Nehrus Contribution To Socialism In India

Collin’s Dictionary defines socialism as “a political ideology which aims for societies in which poverty is eliminated, market forces are not the sole means of the distribution of economic wealth and where the human ideals of cooperation and altruistic behaviour develop”. Nehru also believed in the socialism and he named the ‘socialist society’ as ‘good society’. He believed in the elimination of poverty and development as a socialist believed in these. His role in constituent assembly and his role as Prime Minister of India show that he believed in socialism. But Nehru’s approach towards socialism is slightly deferred from the other socialist. And his approach was based on the practical aspect of socialism, rather than theoretical. This is the reason that his idea of socialism can be considered as one of the variants of socialism and this is called as Nehru’s Idea of Socialism. He was the first who introduced his understanding of socialism in the policies of the independent India. But there are other areas where his policies are against the theories socialism. To understand his contribution to Indian Socialism, it is necessary to analyse his background, contribution in Constituent Assembly and in Government.

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Impact of other Socialist in the Building of Nehru’s Idea of Socialism

The roots of Nehru’s view on socialism can be traced back to time of his studies in Europe, especially in Cambridge. When he was studying in Cambridge, he was influenced by the Fabian Socialism and Fabian Socialists. For example, Mrs. Besant, who was the one of the original Fabians, was one the closest friend of his family. During the visit to Soviet Russia in 1926-27, Nehru was also influenced with the achievement of the Soviet Russia in the area of economic development. The influence of socialism can also found in his books, especially ‘Glimpses of World History’ where he analyse the historical events with Marxian principles [1] .

Nehru’s Idea of Socialism

Nehru builds his own idea of socialism during the freedom movement and applied it after the independence. But he never defined the socialism and his idea of socialism is less doctrinal and more of empirical in nature, reason behind it is that Nehru was more concerned with the real problems of individual and social life, and he did not spend much time to correct his idea with the fine points of doctrines of socialism. His idea of socialism was largely based on the democracy, economic factor and economic betterment of the masses, greater equality of opportunity, social justice, more equitable of higher incomes generated through the application of modern science and technology to the process of production, the ending of the acute social and economic disparities generated by feudalism and capitalism, the application of the scientific approach to the problem of society, ending of the acquisitive mentality, class distinction and class domination, supremacy of the profit motive and [Chandra, 2002:177]. He also believed that democracy and civil liberties had to be basic constituents of socialism and were inseparable from it.

But the basic difference between him and the other socialist is that he did not want the socialist society through violent means, he wanted the gradual, peaceful and step by step introduction of elements of socialism, with the non-violent means to achieve socialist society. He also did not want that the solution of differences through violent and revolutionary means or class struggle, but he wanted to solve all the differences through conciliation and adjustments [Chandra, 1999:177, also see Bhambhri, 1994:36]. And in this point he deferred from the Marxist approach. He also deferred from Marx on the point that Nehru did not define man as a producing being [Parekh, 1991:38].

He applied his ideas in the making of constitution and in his economic policies after the 1955 through the economic planning.

Nehru as a Socialist before Independence

He also openly called himself a socialist in mid 1920s and 1930s. In 1936 Congress Session in Lucknow, he also said that he is a socialist not in a vague humanitarian way but in a scientific economic sense; and he also wanted to build a new social order on co-operative, classless and democratic sense. His statement led to controversies and several members resigned from Congress Working Committee. He realised the rick; and after 1936, he was reluctant to make such statements. But his socialism was alive with his commitment towards democracy; because it is considered that the democracy and socialism are inescapable constraints of each other.

Socialism and the Making of Constitution

During the constituent assembly debate, socialism had the impact on assembly and Nehru was one of the influential members who supported the idea of socialism. Although Patel, Prasad and Azad were committed only to effective government, but Nehru was more concerned with the Indian social problem and development. He has especial attachment with his idea of socialism, which influenced the constituent assembly to become more bias towards socialism. However there are other member in constituent assembly, who had the socialist view, for example K.T. Shah; but they are not as influential as Nehru, who was also in the oligarchy of the constituent assembly.

