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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 48 New Delhi, November 21, 2015

Jawaharlal Nehru and Socialism

Saturday 21 November 2015, by Narain Dutt

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had been the Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964. He made an important contribution to the building of modern India during his prime ministership. In 1956 Nehru was considered the most arresting figure in the world political stage since the end of the Churchill, Stalin and Rosevelt era.1 Although he played an important role in the independence struggle, yet his contributions are related to solving many deep-rooted issues, political challenges and socio-economic problems which India confronted during the years after independence. Anti-national destructive forces were bent upon dividing the country after inde-pendence but Nehru helped ensure the political stability of India by enhancing the process of national and State integration.2

Nehru gave importance to the democratic process and its values in the country and to enhancing the process of economic development. He also gave rise to systematised planning and mixed economy that was based on democratic socialism. Therefore, he favoured the use of democratic methods for the establishment of a socialistic society in India. He was confident enough that gradually people will be able to capture power in India due to the logic of universal adult franchise. This, in turn, will culminate in the realisation of the goal of a socialist society. Being a believer in democratic socialism, he was opposed to the use of force for this purpose.3

Nehru’s socialism involves three dimensions: Gandhian ethics, Marxian economics and democratic politics.4 He believed that if socialism is devoid of democratic values and means then the development of the human personality and the building up of a society cannot be in the right direction. Therefore, he mixed democratic values of the capitalist society with the socialist philosophy which was known as ‘democratic socialism’. According to Nehru, “A society based on the principles of democratic socialism, establishment of such a means by which will eradicate the exploitation of one class by another so that the living standard of the people in society may rise and in which the people have the right to self-expression”. He aimed at changing the backward Indian economy to a modern, developed and technical economy.5

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru did not give a specific definition of socialism. He said: “I am afraid, I have no definition to give. Definitions tend to become dogmas and slogans which prevent clear thinking in terms of a rapidly changing world.”6 He stressed the aim of socialism was human welfare and development, affording maximum opportunities to individuals to enable them to attain the stature for which they are best fitted.7 He wished the citizens to be socially conscious, economically well-off and politically active. He also wanted India to be self-sufficient, strong and united.8 Hence he advocated: “The only key solution of the world’s problems and of India’s problems is socialism.“9

Nehru has written: “I openly declare that I am socialist and democratic. I do not believe in feudalism I have no faith in kings and Princes.10 I do not accept such economy also which may become puppet in the hands of industrialists playing with the destiny of society like the ancient kings by becoming the national builders and policy-makers. We will have to change the structure of the society slowly and gradually by accepting the socialistic viewpoint. We will have to think deeply before moving towards social transformation. India must aim at achieving the goal of socialism, it will also move forward on the path of progress like developed countries. If we aim at eradicating the poverty and establish equality in our country, we will have to adopt that path but the way of moving towards the goal should be in accordance with conditions on our nation.”11

No doubt, Nehru was democratic and socialistic. He contributed a strong base of public sector to the economy of the country. He also provided government patronage to large scale industries and adopted a systematic method of development like the former USSR.

Nehru favoured public sector industries and he wanted them to play a vital role in making a modern and strong India to enable it to face the challenges of the modern era. Nehru also favoured the policies that would help the weaker and deprived sections of our society. The present social welfare policies which our government has adopted are based on the social policies adopted and favoured during the Nehru era. The latest focus on the concept of aam aadmi and other central themes like Right to Work in the form of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and National Rural Livelihood Mission, Right to Education, Right to Shelter, Right to Health and Right to Food and several others have their origin in Nehru’s rhetoric of socialism.12 It is pertinent here to note that the Indian Space Research Organisation has successfully launched the Mars Mission on September 24, 2014. A nuclear agreement was also arrived at between India and the USA in 2008 which recognised India as a state having nuclear technology.13

After making an incisive and close study of the above factors, we can safely conclude that Nehru’s notion of socialism still has a relevance in the contemporary scenario but there is a need for modification and reinterpretation in the light of the changed domestic and inter-national scenarios that have come to the surface after the adoption of the New Economic Policy by India on the one side and the emergence of the hegemony of the USA after the downfall of the USSR and collapse of the Communist regimes on the other.14


1. Parveen Davar, TheGreatest Statesman: The Supreme Saviour, Vol. No. 69/11 & 12, Delhi, November-December, 2014, page 2.

2. Jawaharlal Nehru, An Autobiography, Allied Publishers, Bombay, 1962, pp. 362, 363.

3. Sarvepalli Gopal, ed., Jawaharlal Nehru: An Anthology, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1980, p. 306.

4. R.K. Karanjia, The Mind of Nehru, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1966, p. 37.

5. Neelam Mishra, The Socialist Orientation of Jawaharlal Nehru, Gian Publishing House, Delhi, 1989, P. 1.

6. R.K. Karanjia, op. cit, p. 37.

7. Jawaharlal Nehru’s Speeches, Vol. 111, Publications Division, Delhi, 1958, p. 52.

8. Frank Moraes, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1956, p. 439.

9. K.P. Karunakaran, The Phenomenon of Nehru, Geetanjali Parkashan, New Delhi, 1979, p. 133.

10. S. Gopal and Uma Iyengar, eds., The Essential Writings of Jawaharlala Nehru,Vol. 1, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003, p. 227.

11. Jawaharlal Nehru, op. cit, p. 363.

12. Ranbir Singh, Nehru’sSocialism—Rhetoric, Reality and Relevance.

13. Excerpts From the speech by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture on Jawaharlal Nehru and the Making of Modern India.

14. Ranbir Singh, op.cit.

The author a former Assistant Professor, Dyal Singh College, Karnal, is curently working as a trainer at HIRD, Nilokheri.