India After Independence: The Nehru Administration (1947-1964)

The day a billion beating hearts were eagerly waiting for.

Finally, India had got its independence.

On one hand, there was a palpable excitement for the dawn of a free India. On the other hand, the country was bleeding because of the partition. The first responsibility of the government of independent India was to solve the migrant crisis. Lakhs of Sindhis, Punjabis, and Bengalis lost their livelihoods and it was the government’s responsibility to give them new homes. The atrocities committed during the partition were terrifying; trains often returned full of dead bodies, people were robbed and women were raped. It will always be remembered as a dark period of our history. India set up numerous camps for partition affected people. It took many years to solve their problems and even today, the memories create trauma.

A power struggle between Pakistan and India had started even prior to the independence itself, with each country wanting the princely states to join their nation. The first Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, also known as the Iron Man of India, took on the mammoth task of persuading the princely states to join India. However, three major cases where the government faced significant difficulties were the princely states of Hyderabad, Kashmir, and Junagadh.

Integration of Princely States

In the case of Junagadh, the Nawab Muhammad Mahabat Khan III, who formerly wanted to join India, was convinced by his Dewan, Shah Nawaz Bhutto, who was a close relative of Pakistan’s founder. Since Jinnah’s home town came under Junagadh, he personally encouraged the Nawab to join Pakistan. However, the people of Junagadh wanted a merger with India and so they approached the Indian government to pressurize the Nawab. The Nawab fled to Pakistan in fear of his life and signed the Instrument of Accession with Pakistan. The Indian Government declared that they would hold a referendum in Junagadh and let the people decide. However, the Dewan who was controlling the state after the fleeing of the Nawab didn’t agree to this. Finally, the Indian Army seized Junagadh from all sides and they pressured the administration to hold a plebiscite, which resulted in an overwhelming majority of people wanting to join India, for which reason the Dewan invited the Indian Government to take over Junagadh’s affairs.

A similar incident occurred with Hyderabad. Qasim Rizvi, a henchman in the court of the Nizam, provoked him to either remain independent or join Pakistan. He was also the leader of  the Muslim extremist group Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (MIM) which at that time led to the foundation of his personal militia called The Razakaars. The Indian government had signed a Standstill Agreement with the Nizam to maintain the status quo and would control the foreign affairs of Hyderabad State along with removing the Indian troops from the State. After persuasions by the Razakaars, the Nizam scraped the agreement and illegally held talks with Pakistan, Portugal, and other European powers and also helped to grow the Razakaars to appease the Muslim aristocracy there. Sardar Patel thought that this was going out of control and urged Nehru, who still believed in diplomacy, to take military action against the Nizam and Rizvi. Subsequently, the Indian Army launched Operation Polo which lasted from 13 September till 18 September 1948 and crushed the forces of the Razakaars and subdued the Nizam to sign the Instrument of Accession with India. Rizvi was first jailed but later allowed to seek asylum in Pakistan.

However, throughout the entire modern history, no issue remains as unsolved as Kashmir, the story of which goes from 1947 till present day and is the main reason behind the enmity between India and Pakistan-China. As both countries got independence, the Kashmir State, then ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh, wanted to remain independent and not join either of the two nations. Considering the Muslim population having a majority in Kashmir, Pakistan assumed that Kashmir rightfully belonged to them and pressurized the Maharaja to give up the State to Pakistan. However, the Maharaja didn’t budge to Jinnah’s motive and decided to concentrate on internal affairs. Seeing what Sardar Patel could do to annex other states, Pakistan supported some Pashtun Tribesmen with weapons and training, allowing them to attack Kashmir and defeat the Maharaja’s forces by influencing young Muslim men in the Maharaja’s own forces. This raised a mutiny, leading to the capture of Gilgit, Baltistan, Muzaffarabad, Trans Karakoram range, and others. Taken up by surprise, the Maharaja immediately rushed to ask for Indian military help. Lord Mountbatten, the Governor-General of India at that time suggested the Indian Government to ask the Maharaja to sign the Instrument of Accession, before the Indian troops entered Kashmir. Considering the emergency of the situation, Hari Singh signed the Instrument on 26 Oct 1947. As soon as it was signed, India deployed its troops and was able to push back the gunmen and take significant parts of the captured territory.