Granville Austin rightly observed in his book ‘The India Constitution, Cornerstone of a Nation’ that, the term socialism was removed from the ‘Objective Resolution’ [2] , but the Constituent Assembly with a socialist biasness framed such a democratic Constitution which allowed India to become as socialist in future if its citizen desire [Austin, 1972:43].

After Independence and Nehru’s Idea of Socialism

After Independent and before 1955, Nehru did not much respond to socialism. In the First Five Year Plan and in the Industrial Policy Resolution of 1948, the socialism was not the primary thing, but emphasis was given on the expansion of production. During this period many industries were left with private sector, and the public sector has given small percentage of industries.

But at the meeting of Avadi in 1955, the resolution of Indian National Congress acknowledged that the “planning should take place with a view to the establishment of a Socialistic pattern of society, where the principal means of production are under social ownership or control, production is progressively speeded up and there is equitable distribution of the national wealth”. And after his resolution Nehru slightly moved toward his idea of socialism, which is democratic, liberal and for economic betterment of the masses. The terms ‘socialistic pattern of society’ indicate that the Congress has officially accepted the socialism. And later in Second and Third Five Year Plans, Nehru included adopted this socialistic approach. He brought many social reforms, which can be considered as welfare state activities. He also brought labour legislations and equitable distribution of tax and excise policy. And with these developments in policy Nehru move India towards mixed economy [3] and Nehru’s own understanding of socialism, which was based on democracy, economic development and civil liberties.

Criticism of Nehru’s Approaches

C.P. Bhambhri in his book ‘Indian Policies Since Independence’ shows a doubt that whether the Nehru’s policies as socialist in nature or not. It is right that there are few policies of Nehru’s policies, which is not in the scope of socialism. Property Relation, Mixed Economy, rejection of bank nationalization, rejection of ceiling on wealth was the some of them. It was expected that Nehru bring radical changes in these areas and completely rejected those policies which are against socialism.

His policy of Mixed Economy cannot fall in the scope of socialism. Under the mixed economy, capitalism is strengthened and encouraged in his government. Although he nationalized the Imperial Bank of India and life insurance companies, he nationalized very few banks and he did not nationalized banks in bulk, which was later done by his daughter Indira Gandhi.

After Independence and after First Five Year Plan, he was criticised for not giving so much importance to socialism. Socialist outside the Congress Party were criticized Nehru for his approach towards socialism and they said that Nehru had betrayed the roots of socialism.

But one thing critics did not see that, Nehru was not interested in applying the true doctrinal socialism, but he believe in empirical socialism, which he want to establish through democratic means and not through violent revolution. Nehru also recognized that Indian society of that days was not ready to accept features of socialist society, especially Congress Party itself is not fully socialist, that was the one more reason that he did not only stick to the doctrines of socialism but he applied the socialism in more practical way and he planned the policy of public sector and cooperative system in village in such a way that ultimately it would result as socialist society. And after 1955 he shifted his policies towards his idea of socialism.

He also has the fear of the rise of fascism under influence of strict application of socialism, when societal consensus is absent. Nehru also shown his fear in the letter which he wrote to Jayaprakash Narayan in 1948, in this letter he said “an attempt at premature leftism may well lead to reaction or disruption”. So the fear of fascism was one more reason that he applied modified and empirical form of his socialism.


Although in the initial year of Nehru’s government he could not support his idea of socialism, but in later year especially after the 1955 Avadi resolution, he brought his understanding to socialism, which led India towards Mixed Economy and Welfare State.

It would be wrong to say that Nehru has not play much important role to develop the concept of Indian Socialism. Nehru was criticised for not supporting socialism after independence. But that was not the right time to introduce such system to India. At that time India was facing many problems, India need strong and stable economy and unity amongst Indians. Nehru rightly introduce socialism after 1955 Avadi resolution, because from that point of time India was much stable than time of independence.

After 1955, his policies led India toward Mixed Economy, where government also play much importance in economy. And this also incorporated the features of democracy, economic betterment of the masses, greater equality of opportunity, social justice and liberty, which are the basic feature of Nehru’s Idea of socialism. Indian Government still follows his understanding of socialism.

On the analysis of Nehru’s effort in the pre-independence era, in the making of constitution and post-independence era, it would be better to say that Nehru is the father of Indian Socialism.