Did Nehru promote a dynasty?

Myth 1: Nehru promoted a `dynasty’

This myth draws support from the fact that Nehru’s daughter and grandson also served as Prime Minister, that his grand daughter-in-law has sought that post too, and, most recently, that her son, Nehru’s great-grandson, has joined politics as the heir-apparent of the Congress party.

In truth, Nehru had nothing to do with the “dynasty”. He had no idea, nor desire, that his daughter would become Prime Minister of India. It was Mrs. Indira Gandhi who converted the Indian National Congress into a family business. She first brought in her son Sanjay and, after his death, his brother Rajiv.

In each case, it was made clear that the son would succeed Mrs. Gandhi as head of Congress and head of Government. Thus, the “Nehru-Gandhi dynasty” should properly be known as the “(Indira) Gandhi'” dynasty. [Five myths about Nehru]

In their book Six Thousand Days, Amiya Rao and B.G. Rao refute this fairy tale.  As Nehru became the supreme leader of the country and the party becoming a rubber stamp to his whimsical ideas, there were questions as to who his successor would be.  The clues lay in Nehru’s actions.

Indira Gandhi went with him to all political and administrative functions and got introduced to all the state leaders of the Congress party. She addressed election meetings, presided over Congress women’s committees, was the hostess  when Nehru entertained visitors and he took her with him when he traveled abroad.  With her pedigree, she was able to waltz into the Congress President U.N.Dhebar’s Working Committee without holding any junior position.  On June 18, 1957, after checking with Maulana Kalam Azad and Rajendra Prasad,  Durga Das wrote the following line in his weekly column in The Hindustan Times, “if he (Nehru) is consciously trying to build anyone as his successor, he is building up his daughter.”

Nehru’s colleagues have acknowledged another thing as well. If he wanted to get something done and was uncomfortable doing it, he would get others to do it. The Congressmen were only too willing to oblige. Six months after she was nominated to the Working Committee, Nehru resigned from the powerful Central Parliamentary Board and Dhebar on cue, nominated Indira Gandhi. This was the committee which picked the candidates for elections and decided on the political fate of thousands of Congressmen and women. In 1959, while the father was Prime Minister, the daughter became the president of the party. Nehru expressed “surprise” and spun it as the desire for a section of Congressmen to see young leadership.

Following this Indira was everywhere:  on the executive board of UNESCO, traveling East Africa on Nehru’s behalf, as special messenger to President Johnson, as chairman of National Integration Committee and even on the National Defence Committee, which did not have place for Gen. Cariappa. It was obvious that the daughter was being groomed to occupy the Prime Minister’s chair. A 1961 report from Palam airport observed Cabinet ministers, fixers, chelas and about two hundred odd people walking behind her as she skipped the customs shed and walked directly to the aircraft.

According to the Raos, Nehru had molded the party to accept Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister. He skillfully removed all the strong contenders to the post like Jagjivan Ram and Morarji Desai by making statements that Congress does not encourage people getting addicted to power. He kept people like Gulzarilal Nanda, who would not be a strong contender, but would be a stop gap arrangement. All of Nehru’s actions indicated that he was promoting the dynasty, but it is strange that modern historians have no recollection of all these events.


  1. Adapted from Rao, Amiya Rao, B. G. Six thousand days : Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister, Sterling Publishers, 1974.

Nehru: Planning for Poverty

Teen Murti Bhavan, Nehru's residence as Prime Minister

As Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru spent the last 13 years of his life as the Chairman of the Planning Commission,  an area he was passionate about. He had great dreams for India: increase the living standards of people, provide them with new opportunities, drive rapid industrialization, expand  employment opportunities, reduce income and wealth inequalities, distribute economic power, and achieve self-sufficiency in food grains. These were noble goals with which no one could disagree and if these goals were achieved in the planned time frame, India would have been a different place. What happened was something else and the reasons for the failure of the planning makes for depressing reading.

The Commission

Since the Prime Minister himself was the head of the Commission it served as an alternate power center. People who could not get a cabinet position, people who lost elections, or those who were in transition found their way into the Commission. Some of them never quit. Also for the Prime Minister, this provided yet another opportunity to reward people since not much expertise was required to be a member. Their actions were not scrutinized nor their qualifications questioned. The organization eventually turned out to be a monster, with a budget of a 1 crore in 1964 with almost all the cabinet functions duplicated.

Among the sweeping goals that had been set, no one knew which ones had priority. Even those which they set out to do were done without checking (1) if the project was needed and (2) if a proper technical study was done before green lighting. If such commonsense checks were done, the country would have saved money. For example, after 11 crore was spent on a petrochemical plant, it was discovered that  basic raw materials were not available.  Another plant was started to make optical glass and later it was found that the country wanted ophthalmic glass; an additional crore was spent to install new machinery.

