled many miles to personally deliver a letter to the new patriarch of the nation to demand justice for his wronged father.

Some actors embodied the optimism of the decade. Dev Anand, the jaunty romantic, was a hero for the times, light in step and cheerful in the face of adversity, one eye forever fixed on the horizon beyond which a brighter future lay.

However, Partition-inflicted scars, and the realization that injustice wasn’t going to vanish overnight, ran parallel to the celebration of a new age. The reigning stars and film-makers asked larger questions through song and romantic entanglements.

Dev Anand in ‘Jaal’. Photo: Hindustan Times
Dev Anand in ‘Jaal’. Photo: Hindustan Times

They were mourning him as late as 1967 in Naunihal—another child set out on a journey to meet Nehru, this time to ask him about unkept promises. The answer was provided in the movie’s song Meri Awaaz Suno, played on footage of the great man’s funeral procession.

Nandini Ramnath

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Crafting an indigenous design aesthetic

A black and white photograph of a balding Nehru sits on the History & Background page of the website of the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. However, his role in setting it up was limited to the approval of the Eames Report. Submitted in 1958 by American designers Charles and Ray Eames at the behest of the Union government, the “India Report" recommended a problem-solving design consciousness linking education with actual experience. NID was founded in 1961 on the basis of these recommendations, with assistance from the Ford Foundation and Ahmedabad’s Sarabhai family, particularly Gautam Sarabhai and his sister Gira. Nehru’s letter of greeting upon its establishment was reproduced in a book called 50 Years Of the National Institute Of Design—1961-2011.

NID was founded in 1961 on the basis of the Eames Report. Photo: Ramesh Dave/Mint

Shefalee Vasudev

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Institutes for higher education

The IIM, Ahmedabad, campus, designed by legendary American architect Louis I. Kahn. Photo courtesy: Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

The story really started on 15 September 1956, when Parliament passed the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur) Act, declaring the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, an institute of national importance. Without Nehru’s sustained and spontaneous political support and a key Nehruvian concern—“scientific temper"—this idea may not have been translated into reality.

When Nehru attended the convocation of the first IIT in Kharagpur on 21 April 1956, he admitted in his speech to being envious of “young men and the new graduates...launching out not only on their life’s career, which is an exciting business for every young man and young woman at this time of life, but launching out on it at a time of peculiar significance to this country and to them".

Seema Chowdhry

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The Bhakra-Nangal Dam, one of the so-called modern temples. Photo: Keystone/Getty Images
The Bhakra-Nangal Dam, one of the so-called modern temples. Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

Monuments to Nehru’s oft-quoted encouragement of supersized industrial projects loom on the horizon, among them the Bhakra-Nangal Dam on the border of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Nehru inaugurated the Bhakra canal system in 1954, visited the project 10 times during its construction, and dedicated the completed dam to the nation in 1963, according to the website of the Bhakra Beas Management Board. Nehru was a champion of large dams, which he famously described as being among the “temples of modern India", but prompted by complaints of corruption and reports of the anguish caused by large-scale displacement, he later made a case for small-scale projects. The anti-dam movement gathered force in subsequent decades, producing pockets of resistance across the country, notable over the Tehri dam project in Uttarakhand and the Narmada river valley project in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

Nandini Ramnath

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Linguistic states

Potti Sriramulu died 58 days into his fast. Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Potti Sriramulu died 58 days into his fast. Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

“The formation of Andhra Pradesh grated with the prime minister of the day," writes historian Ramachandra Guha in India After Gandhi. “You will observe," Nehru wrote grimly to a colleague, “that we have stirred a hornet’s nest and I believe most of us are likely to be badly stung." Not only were many such states carved out of existing ones in the years that followed, but these states would challenge the Centre in more ways than one, giving rise to regional parties and power centres, and posing administrative and electoral headaches for the Congress party.

Nandini Ramnath

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The first Asian Games held in Delhi

Nehru’s world statesman vision was not restricted to the Non-Aligned Movement. He initiated an Asian Relations Conference in March 1947 where G.D. Sondhi, a member of the International Olympic Committee, mooted the idea of pan-Asian games. Sondhi’s idea wasn’t entirely new since there had been attempts earlier at such sporting carnivals, like the Far Eastern Championship Games and Western Asiatic Games. But Sondhi had the backing of Nehru, for whom this was yet another way of signalling India’s prominence in the world order.

