India without Nehru – Scenario painting

When Nehru became the PM of India on August 15, 1947, this was the map of India; Radcliffe line had not been drawn and no princely state had acceeded. The areas in the Grey Area were all that he had…


Let’s first evaluate major milestones of Nehru’s regime, so that we can extrapolate the situation without him:

  1. Bringing Social Harmony within two years of a bloody partition –
    1. India’s Independence and Partition were bloody affairs, over 10 lac people died. The mood, at least in Punjab and Bengal was so sad on one of the happiest days that the whole society was torn apart. People were uprooted, crores of refugees poured into India. Nehru ensured that refugees were treated honourably and settled all across India. People who bury this chapter are not aware that it could have been so much more worse. Muslims who migrated from India into Pakistan are still treated as ‘Mohajirs’, live in ghettos are even now not a part of the mainstream Pakistan society.
    2. Muslim versus Sikh/Hindu hatred was at its peak on partition. Within two to three years of taking power, the hatred had died down and there was harmony in the country. Nehru was like a balm, like a medicine over the wounds, so much so that by the time he left power, India was already well known as an inclusive secular nation. Nehru had proven Jinnah wrong, the two nation theory had been proven wrong.
  2. Constitution 
    1. When British left, India still did not have a Constitution. Nehru brought his rival – B. R. Amebedkar as head of the Drafting Committee. He himself led the team in the Constituent Assembly and was an enthusiastic steward of debates in the Assembly and in many ways was the final arbiter in the way the Constitution shaped up. Ambedkar by himself couldn’t have achieved anything, since he did not have political support and the numbers on his own. It was the leadership of Nehru that steered through the Constitution through the intricate voting process in the Constituent Assembly, it was his leadership that let Ambedkar have the credit.
    2. Again, we must understand that if things would have gone wrong, there would have been NO constitution. Pakistan was able to get the first draft of it’s half baked constitution enforced only in 1956, a second constitution in 1962 and yet another one in 1970 and 1972. They were able to put a Constitution into force only by 1973, by which time India was already a well established democracy.
    3. The liberal ethos of the new country was initiated by Nehru, will all sections of the society being given equitable share in the power.
    4. Federal spirit of India with a strong Centre was developed, the basic framework including the letter as well as spirit of the Constitution were established through conventions and precedences, somethings which are still followed to this day.
    5. Army was kept firmly in the barracks – Pakistan’s army was carved out of the Indian army, its officers and jawans had been trained in the same academies as that of India. Yet, Pakistan had a power vacuum which was quickly filled by their army by 1948 itself.
  3. Integration of India –
    1. Accession of over 500 princely states into the Union of India was no mean feat. People pick out one princely state (Kashmir) where mistakes are said to have happened, forgetting that the execution of all other princely states was flawless, any of them or all of them could have gone rogue. It is very convenient for Nehru baiters to give Patel all the credit, while blaming Nehru for the one fault. The fact of the matter is that Patel-Nehru were a great team; the Home Minister (Patel) drew his strength from the office of Prime Minister. Again, credit goes to the leadership of Nehru to let Patel have the credit and himself taking the blame.
    2. The war with Hyderabad and its capture had nothing to do with Patel. This was entirely Nehru’s operation; and if one sees the map, one would know that Hyderabad was a state encompassing large parts of Andhra, Telangana and even Orissa and some parts of Maharashtra. Any of the big powers could have interceded. But Nehru stood his ground.
    3. The accession of North East, especially Nagaland was done through army action where Indian Air Force bombed Kohima, something which we cannot be proud of; but it displays that he was willing to take risks.
    4. Today, India attacking a European Power can’t even be imagined by us.
      1. Nehru however had the guts to attack the Portuguese Army and declare war on Portugal, during liberation of Goa.
      2. The French colonies of Pondicherry and Daman Diu were liberated again through a swift army action. France was an ally of the British and USA. Anything could have gone wrong, but he persisted and won it.
  4. Public Sector Institutions – Private Sector in 1950s was not capable of taking up large ticket projects. Nehru was an able administrator, but more importantly he took up projects and got them done. He initiated projects and he must get credit for the fact that projects started by him were not just inaugural ceremonies, they went beyond that:
    1. Health and Education – Nehru set up a functional system of government being the provider of Health and Education services, with universities providing education free (or token amount for rich) to all citizens and heath being a free right of all citizens.
      1. Most of the Institutes that we are proud of today were created by Nehru, the IITs, the IIMs, AIIMS and many other Educational Institutes of repute.
      2. Hospitals, Universities across India providing cheap education and health.
    2. Initiated the Atomic Research Centre by empowering Homi Jahangir Bhabha. India initiated the forays into Atomic Energy with setting up of Atomic Power Plants.
    3. Initiated Space Centre in India by empowering Vikram Sarabhai – the Indian Space Research Organisation was fully functional.
    4. Several Hydro Power projects including the Bhakra
    5. Steel Industries across India, main among them being Bhilai Steel Plant, or Hindustan Machine Tools, Petroleum Corporations etc.
    6. Several research institutes like Indian Institute of Science
  5. International Standing of India – During Nehru’s time India was a world leader in International politics. He along with Yugoslovia’s Joseph Tito and Egypt’s Nassar initiated the ‘Non Aligned Movement’; which was then a grouping of over 100 countries which were not aligned either with Russia or America. At the height of the cold war, India stood like a rock, not taking sides. Today’s new leaders get so ballastic abroad these days and act as if they are the first leaders to get international adulation. Nehru’s international adulation was not manufactured, he was a stalwart in his own right; a world statesman who was counted right amongst the top.
  6. Better deal in Partition – Due to Nehru’s diplomacy, India could manage a good deal with Britain, the Radcliffe line was changed at the last moment, most probably with a nudge from Mountbatten, so as to give Gurdaspur to India even though it was a Muslim majority district. If not for Gurdaspur, India would have had no land connection with Kashmir and Kashmir would have been totally lost.

