Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru makes an impassioned speech for nuclear disarmament in New Delhi.
Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first prime minister, was born in Allahabad, India, in 1889. He was educated in England and in 1912 returned to India to become a lawyer. After the 1919 massacre at Amritsar, in which 379 unarmed protesters were gunned down by British troops, he decided to devote himself to the struggle for Indian independence. He became closely associated with the Indian National Congress Party and developed a friendship with independence movement leader Mohandas Gandhi, who was 20 years his senior. In 1921, British authorities imprisoned Nehru for his political activities for the first time. During the next 24 years, he was to serve another eight prison terms for his civil disobedience, which added up to a total of more than nine years behind bars.
In 1929, Gandhi helped Nehru become leader of the Indian National Congress, and Nehru soon emerged as Gandhi’s political heir. In 1942, Gandhi and Nehru launched the Quit India campaign, declaring that India would offer no war-time aid to Britain unless Indian independence was immediately granted. Britain responded by jailing them and other Indian leaders from 1942 until after Germany’s defeat in 1945. After the war, Nehru participated in the talks that led to the division of the Indian subcontinent into the independent states of India and Pakistan.
In 1947, Nehru became independent India’s first prime minister. Subsequently reelected three times, he was an enormously popular leader. He skillfully led India through the difficult early years of independence, which saw bloody fighting between Hindus and Muslims. In foreign affairs, he advocated nonalignment for India in the divided Cold War world and sought diplomatic and nonviolent solutions in his conflicts with other nations. On November 27, 1957, he appealed to the United States and the USSR to end nuclear tests and begin disarmament, which, he said, would “save humanity from the ultimate disaster.” Nehru’s 17 years in office ended with his death in 1964.