Pandit Country

Modern India was forged by one man: Jawaharlal Nehru. The irony, of course, is that Nehru was forged by the very British system he sought to eclipse. Now, 55 years after his death, Pandit’s legacy still looms large over the world’s most populous democracy.

The royal tour to India in 1961: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, are pictured with Nehru (left) and Krishna Menon (right) at the beating the retreat ceremony. (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

In the summer of 1945, the crème de la crème of Indian politics gathered in the small city of Simla, in the hills of northern India. For almost 100 years, Simla had been the summer capital of British India, where annually the entire machine of government decamped from sweltering Calcutta and later Delhi to the cool and picturesque hill station. In 1945, that period of India’s history was coming to an end as Britain prepared to grant its imperial jewel independence, and Simla was where it would be hammered out.

Delegates arrived from across the country, many in carriages or rickshaws pulled by men up the steep drive to the Scottish baronial style Viceregal Lodge, the summer home of the Viceroy of India. But one arrival drew everyone’s attention. Riding a piebald horse and wearing his trademark achkan and cap was Jawaharlal ‘Pandit’ Nehru, president of the Indian National Congress that had fought for decades to secure the colony’s independence. The entrance stopped the press and other attendees in their tracks, and was typical of the man who would become his country’s first prime minister, serving in the role from 1947 to 1964. His Congress Party ran India almost uninterrupted from independence until 2014.

Born in 1889 to a wealthy family in central India, Nehru led a gilded existence in British India. His father sent him to Harrow, which he followed with a natural science degree at Cambridge and law studies at Inner Temple. He was called to the bar in 1912 and returned to India. The Nehru family hoped their son would prosper as a lawyer in their home city of Allahabad, but he had been an Indian nationalist since childhood, and, as an adult, it took up almost all his time. In 1916 he married Kamala Kaul, a fellow freedom fighter, but even she was often overlooked during the struggle for independence. The pair had two children, a son and a daughter, Indira, but their son lived only for a week.

Contributor

Ned Donovan

Published

September 2021

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