His failures were on two fronts:

  1. Kashmir Issue – major milestones
    1. War with Pakistan over Kashmir – Nehru was NOT a passive man; he bit the bullet when push came to shove. He took the bold decision of going to war with Pakistan in 1948, something that today’s leaders are hesitant to go for. If he had not rushed troops timely into Srinagar, Kashmir would have been lost to India in 1948 itself after Pakistani army regulars and Afghan Tribals had entered Srinagar. From there to pushing the Pakistani army as far back as the hills of Tololing and Kargil, a whole lot of army action happened.
    2. Ceasefire happened from a position of strength when Indian army was on higher mountains than Pakistan. He was also pragmatic enough to realise that Pakistani army could push them back, so the ceasefire was a well thought out army action, with advice of army experts.
    3. Arrest of his friend – Sheikh Abdullah – Being a strong administrator, Nehru did not hesitate in arresting the then Prime Minister of Kashmir – Sheikh Abdullah and to keep him in jail for eleven years from 1953 to 1964.
  2. China War –
    1. Nehru initially had good relations with China. Tibet was earlier an Independent country which enjoyed good relations with India too. India was caught in a bind when China invaded Tibet.
    2. After invasion of Tibet by China, the Dalai Lama escaped; Nehru allowed the Dalai Lama into India, gave him refuge and also allowed him state protocols as a Head of State.
    3. China’s leader Mao Zedong got frustrated with Nehru’s strong-arm tactics against China and reacted by attacking India. India was defeated.

This brings us to extrapolation of a hypothetical situation if he was not the first Prime Minister

If Nehru wouldn’t have been the PM, let us imagine he was not present or alive at partition.