The Indo-Pakistan War of 1947

Things changed when Pakistan openly launched a war with India which is now known as the Indo-Pak War of 1947-48. It led to casualties on both sides resulting in the United Nations imposing a cease-fire and a Line of Control was formed during the Shimla Agreement. Allegedly Nehru took the matter in its infancy to the UN causing many critics of Nehru to say that India lost a major chance of solving the crisis and gaining an upper hand in the region.

India agreed to comply with the UN resolutions after the war which demanded Pakistan to remove their forces along with their supporters, and India would keep only the sufficient forces to enforce law and order in the state. This resolution also implied a plebiscite would be taken after the first two clauses were met. The result of this plebiscite would have decided the sovereignty of the state. However, Pakistan didn’t comply with the resolutions and till date logistically and technically supports separatist militants and Islamic extremists in Kashmir even though Pakistan denies these claims.

Gandhi’s Assassination

When talks of the partition materialised, many people were angry with Mahatma Gandhi’s stance on the issue. Gandhiji held a Satyagraha against stalling of the discussed asset transfer from India to Pakistan after the partition because of the recent war with that nation. His frequent satyagrahas against rioters enraged many and culminated in Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse in 1948. Godse was hanged while the others found guilty were given a life sentence. The government also banned RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha) and other nationalist organizations, many activists were jailed after the event on the suspicion of their involvement in the plot. This ban was lifted shortly afterward on the recommendations of Sardar Patel. Many critics of Nehru allege that he used this incident as a political weapon and suppress emerging nationalists which could’ve been his opponents later.

Setting up of Constituent Assembly

After the riots following the partition took place, Lord Mountbatten, who was the last British Governor-General of India, decided to scrap the proposed Cabinet Mission Plan, which was boycotted by the Muslim League. For this reason, Mountbatten put forward the Indian Independence Act of 1947, with the main point being the Partition of India. On the day of Independence, the country was divided into India and Pakistan.

A Drafting Committee for the Constitution of India was appointed, consisting of 6 members, headed by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, who is known as ‘The Architect of the Indian Constitution’. Dr Ambedkar, who despite of facing many injustices being from a lower caste, had risen above these challenges by exhibiting exemplary talent in learning, having multiple doctorates, being an economist, and a barrister, despite being from downtrodden sections of the society.

Examining the Constituent Assembly Debates on Cow Protection

On the 31st of December, 1947, the Indian Constituent Assembly met to start their work on the Indian Constitution, with the 299 members which were from both, political parties as well as princely states, representing all regions, religions and castes. Due to this vast representation, the Indian Constitution took into account for the various laws present within the diverse Indian culture, as well as taking inspiration from the constitutions of the UK, the US, France, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and a few others, trying to make a document to be just and fair. Indian Constitution became the largest written constitution of a nation, and laid down the fundamental political code, structure, procedures, powers, and duties of government institutions and set out fundamental rights, directive principles, and the duties of citizens.

The Constitution was adopted on 26th November 1949 but was enforced on 26th January 1950 in remembrance of the 1929 Lahore Session of the Congress which under the leadership of Nehru, demanded Purna Swaraj (Complete independence). This day is celebrated as Republic Day in India.

The constitution upholds constitutional supremacy and declares in the preamble that India is a sovereign, democratic republic, assuring its citizen’s justice, equality and liberty, and endeavours to promote fraternity. The original 1950 constitution is preserved in a helium-filled case at the Parliament House in New Delhi.

Reorganisation of States

The reorganization of the states was an important development during the first decade of India’s Independence. The objective of this act was the redistribution of states according to the linguistic majorities. Hence the States Reorganisation Act was commissioned in 1956 and was an important step in dividing India into various states and union territories which gave rise to states like Odisha, Bihar and Assam from Bengal province, Maharashtra and Gujarat from Bombay Province, Andhra from Madras province, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana from PEPSU province, etc. in the same decade.

Even after many years of Independence of India, Portugal still held a couple of regions of the Indian Subcontinent, the districts of Goa, Diu, Daman, and Dadra Nagar Haveli, also known as the Estado da Índia. The resistance to the Portuguese rule was pioneered by Dr. T.B Cunha. The Indian army carried out strikes on all fronts. The army, navy, and the air-force all carried out strikes. Eventually, the Portuguese had to surrender the districts of Goa, Diu, and Daman. These were added as Union Territories to the Republic of India.