Even on projects which passed the checks, no attention was spent on running the plan efficiently. Since it was public wealth, money was spent as if there was no tomorrow. The Rourkela Steel Mill took three years more to complete and the initial cost estimate doubled. The story was the same with fertilizer plants and hence fertilizers had to be imported. This in turn affected food grain production and so food grains too had to be imported. Systemic failures were occurring all over the country, but no one wanted to analyze the failures. Instead they ignored them and buried their heads wishing that the problems would — poof — disappear.

Of Agriculture and Fertilizers

The concept of planning was imported from Soviet Union, but during the import process, the details were left out. In countries where proper planning is done, every basic unit that is involved — factory, workshop — keeps track of the progress and coordinates with other cells to remove bottlenecks. The Soviets also kept track of time and their work charts measured progress. In the pyramidal system of Indian planning, progress was measured by the amount of money spent. Sometimes political influence derailed the planning and even the Parliament did not know about such things. One of the optical plants was switched from Naini to West Bengal simply based on a telephone call from the Chief Minister of Bengal regarding a bye-election.

For an organization which was set up to plan things properly, it functioned in exactly the opposite way. Nehru, for instance, did not pay much attention to agriculture and somehow the available food grain was distributed around. When it came to the Second Plan, it was decided that food production had to be boosted and a target had to be set. Nehru said that since the the Chinese had proposed to increase production at 7.9 per cent per annum, India would be able to increase it by 40 per cent. No studies were done by the Food and Agriculture ministry. No notes were distributed in the commission. The decision came from the top of the pyramid and the minions knew what they had to do.

Due to mismanagement even 19 years after the end of World War, India was rationing food.  While Nehru promised self-sufficiency year after year, the per capita consumption of food grains fell short of the prescribed level and it was the poor who suffered more. Meanwhile, the population was increasing and Nehru did not see much cause for alarm. The Americans were willing to help, but they required India to buy agricultural commodities and pay the freight in USD. The sad part was only the public sector could manufacture fertilizers and they could not deliver. Rather than open the sector to private enterprises, the government decided to import it from abroad.

What was shocking was the ignorance of these esteemed members of Indian history or polity. People in Jhusi had been cultivating rice since the 6th millennium BCE without imported fertilizers and suddenly why was there a need for something without which we had done so well. But that did not matter to Nehru and his planners who were obsessed with foreign technology. The people who were part of the swadeshi movement, once they got power, started importing goods like raw cotton, yarn, and pulp. Steel replaced wood and bamboo, naphtha replaced coal for fertilizer manufacture and petrol replaced coal for power generation. Gandhi wanted an India which would rely on its strengths than on foreign goods, but with each passing year India became indebted to other countries.  Finally Nehru realized his mistake and opened up fertilizers to the private sector.

In Debt

It was not all downhill; there was growth in  national income, in agricultural production, and industrial production. While Nehru gave speeches arguing that the less privileged should get the benefits, nothing of that sort happened. Instead the focus was more on stuff which they could never get their hands on. The planning did nothing to realize Nehru’s dream of income disparity. As Ram Manohar Lohia said, while crores of people lived on 3 annas a day, Nehru’s dog lived on 3 rupees a day.

Another plan the administration came up to remove income disparity was direct taxation through wealth tax, gift tax and expenditure tax, but there was no efficient way of collecting taxes. Tax evasion was quite high; even ministers like Jagjivan Ram did not file income tax for years. Nehru had promised to hang black marketers and anti-socials, but that too did not happen. He complained about ministers and officials living in big houses while he himself lived in a mansion.

As the plans failed to deliver as expected and the foreign dependencies started increasing, Nehru was clear about one thing:  India would not ask for foreign aid because the loan sharks would definitely set their terms which would not be in India’s interest. But as the size of the five years plans increased, the foreign reserves started dwindling and austerity measures had to be implemented. Anything that involved foreign exchange had to be stopped, both in the public and private sector. Delegations which went abroad were controlled and student travel abroad was restricted.

Even such rules could not be effectively implemented. The Second Plan was cut down and the Reserve Bank Act had to be amended to raise the notional value of its gold reserve by 300 percent. Finally, Nehru changed his attitude towards foreign aid and decided to borrow extensively. With each plan, the foreign aid component increased and by the time he died the country was 2000 crore in debt.

Nehru, as always, put the blame on others. It did not matter if he chose the wrong people, followed wrong policies and had the wrong prior
ities. According to him the planning was fine, it was the implementation that was lacking. He complained as if the man who ran the government was someone else.


  1. Adapted from Rao, Amiya Rao, B. G. Six Thousand Days : Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister. Sterling Publishers, 1974.