  1. 1947 – 1950: Sardar Patel would have been the Prime-Minister. Sardar Patel was a person with strong sense of constitutional propriety, but he also had streaks of impulsive strong-arm tendencies and favouring Hindus in the larger scheme.
    1. With Patel as PM, he would have most probably undertaken the initial integration of India, in the same way as by Nehru.
    2. With Patel as PM, the partition riots and subsequent migration would have been managed the same way as they were under Nehru (where Patel as Home Minister was anyway managing it)
    3. Kashmir Issue: He would have taken the same decision on Indo-Pak war in 1948 but would not have gone to the UNO and would not have agree to a Ceasefire. It is difficult to imagine if Pakistan would have recaptured Srinagar or if India would have liberated Gilgit Baltistan. God know how long the war would have continued, it is quite possible though that Pakistan would have taken the entire Kashmir in 1948 itself. Suffice to say that without the Ceasefire and the UNO resolution, India would have had even lesser legal authority towards Kashmir.
    4. Constitution
      1. Ambedkar would not have been the Law Minister certainly, being from the opposition.
      2. Some other luminary like Rajendra Prasad would have been the architect of the Constitution.
      3. Indian Constitution could have been ‘less secular’.
      4. I assume that he would have been as effective if his health had kept pace with him, however Patel was in bad health by 1949 and it is doubtful if he had the energy to push the Constitution by January 1950.
      5. It is possible that Indian Constitution would not have been adopted when it was. It would have been delayed or would have had a different shape altogether.
    5. China – China attacked Tibet in 1950 and Patel was in favour of sending the Indian Army into Tibet for defending Tibet. It is possible that the Indo-China war of 1962 would have happened in 1950 itself, when Mao Zedong was on a strong imperial streak. India had a very weak Army, which had just gone through a partition, did not have even one full strength squadron, the infantry was weak. China could have defeated India in 1950 itself and would have captured Leh, Laddakh and Arunachal; it could have joined hands with Pakistan to attack Kashmir as well.
  2. After Death of Sardar Patel – Sardar Patel died in 1950, we may assume that the post of PM could not have changed his rendezvous with the angels of death.This is where we must wonder what would have happened if both Nehru and Patel weren’t there.
    1. Power Vacuum at the top – It would have left a huge power vacuum at the top with death of entire triad of Gandhiji, Patel and Nehru. We can compare the situation with Pakistan where Jinnah died just after Pakistan’s independence, and the power vacuum at the top allowed Pakistan’s army and rogue islamist elements to take the reigns of the country. Extrapolation from a twin would not be a far-fetched option. Possible scenarios after 1950 would have been
      1. Most likely India would have been a dictatorship of the army in 1950.
      2. Breaking up of Indian National Congress and its total sidelining by smaller newer parties.
    2. Constitutional vacuum – Without a constution in place, India in 1950 could have been an anarchy without a functional constitution; with no federal or union structure in place. Due to the absence of constitution, one of the following scenarios would have emerged:
      1. Scenario 1: Manu Smriti as Constitution – It is possible that strong forces opposed to a liberal constitution would have come sooner to the forefront. There were organisations then who were against the National Flag, National Anthem and the Indian Constitution. Such forces wanted adoption of Manu-Smriti as the Indian Constitution, something akin to Quran being the governing force behind Islamic republics.
      2. Scenario 2: Disintegration: there would have been jostling of power by Hyderabad state, Dravid forces of South, of North East and others. It is possible that by late 1950s, India would have disintegrated into ten or fifteen nations.
      3. Scenario 3: Hegemony of one state: As in the case of Pakistan where their Punjab has established a hegemony over rest of Pakistan by sheer size, larger populated Indian states from North could have established a hegemony over rest of India.
    3. Lack of Pluralism
      1. Communal disharmony due to wounds of partition – In absence of Nehru, there would have been NO attempt to apply a balm of peace over a communal division of India. It is possible that communal riots would have continued from 1950 into 1960s, where all minorities would have been killed or pushed out of India. Also, it would have been possible that armed struggle of minorities would have initiated creating Palestine like situations across India.
      2. Reduction in liberalism – Ever since Nehru died, India’s plularism has been receding. Indira Gandhi started this process of taking India back to the middle ages of communal strife. It is quite likely that the slide into medieval mayhem would have started earlier.
    4. Lack of Welfare State ideals of Nehru –
      1. Nehru’s idea of Socialism envisaged seeing the Government as the provider of basic amenities to citizens. Such ideals of the state would have been absent and India could have been a fully capitalist country.
      2. All Health Services would have been working under Insurance Schemes, something that USA is still trying to get right and something that the current government has now initiated.
      3. The Indians born in 1960s to 1980s got good cheap education from universities. A fully capitalist country in absence of Nehru’s ideals would have provided education only to rich, or through expensive education loans. A whole generation of people who studied in such institutes would have been a part of the labour force and their progenies would have lost opportunities to rise up without fear of favour. My generation of 1970s is a product of that welfare state, me being the grandson of a farmer having studied Engineering and Management at Rupees thousand an year in government institutes. Many like me can never repay the debt of his welfare ideals. I feel sad that many products of that system today are working to cut down the very same system.


It is easy to be wise in hindsight; but people living in the present of the moment did not have the vision of what could go wrong. They take decisions on a daily basis.

Only people who are doers make mistakes, Nehru was a doer. He had wonderful successes and very few mistakes.

The measure of his successes have been lasting and empowering. People are now out to scuttle his welfare state ideals and convert India into a fully capitalist country, fruits of which will be visible in generations to come. The Jury will be out after fifty years again.

The measure of his failures have also been lasting and damaging. It shows that these problems were not simple in the first instance, or people who are undoing his successes would have undone his failures too by now. No one has been able to touch Article 370 despite pointing out the problems, who and what stops them?

Without Nehru, India could have been a mirror image of the twin Pakistan, a barely functional anarchy. We are India, and we are better than Pakistan today because we had Nehru to steer us in the early years of our young nation.

Today’s India stands on the shoulders of giants of yore. Nehru was one of them.

Edit Post Script:

Nehru wrote the “Discovery of India” which outlines his vision of India and his immense pride in the achievements of Ancient Indians. The Constitution of India as pushed by him did not walk away from Ancient Indian or Hindu/ Buddhist/ Sikh/ Jain ideals, in fact, he enshrined them in the Constitution; which can be seen in the emblems of power like the Sarnath Pillar, the Ashok Chakra, the mottos of all Army regiments drawn from Indic religious texts of Puranas, the emblem of ‘Satyamev Jayate’, the names of the ships/ frigates, the nomenclature of ‘Hindustan’ being carried in many PSUs like HMT, HPCL, HAL etc… All this talk of him being a Hindu-hater are all propaganda. Not an iota of truth in that.

Post Post Script:

What if Bose was the first PM?

Well, assuming Bose was alive and had become the PM, India would have had a dictatorship on the lines of Mussolini, as admitted by him in his book “Indian Struggle”, where he wrote that India needed a political system which was a mix of Fascism and Communism.

Extract from a Times of India article ►: …. Bose spoke about India needing a ruthless dictator for 20 years after liberation. Then Singapore daily, Sunday Express (now defunct), printed his speech where he said, “… For a few years at least, after the end of British rule in India, there must be a dictatorship…No other constitution can flourish in this country and it is so to India’s good that she shall be ruled by a dictator, to begin with …”



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