It might not have been the best of times, given the refugee crisis created by Partition and the fact that Mahatma Gandhi compelled Nehru and deputy prime minister Vallabhbhai Patel to dole out funds from an already depleted treasury to Pakistan. The games were postponed from February 1950 to November 1950 and were finally held in March the following year. Anthony de Mello, then president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, managed to raise funds from the Cricket Club of India and the National Sports Club of India. “Such are the ironies of history that the first Asiad was largely financed by money from two Bombay clubs; one focused only on cricket, which has never featured in the Games till date," write Boria Majumdar and Nalin Mehta in their book Olympics—The India Story

Ravi Krishnan

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This is All India Radio

All India Radio became the voice of India. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
All India Radio became the voice of India. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Founded in 1930, India’s premier public service broadcaster had six channels running at the time of independence. By 1956, it had expanded its programme ambitiously and had been grandly rechristened “Akashvani"—voice from the heavens. With a mandate to uphold the country’s unity and its democratic values, Akashvani was expected to fight social injustice, inequality and untouchability, though its legacy lies in its championing of literature and the performing arts. In a singular spirit of egalitarianism, emerging talents in the fields of classical music, poetry and drama were featured alongside the masters, a tradition that continues to this day, even as Akashvani struggles to keep up with a retinue of jazzier competitors.

Somak Ghoshal

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Celebrated cartoonist Shankar’s 1949 cartoon demonstrated that ruling post-independent India was no child’s play. Photo courtesy: Indian Institute of Cartoonists

Nehru believed passionately in the merits of planned development. He was a votary of heavy industries, public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy, and had a deep suspicion of global trade. It was something he shared with leaders of several other countries who had been released from the clutches of colonialism. The high noon of Nehruvian planning came in 1956 with the second five-year Plan. Its moving spirit was the statistician P.C. Mahalanobis (see page 13)—but Nehru also brought in some of the best economic thinkers from around the world to design it.

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha

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Scientific temper

Nuclear physicist Homi J. Bhabha delivering a speech on the atom bomb. Photo: Thomas D Mcavoy/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Nuclear physicist Homi J. Bhabha delivering a speech on the atom bomb. Photo: Thomas D Mcavoy/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

There is perhaps no greater testimony to the strengths and weaknesses of Nehru’s legacy as a nation-builder than the peculiar state of science and technology in modern India.

Nehru is widely known for his work as a lawyer before he became a leader of the independence movement. Few today recall that his original degree from Cambridge had nothing to do with law. In 1910, Nehru graduated with a natural science tripos in chemistry, geology and botany.

Nehru was somewhat obsessed with manifesting every element of the “scientific temper" in his vision of India. His daughter Indira even found a way to include it in the Constitution. One of the fundamental duties of every citizen of India, under Part IV(A) of the Constitution, is “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform".

In 1947, once power had been transferred, one of Nehru’s first actions was to assume the presidency of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, a post he would hold till his death in 1964.

And it is in those 17 years that Nehru established a formidable network of scientific institutions, laboratories and organizations all over India. Huge dams, comprehensive education institutions and ambitious research and development bodies sprouted. International linkages were nurtured so that these institutions could hit the ground running with the help of foreign minds, funding and experience.

These plans were not without their flaws. Some have pointed out that Nehru’s decision to separate education from research caused a rift between the theoretical and applied sciences in India that is yet to be bridged. Perhaps this is why, so many years later, one wonders why India produces outstanding young minds, but very little outstanding original research.

Sidin Vadukut

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An All India Congress Committee meet in faridabad, Haryana, in 1966. Photo: N. Thyagarajan/Hindustan Times

It’s possible to curate a show of Indira Gandhi photographs under the title “Alone in the crowd"—and it won’t necessarily be a compliment. Nehru was accused of being a centrist, but his daughter went further, using democratic tools to craft an autocracy for herself. She ruled the nation with an iron fist and a suspicious eye, balancing undeniable achievements with undesirable decisions. She strode out from under the colossal shadow of her great father—no mean feat—but increasingly came to wield the reins of power as a whip. If there is any Indian prime minister Narendra Modi resembles the most, it is Mrs G, her father’s pride and weakness.

Nandini Ramnath

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VK Krishna Menon

A doctor attenting to V.K. Krishna Menon after he collapsed during his 8-hour speech at the United Nations on 24 January 1957. Photo: Lisa Larsen/TimeLife Pictures/Getty Images

As the public face of Nehruvian non-alignment, Menon got disproportionate opprobrium from the West—Time magazine excoriated him often, and Western intelligence agencies were exasperated. In Western eyes, Menon again became the Ugly Indian when India took over Goa in 1961 from the Portuguese, who had refused to leave in 1947, when the British left India.