Nehru: The Vacillating Socialist

When Jawaharlal Nehru became the Prime Minister of India, it was expected that India would have  a socialist government. This was not a false expectation because over the past two decades he had shown his inclination through the speeches he gave, the literature he read and the friends he kept. In 1929, two years after this three day visit to Moscow, Jawaharlal Nehru told Congress workers that India has to be a socialist nation to end poverty and inequality. During that period, socialism was not in the official party line, but he called himself a socialist. Mahatma Gandhi understood his passion and once explained that Nehru wanted socialism by any means, even without non-violence.
But once he took office, this passion for socialism disappeared and reappeared only seven years before his death. As a man who always got things done his way, he could have got the country to adopt this idea as well, but he stayed away from it even when opportunity presented. One such occasion was during the refugee crisis following partition, but even then he did not voice anything about socialism or a classless society.   In 1948 a private member of the Constituent Assembly introduced legislation demanding a socialist economic pattern, nationalization of key industries, and collective farming.  Nehru dismissed this demand as “vague” and wondered how any government could accept such a resolution.
What was going on? Why did the self-professed socialist backpedal when he got an opportunity to implement his ideas? In some cases, it was seen that he even opposed making socialism official. Did he realize that socialism went against millennia old Indian polity and hence stayed away from it or was it pure politics which caused him to press pause and then resume when the situation demanded?
Party Politics
One reason for Nehru going slow on socialism maybe due to the fact that the party machinery was controlled by Sardar Patel, who was known as a capitalists’ man. A socialism versus capitalism fight during that period would not have done any good for the party. Then Patel died in 1950 and Nehru was able to get Patel’s nominees out of the leadership paving way for absolute control. He could have inflicted any “ism” on the country, but even while the first Five-Year-Plan was being developed, there was no reference to socialism in the documents.
A turning point came after the first general elections. The Congress won an overwhelming majority both to the Parliament and in the State legislatures, but the Socialists and the Kisan Mazdoor Party polled in double digits as well. This was a cause of concern to Nehru and he tried to get Socialists to his side by negotiating with Jayaprakash Narayan. Once again the demands of Jayaprakash Narayan — redistribution of land, nationalization of banks and insurance, state ownership of selected industries — sounded like Nehru’s dream, but he walked away from it stating that the time was not right. The Socialists were not surprised because it was on Nehru’s advice that the group was formed within the Congress and once it was formed, Nehru refused to join it. Also, when Gandhi wanted a socialist leader to be the President of Congress in 1947, Nehru joined forces with Patel and opposed it. What was more strange was this: the Constitution and Economic Programme Committee of the party, under Nehru’s chairmanship recommended a socialist economic programme, but as Prime Minister he rejected the report.
He provided various explanations for this behavior; in one speech he said that he was not interested in any “ism” and was focused on achieving a casteless and classless society. In another speech he said he aimed for a society not guided by greed, but one in which there is distribution of economic power. What people wanted, he argued, was food, clothing and shelter and they were not concerned about the social and economic policies.
The Socialist Vision
In 1954 Nehru visited China and North Vietnam and saw how both countries were using a new social system to build their nations. He saw the response of the hungry masses to socialism and thought that it would be a trump card against both Socialists and Communists. On his return, without consulting the Cabinet or Planning Commission or Congress Working Committee, he started touting socialism. In speech after speech, he talked about the utopia that socialism would bring and this policy was adopted in the next annual session of the Congress party without much difficulty. This was a brilliant move for it seeded confusion among the socialists and leftists and brought everyone else into Nehru’s big tent.
Once socialism and the goals of casteless and classless society were proclaimed, candidates for the next election were selected based on caste, class and religion. In places where feudal loyalties played an important part, feudal candidates were selected. In some places black-marketers or drunkards were selected and Nehru justified it saying that the selection was due to the pressure from the ‘rightist’ elements.
After all this, he started behaving erratically; the Second Five Year plan was released later and it had no trace of socialism in it.  After spending energy explaining socialism and socialist pattern was few years earlier, he started backpedaling once again. He refused to define what he wanted and vaguely mentioned equality and removal of disparities. He asked party workers to go around the country explaining the party agenda and when some of them asked details on his vision of socialism, he simply refused. All this did not prevent the party from adopting a resolution which demanded the creation of a socialistic society in the Nagpur session in 1959. At this point no one seemed to care what it meant  and no one wanted to know.
At the end, the socialist agenda of Nehru was vague. It could only be explained using the words “Neti, Neti” for it was not about nationalization or doctrine or confiscation of private property.  For a man who was passionate about the idea, it later became an empty slogan which could be used for political needs. By being vague about it, he could bring it up when needed and discard it once the juice was extracted. Fed up with this drama Subash Bose bluntly asked how a person as individualist as Nehru could be a socialist. Finally thanks to Nehru’s vague socialism, many congressmen who were paupers before 1947 became millionaires.

  1. Adapted from Rao, Amiya Rao, B. G. Six thousand days : Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister, Sterling Publishers, 1974.