Today, 14 November, is celebrated as Children’s Day in India, in loving memory of the first Prime Minister of Free India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Fondly called Chacha Nehru or simply Chachaji due to his great affection for children, he spent a good deal of his time as PM setting up various educational programs and some of India’s most premier institutions, so that these same children could acquire a great education and thus have the tools to succeed in an India that was just starting to recover from the ravishes of its colonial past.
Before he became known as Chacha Nehru, before he became the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, and even before he led the Congress through the tumultuous years of World War II, he was known as the leader of the left-wing movement of the Congress party and as Mahatma Gandhi’s natural ideological successor. It was with the approval of the Mahatma, that his ideas of a secular nation were fully validated when the Congress swept the provincial polls of 1937 and formed governments across the country. But, as WWII started and raged on, the calls for complete independence would heighten, and soon the British would attempt to crush the Indian National Congress as a political organization and put all its leaders in jail..
Jawaharlal Nehru - Early Years:
Jawaharlal Nehru was born into politics. His father, Motilal Nehru, had been a vocal Congress leader and had instilled in him a deep commitment to the cause of Indian Freedom. It was therefore not a surprise that after his return from the UK, his occupation as a barrister was the last thing on his mind. It was during this period that he eventually came to believe in Mahatma Gandhi and dedicated himself to nonviolence and Satyagraha.
His first big involvement was at the onset of the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1920. He was subsequently arrested on charges of anti-governmental activities and released months later. He would be arrested again several times during the course of the independence movement. .
He was elected as President of the Indian Nation Congress for the first time at the age of 40, at the 1929 Lahore Session; here he declared the goal of complete freedom or ‘Purna Swaraj,’ a monumental milestone in the Indian Freedom Struggle. The Civil Disobedience movement was formally launched after the Lahore Congress, and Nehru plunged himself into the non-violent protests and picketing that was happening across the nation.
WW2 And The Final Years Of The Independence Struggle
As 1935 approached, The Government of India Act was passed in the UK that called for nationwide elections in India. Nehru campaigned vigorously for the Congress, although he himself did not contest directly in the elections. He also became the Congress President in the consecutive years of 1936 and 1937. During WW2, Nehru's skills in international relations were tested once more. In the meantime, the Second Round Table Conference failed and Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement in 1942. Nehru was arrested for participating in the movement and was released only in 1945.
His Lasting Legacy
Although his fight for Indian freedom had been successful, Nehru knew his work had only just begun. His contributions to India post-independence are even more numerous as he had to rebuild India, heal it from centuries of British Colonialism and the more recent ravages of famine and World War II, and guide this nascent and ever hopeful democracy, towards greatness.