His bleakest moment was the war with China. Before the war, Menon, who was by then defence minister, had spoken of India’s growing self-sufficiency in defence production. But he had failed to foresee Chinese aggression in India’s border areas, and was largely held accountable for the military debacle in that war. His resignation in 1962 was a mere formality.

Salil Tripathi

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Handcrafted elegance

The Bankura Horse, made in Panchmura village, West Bengal. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Bankura Horse, made in Panchmura village, West Bengal. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Nandini Ramnath

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Progress of the Progressives

Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group members—(front row, from left) F.N. Souza, K.H. Ara, H.A. Gade; and (second row, from left) M.F. Husain, S.K. Bakre and S.H. Raza. Photo courtesy: www.ArtNewsnViews.com

The 1950s marked a phase of self-discovery for Indian artists. Around the same time, the faculty of fine arts, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, had given rise to a new modernism, also, like the Bombay Progressive movement, a merging of European formalism and Indian traditions.

Sanjukta Sharma

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The Ambassador

A painting of the Ambassador car commissioned by Sunil Sethi, president of the Fahion Design Council of India

Nandini Ramnath

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Rumble in the North-East

A Naga chief presenting handwoven fabric and a spear to General K.M. Cariappa during his visit to Kohima in 1952. Photo: Photo Division/Press Information Bureau
A Naga chief presenting handwoven fabric and a spear to General K.M. Cariappa during his visit to Kohima in 1952. Photo: Photo Division/Press Information Bureau

When a Naga delegation went to meet him during his visit to Kohima in 1953, Nehru refused to humour them. Word spread, and when Nehru went to address a public meeting later, the audience staged a walkout.

Nehru hardened his stance against the Nagas and tried to brutally suppress a fledgling insurgency. Army atrocities only helped the rebel cause, and militancy grew. The Nagas have provided inspiration, arms and logistical support to almost all the armed rebellions in the North-East over the past six decades. Fifty years after Nehru’s death, the North-East is still simmering.

Pramit Bhattacharya

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Statistician P.C. Mahalanobis. Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Statistician P.C. Mahalanobis. Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

Looking at the state of official statistics today, it is difficult to believe that a newly independent India was the pioneer in large-scale surveys, and had far richer data about itself than any other developing nation. The declining quality of our statistical organizations perhaps points to the huge void left by the demise of Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, a statistical genius and institution-builder par excellence who helped establish the Central Statistical Organization (CSO) and the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO).

Known largely for his role in shaping the second five-year Plan, Mahalanobis’ greatest gift to the country was setting up the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI). Nehru’s unstinting support meant that Mahalanobis enjoyed a free hand and was able to attract talent from across the globe.

Pramit Bhattacharya

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Handloom weaves

A handloom weaver at work in Varanasi. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
A handloom weaver at work in Varanasi. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

If Mahatma Gandhi clothed the pre-independence Swadeshi movement with hand-spun Khadi, Nehruvian India wore the texture of traditional handlooms. In 1950, through T.T. Krishnamachari (popularly known as TTK), then a leading babu who would become Nehru’s finance minister, Nehru invited Pupul Jayakar to revive the handloom sector. With Nehru’s support, Jayakar, a cultural activist and writer on Indian craft traditions, launched a fabric and clothing revolution by creating marketing structures and weaver centres, and was instrumental in establishing the All India Handloom Board and the Handlooms and Handicraft Export Corporation, among other institutions. As handcrafted textiles became a viable industry in Nehru’s time, their story, beauty and relevance attracted the chiffon-clad elite to woven saris that came to define the Indian aesthetic. The warp and weft of this handloom era was only strengthened during Indira Gandhi’s leadership. Her wedding sari, a pale pink Khadi handwoven by Nehru during a jail term and worn by Indira the bride with flower jewellery, is an emotive, enduring symbol of the handloom legacy—a distinction that is inexorably, proudly, provocatively Indian.

Shefalee Vasudev

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Museums and more

Few heads of state have been as proactive about promoting the cultural heritage of their nations as Nehru.

The National Museum, New Delhi. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

These efforts were complemented by the setting up of the National Museum in New Delhi in 1949, the acquisition of the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad, and by extending support to the Indian Museum, founded in Kolkata by the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1814. The Birla Industrial and Technological Museum, established in 1959 in Kolkata, documented the march of scientific progress. Apart from galleries on nuclear physics, petroleum and electricity, it also boasts of a simulated coal mine into which visitors can descend and enjoy a guided tour.