The Panchsheel

After independence, India decided to maintain good relations with neighbouring countries. In this view, Nehru even declined the offer by the USA to lobby for a permanent seat of India in the UNSC, a seat that previously belonged to the Republic of China (Taiwan). This offer was allegedly made by the United States to test Indian inclination on Chinese matters and to even increase enmity between India and China in addition to an increasing rift between India’s ally the Soviet Union.

In 1954, Asia’s two biggest powers even came together with the slogan “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” and the five principles of peaceful coexistence also called the Panchsheel, were put forth. The two sides emphasized that the Five Principles, which were mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence, which were jointly initiated by India and China.

The Sino-Indian war of 1962

India was very confident that a war would not take place which is why India placed only two platoons on the border. The CIA even suggests that if there was someone instead of Nehru in command of the situation, India would’ve gained an upper hand in possible warfare. The Chinese military, who believed that India was preparing for a full-blown attack, had started strengthening their position.

Some border disputes occurred at the Tibetan border as well as in the North-East Frontier Agency now known as Arunachal Pradesh and China started attacks on both fronts. A force of 123 men met with the force of 6000 Chinese troops with artillery support. At one point, the Indian army finished all of its ammunition and continued the fight with their bare hands. The Indians fought till their last breath and eventually, the Chinese called off this bloodshed. There were 114 casualties on the Indian side and over 1300 on the Chinese.

After capturing the Aksai Chin region as well as some parts of Arunachal Pradesh, China declared a unilateral ceasefire. This marked the end of the war. This increased the pressure on Nehru as he failed to anticipate the Chinese aggression. According to the CIA, China didn’t have much resistance to air-borne attacks at that time, meaning that India lost a big opportunity to launch airstrikes against Chinese aggression. The then Indian President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan called Nehru’s preparations negligent and naïve to which Nehru admitted his failings.

About the Statesman

Nehru himself, too, regarded the Sino-Indian war as the betrayal of his trust, which caused a steady decline in Nehru’s health. He passed away on 27th May 1964. The cause of death was believed to be a heart attack. Nehru was the first elected Prime Minister of India, as he was the leader of the majority party, the Indian National Congress, at that time. Politics ran in his family with both his father, Motilal Nehru, and his daughter, Indira Gandhi being major figures in India’s history, the latter of whom we will be covering in the upcoming articles, while he himself was a major force in our Independence. He made the modernization as the nation’s philosophy after its independence, following the goals of national unity, parliamentary democracy, industrialization, socialism, development of the scientific temper, and non-alignment, and improving in many sectors in this philosophy but leading to failure in others due to the moral high ground not being the best suited in politics.

His many policies included the mixed economy of having a State-controlled public sector as well as a private sector to improve industrialization and therefore the modernization of the country, which proved to be a major success at the time. Such changes also went towards agriculture where the establishment of large landholdings took place which had mixed results. Nehru’s efforts in the education sector paid off the most where education in science and agriculture took center stage, leading to the creation of the top government colleges we see today. In the social sector, he put forward acts to remove caste discrimination in marriage and gave women more rights but many of these didn’t apply Muslims, which is heavily criticized even to this day. The enforcement of reservations happened during his tenure, and heavily promoted his ideology of India being both socialist and secular.

During the cold war, he came up with a Non-Alignment policy in order to protect the sovereignty and the diplomacy of newly independent and generally third world countries from the influential might of the Superpowers at that time. He along with Gamal Nasser of Egypt, Mr. Tito of Yugoslavia, and some eminent African statesmen co-founded the Organisation of Non-Aligned Countries. The countries supporting the non-alignment movement won’t take sides between the two superpowers. This stand of Nehru was acknowledged and appreciated worldwide and also made him a noted figure in international politics.

Nehru’s loss was a big loss to India and her political climate. Much was going to change in the later years. Meanwhile, after his death, the Congress Party was forced to search for new leadership, which can take his place. They found a man who was the personification of humility and honesty and carried with pride with an adherence to Gandhian principles. He was none other than Lal Bahadur Shastri…

-Anurag, Mihir and Shlok


M. Lakshmikanth, Indian Polity for Civil Services Examinations, 3rd ed., (New Delhi: Tata McGraw Hill Education Private Limited, 2011), p. 2.3 )

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1 Comment

  1. Chandrashekhar Ranade

    Good article with adequate study.

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