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Photo Essay

Architect of modern India

Print edition : May 25, 2022 T+T-

Editor and publisher A. Gopanna; Nava India Publications, 2018; 528 pages; price Rs.3,000.


October 2,1952: Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru driving a tractor at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi. Also present, among others, are K.M. Munshi (behind Nehru) and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur.


March 14, 1963: On a visit to the Bhilai Steel Plant in what is now Chhattisgarh. Set up with the erstwhile Soviet Union’s assistance and inaugurated in 1959, it is a major industrial project of the Nehru era.


March 1952: At the Sindri Fertilizer factory in Dhanbad, then in Bihar (now in Jharkhand). It was the first fertilizer company set up in the public sector and marked the beginning of a major initiative for fertilizer production.


September 1952: At the Tungabhadra dam works, Muneerabad.


Nehru, 1948: “I am all for industry. I am all for steel plants and this and that; but I do say agriculture is far more important than any industry. Anything can wait, but not agriculture.”


August 15, 1947: Nehru hoists the national flag as the first Prime Minister of free India at the Red Fort in Delhi.


1955: Nehru’s fortnight-long visit to the Soviet Union, his second, cleared the path for Soviet assistance in the construction of the Bhilai and Bokaro steel plants. Here, at the Stalingrad water and electricity centres that were under construction.


May 21, 1959: The Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi explaining the model of the institute. The AIIMS was a product of Nehru’s vision of India as a pioneer in the field of medical science and related research.


January 20, 1957: At the inauguration of the atomic reactor Apsara in Trombay, Bombay, Homi J. Bhabha is pointing something out to Nehru with Y.B. Chavan, Chief Minister of Bombay, looking on. Sri Prakasa (with umbrella), Governor of Bombay, is also in the picture.


January 13, 1957: At the inauguration of the Hirakud dam in Orissa (now Odisha). Here, with other dignitaries at the switch yard.


April 26, 1958: At the Peechi reservoir site in Kerala. Irrigation schemes gained high priority when the Planning Commission launched the Five-Year Plan in 1951.


February 12, 1948: The final immersion ceremony of the sacred ashes of Mahatma Gandhi in Allahabad. The ashes arrived from Delhi on a special train and were taken in procession and immersed in the holy Ganga.


September 18, 1949: Consoling Partition refugees in Ludhiana, Punjab.


May 10, 1948: On a boat with Sheikh Abdullah during a river procession in Srinagar.


With (from left) Sarojini Naidu, Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhas Chandra Bose and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.


With Lal Bahadur Shastri and All India Congress Committee president K. Kamaraj.


In a huddle with Lord Mountbatten, the retiring Governor General of India, in New Delhi.


July 1, 1959: In a happy mood after receiving a gift of cigars from the Cuban delegation, which included Che Guevara (centre).


1961: With Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia at the Belgrade conference, the first official summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement.


November 1961: On the lawns of the White House with President John F. Kennedy.


October 21, 1954: Chairman Mao Zedong welcoming Nehru in Peking (now Beijing).


1954: With Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai during a diplomatic meeting.


Anand Bhawan, Allahabad, 1945: With daughter Indira Gandhi and grandson Rajiv, who was celebrating his first birthday.

On Jawaharlal Nehru’s contribution to shaping India into a modern industrial power.

INDEPENDENT India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, envisioned a modern India that would be an industrial powerhouse built on a foundation of agricultural growth and advances in science and technology. And he was a man in a hurry. On one occasion, this builder of modern India said: “Modern economy is symbolised by the jet plane and atomic energy. The world moves very rapidly today, and even the techniques you considered advanced are out of date before you catch up with them. I am all for the latest techniques; let there be no mistake about it” ( Jawaharlal Nehru’s Speeches , Volume 3, March 1953-August 1957, Publications Division, Government of India).

A couple of years earlier, in 1951, he stated how he hoped to achieve his aims: “I want to go rapidly towards my objective. But fundamentally even the results of action do not worry me so much. Action itself, so long as I am convinced that it is right action, gives me satisfaction. In my general outlook on life I am a socialist and it is a socialist order that I should like to see established in India and the world” ( Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru , Volume 5, 1987, page 321).

Nehru initiated the Five-Year Plan process with the establishment of the Planning Commission in March 1950 to achieve these objectives. Nehru explained in The Discovery of India : “I am all for tractors and big machinery, and I am convinced that the rapid industrialisation of India is essential to relieve the pressure on land, to combat poverty and raise standards of living, for defence and a variety of other purposes. But I am equally convinced that the most careful planning and adjustment are necessary if we are to reap the full benefit of industrialisation and avoid many of its dangers. This planning is necessary today in all countries of arrested growth, like China and India, which have strong traditions of their own.”

Nearly seven decades later, in the era of globalisation, the India growth story perhaps misses a statesman-socialist in the Nehruvian mould. The photographs in this feature provide more than a glimpse of Nehru as a statesman and his foreign policy initiatives as Prime Minister. His role in the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement, in India’s position as a member of the Commonwealth, in India’s relations with the Soviet Union and China and other neighbours, and his unflinching support to the United Nations have been documented all too well to need repeating. Nehru would have been an ideal foil to the present-day votaries of unbridled privatisation in all areas of development, be it the economy, education, agriculture and even social welfare.

The photographs are part of a collection of more than 700 rare and compelling images, including from the archives of The Hindu , that appear in Jawaharlal Nehru: An Illustrated Biography edited and published by A. Gopanna, a senior Congress functionary in Tamil Nadu. The coffee-table book is a veritable treasure trove on Nehru.

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