Jawaharlal Nehru’s Death: India Loses A Colossus

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He worked late into the night on 26th May 1964 in his New Delhi residence, for there was correspondence to be taken care of. It would remain incomplete, for the next day would be his last. It was the day India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru died.

When freedom came in 1947, Nehru led a new India into her future. He handled many ministries in his Cabinet including Defence and External Affairs. He also headed the Planning Commission and chaired the ruling Congress party's Working Committee.

Nehru with leaders of Non-Alignment Movement | Wikimedia Commons
Nehru with leaders of Non-Alignment Movement | Wikimedia Commons

That was not all. Nehru also rose as a towering figure in international politics, where he became a driving force behind policies like the Non-Alignment Movement.

But the early 1960s brought great disappointment, as China, which Nehru believed was a close ally, violated the Panchsheel Agreement, a peace treaty centred on mutual respect between India and China. The 1962 war triggered by China left a deep impact on Nehru.

Jawaharlal Nehru hands out sweets to students at Nongpoh in Meghaglaya | Wikimedia Commons
Jawaharlal Nehru hands out sweets to students at Nongpoh in Meghaglaya | Wikimedia Commons

In 1963, socialist leader H V Kamath described Nehru “an old man, looking frail and fatigued, with a marked stoop in his gait, coming down the gangway (in Parliament) opposite, with slow, faltering steps and clutching the backrest of benches for support as he descended”.

During the Congress annual meeting at Bhubaneswar in 1964, Nehru suffered a mild stroke and collapsed on the stage. This caused senior leader Lal Bahadur Shastri to be called back to the Cabinet, where he functioned as the de-facto deputy to the Prime Minister.

In late May 1964, Nehru took a short break and went to Dehradun to recuperate. Yet, after his return, at 6 am on 27th May 1964, he breathed his last.

The Times Of India reported that the people of India were in total disbelief and overwhelmed by the “benumbing reality”. The national flag was lowered and shops were shut as a mark of respect.

Nehru with members of Interim Govt faction | Wikimedia Commons
Nehru with members of Interim Govt faction | Wikimedia Commons

Nehru's death was mourned by friends, critics and other leaders in India and the rest of the world. International leaders had regarded him as a man of great intellect and stellar statesman, who tirelessly worked for peace, unity and progress.

In India, Atal Behari Vajpayee, then a Rajya Sabha member, said “...a dream has been shattered, a song silenced, a flame has vanished in the infinite. It was the dream of a world without fear and without hunger…”

On 28th May 1964, Nehru was cremated at Rajghat in Delhi, on the banks of the Yamuna River, north of the spot where his close senior comrade-in-arms Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. His cremation was attended by hundreds of thousands from different parts of the country.

Cover Image: Getty Images

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