Achievements as prime minister
In the 35 years from 1929, when Gandhi chose Nehru as president of the Congress session at Lahore, until his death as prime minister in 1964, Nehru remained despite the debacle of the brief conflict with China in 1962 the idol of his people. His secular approach to politics contrasted with Gandhis religious and traditionalist attitude, which during Gandhis lifetime had given Indian politics a religious cast misleadingly so, for, although Gandhi might have appeared to be a religious conservative, he was actually a social nonconformist trying to secularize Hinduism. The real difference between Nehru and Gandhi was not in their attitude to religion but in their attitude to civilization. While Nehru talked in an increasingly modern idiom, Gandhi was harking back to the glories of ancient India.
The importance of Nehru in the perspective of Indian history is that he imported and imparted modern values and ways of thinking, which he adapted to Indian conditions. Apart from his stress on secularism and on the basic unity of India, despite its ethnic and religious diversities, Nehru was deeply concerned with carrying India forward into the modern age of scientific discovery and technological development. In addition, he aroused in his people an awareness of the necessity of social concern with the poor and the outcast and of respect for democratic values. One of the achievements of which he was particularly proud was the reform of the ancient Hindu civil code that finally enabled Hindu widows to enjoy equality with men in matters of inheritance and property.
Internationally, Nehrus star was in the ascendant until October 1956, when Indias attitude on the Hungarian revolt against the Soviets brought his policy of nonalignment under sharp scrutiny. In the United Nations, India was the only nonaligned country to vote with the Soviet Union on the invasion of Hungary, and thereafter it was difficult for Nehru to command credence in his calls for nonalignment. In the early years after independence, anticolonialism had been the cornerstone of his foreign policy, but, by the time of the Belgrade conference of nonaligned countries in 1961, Nehru had substituted nonalignment for anticolonialism as his most pressing concern. In 1962, however, the Chinese threatened to overrun the Brahmaputra River valley as a result of a longstanding border dispute. Nehru called for Western aid, making virtual nonsense of his nonalignment policy, and China withdrew.
The Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan remained a perennial problem throughout Nehrus term as prime minister. His tentative efforts to settle the dispute by adjustments along the ceasefire lines having failed, Pakistan, in 1948, made an unsuccessful attempt to seize Kashmir by force. In solving the problem of the Portuguese colony of Goa the last remaining colony in India Nehru was more fortunate. Although its military occupation by Indian troops in December 1961 raised a furor in many Western countries, in the hindsight of history, Nehrus action is justifiable. With the withdrawal of the British and the French, the Portuguese colonial presence in India had become an anachronism. Both the British and the French had withdrawn peacefully. If the Portuguese were not prepared to follow suit, Nehru had to find ways to dislodge them. After first trying persuasion, in August 1955 he had permitted a group of unarmed Indians to march into Portuguese territory in a nonviolent demonstration. Even though the Portuguese opened fire on the demonstrators, killing nearly 30, Nehru stayed his hand for six years, appealing meanwhile to Portugals Western friends to persuade its government to cede the colony. When India finally struck, Nehru could claim that neither he nor the government of India had ever been committed to nonviolence as a policy.Nehrus health showed signs of deteriorating not long after the clash with China. He suffered a slight stroke in 1963, followed by a more debilitating attack in January 1964. He died a few months later from a third and fatal stroke.