Half a century later, the wealth of material that lies dispersed in these manifold institutions does not exactly draw in the crowds. If public disinterest is one reason behind their relative obscurity, equally culpable are the institutions themselves. While all of them nominally follow mission statements that mandate them to execute a set of responsibilities, the goals they set themselves, and the way they execute them, remain vague. Of late, the National Museum in the Capital has started curating its permanent collection into shows with compelling themes as well as organizing lectures, walking tours, and talks open to the public.

Somak Ghoshal

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Are you worried about the excessive centralization of state power? Critical of the personality cult surrounding our prime ministers. Believe there should be an opposition within the ruling party because there is no true opposition in Parliament? Look no further, you are in the esteemed company of C. Rajagopalachari aka Rajaji, a one-time-friend-turned-trenchant critic of Nehru.

Before independence and well after it, Nehru and Rajaji got along well. Both were disciples of the Mahatma, shared the common ideal of India’s freedom, and were intellectual equals and personal friends till they turned political rivals.

In 1950, when India ceased to be a British dominion, Nehru wanted Rajaji, who was governor general then, to continue as the president, but his plans were scuttled by Vallabhbhai Patel. Rajaji joined Nehru’s cabinet as minister without portfolio and became home minister after Patel’s death.

C. Rajagopalachari in 1948. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

By 1959, he was criticizing the personality cult surrounding Nehru and formed the liberal Swatantra Party. While Rajaji continued to criticize the government’s economic policies, he did support the prime minister when he wanted to release Sheikh Abdullah in April 1964, a month before Nehru’s death.

Ravi Krishnan

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JRD Tata

J.R.D. Tata and Nehru disagreed on the role of the private sector. Photo: Hindustan Times
J.R.D. Tata and Nehru disagreed on the role of the private sector. Photo: Hindustan Times

Although Nehru and Tata shared a deep bonding and mutual respect for one another, they were driven apart by ideological differences, starting with the government’s nationalization of Air India, an airline Tata had started. When Tata sounded the alarm on population, Nehru disagreed, saying that India’s strength was its people. Tata couldn’t argue his case well; Nehru would simply stare out of the window during a conversation as a polite indicator of disinterest.

Kayezad E. Adajania

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Panels from the Amar Chitra Katha comic, ‘Jawaharlal Nehru: The Early Days’ show how Nehru overcame his fear of public speaking and became a leader of the masses. Photo courtesy: Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd
Panels from the Amar Chitra Katha comic, ‘Jawaharlal Nehru: The Early Days’ show how Nehru overcame his fear of public speaking and became a leader of the masses. Photo courtesy: Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd

The Indian middle class came into its own during the Nehruvian era. The Bengali writer Bankim Chandra Chatterjee had once lampooned the babu of his times as having 10 incarnations like Vishnu: clerk, teacher, Brahmo, accountant, doctor, lawyer, magistrate, landlord, editor and unemployed. Much changed after independence. A truly vibrant middle class only emerged in the first decade after independence, working in the factories, research laboratories, government departments and educational institutions that Nehru nurtured. It is ironical that this same middle class has turned its back on the Nehruvian legacy in recent decades.

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha

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The Bombay economists

Economist B.R. Shenoy. Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Economist B.R. Shenoy. Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

B.R. Shenoy was a student of the great libertarian economist F.A. Hayek. In a celebrated dissent note, Shenoy warned that the second five-year Plan was a recipe for trouble. Its dependence on deficit finance would be unsustainable. Government control over the economy would undermine a young democracy. Shenoy was proved right when India faced an external payments crisis a year after the Plan period began. His prescience did not save him from years in the wilderness, however. Two other economists from Mumbai—C.N. Vakil and P.R. Brahmananda—too warned that building steel plants without bothering about “wage goods" such as food and cloth would soon lead to high inflation.

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha

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The importance of the Ambar Charkha

Gandhian Prabhudas Gandhi spinning on the Ambar Charkha at Kasturbadham near Rajkot, Gujarat

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha

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Sheikh Abdullah and the Kashmir question

Nehru and Abdullah at a public meeting at Lal Chowk, Srinagar, in October 1947. Photo: Hindustan Times
Nehru and Abdullah at a public meeting at Lal Chowk, Srinagar, in October 1947. Photo: Hindustan Times

Soon after independence, Hari Singh found the decision taken out of his hands, because tribal fighters, supported by Pakistan, invaded the state. Hari Singh signed the treaty of accession with India, and the government sent troops while committing to seek the will of the people.

Abdullah established a rapport with Nehru, and was appointed the state’s prime minister—a unique position within the Indian union, in recognition of the state’s status (later the position was called chief minister, as with all other states). Capitalizing on the maharaja’s waning influence, Abdullah quickly filled the leadership void, balancing the interests of the people between two large countries. Abdullah could not afford to antagonize the people, nor could he take Pakistan’s Liaquat Ali Khan or his successors, or Nehru in New Delhi, for granted. But his sense of his own significance got the better of him, and Nehru had him jailed in 1953. He was released years later, in 1964.

Abdullah was touring Pakistan when he heard the news of Nehru’s death that May, and flew back to India. His hold over the valley remained, even though he was removed and jailed again. Many years later, Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi reached out to him again as prime minister, signing a pact to bring him back to politics. The “lion of Kashmir" did return, but he was a shadow of his former self. He died in 1982. His son Farooq and grandson Omar would also get elected chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Omar is currently chief minister of the state.

Salil Tripathi

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The wedding of Indira and Feroze Gandhi on 26 March 1942, at Anand Bhavan, Allahabad. Photo: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Haridas Mundhra was a speculator from Calcutta. Nehru’s son-in-law, Feroze Gandhi, told Parliament in 1957 that Mundhra had got the Life Insurance Corp. of India to invest in six struggling companies he controlled. The money was invested under political pressure, as an enquiry commission headed by M.C. Chagla later concluded. Nehru was shaken when his finance minister T.T. Krishnamachari had to resign because of the Mundhra scandal. Gandhi had earlier helped send businessman Ramkrishna Dalmia to jail for defrauding an insurance company under his control. These were the first two scams to rattle India.

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha

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Teen Murti Bhavan

How could a handsome, erudite man of romantic sensibilities such as Nehru bring himself to read Research In Animal Husbandry? Thousands of similarly titled volumes that line the corridors of Teen Murti Bhavan point to the obligations this book-loving statesman had for the greater common good.

Designed by British architect Robert Tor Russel, who also planned Connaught Place, Nehru’s last home was built for the commander-in-chief of the British Indian Army (circa 1930). The prime minister lived in this mansion till his death in 1964. A few months later, the 30-room mansion was turned into a museum. Stepping into it is like opening a family album.

Black and white portraits of the Nehru-Gandhis adorn the walls. Drawing rooms and bedrooms, separated by glass walls, look so alive that you half-expect Nehru to tap you on the back. You can hear peacocks calling in the sprawling gardens; squirrels scurry through the leaves-strewn grass. The estate is wooded, with some of New Delhi’s largest semal trees. The booklet, The Birds At Teen Murti House, lists 54 species.

At the roundabout outside the mansion stand three famous figures representing the princely states of Hyderabad, Mysore and Jodhpur. Dedicated to the Indian soldiers who died fighting in West Asia during World War I, the three statues—or the teen murtis—give their name to the place. Installed within a landscaped garden, they were made by British sculptor Leonard Jennings.

The only kitschy items in this home to good taste are in the galleries exhibiting the gifts that Nehru received during his foreign jaunts: a metallic olive tree from Lebanon, a replica of Lahore’s Shalimar Gardens from Pakistan, a jewellery box from the erstwhile USSR, and a small magnetic touristy souvenir from France, the kind you would stick on your refrigerator.

One of the exhibits on the museum’s first floor is the sparsely furnished room in which Nehru died; the narrow single bed amplifying the loneliness of his final years.

Mayank Austen Soofi

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Maulana Abul Kalam Azad: the original secularist

Nehru and Azad (extreme right) in May 1951. Photo: Hindustan Times

Although Azad was closest to Nehru among senior Congress leaders, he regretted proposing Nehru’s name for the Congress presidency in 1946, terming it the “greatest blunder of his political life". “My second mistake was that when I decided not to stand myself (for the post of Congress president), I did not support Sardar Patel," wrote Azad in his autobiography, India Wins Freedom. “We differed on many issues but I am convinced that if he (Patel) had succeeded me as Congress President he would have seen that the Cabinet Mission Plan was successfully implemented."

Pramit Bhattacharya

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Verrier Elwin influenced Nehru’s policies for India’s tribes. Photo courtesy: Verrier Elwin Blogspot.in
Verrier Elwin influenced Nehru’s policies for India’s tribes. Photo courtesy: Verrier Elwin Blogspot.in
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