Independent Indias first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehrus time in Maharashtra largely revolved around jails, the historic Quit India Movement and the talks of India-Pakistan Partition at Bombays (now Mumbai) famed Jinnah House.
Post-Independence, the scientifically-tempered Nehru was the founding father of one of the most critical ‘temples of modern India’ — the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), here.
At the epochal Indian National Congress’ Mumbai Session on August 7, 1942 — with the top brass of the All India Congress Committee in attendance — Nehru moved the ‘Quit India’ Resolution, shaking the might of the British Empire.
The British Police swooped and rounded up top AICC leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sarojini Naidu, Acharya Kripalani, et al., and shunted them off to various jails in the state.
According to official records, Nehru was sent to the Ahmednagar Fort jail, where he spent the longest tenure — and the last of his nine incarcerations — from August 1942 to March 1945, around 963 days.
All the co-prisoners joined to celebrate his birthday (November 14) in the same jail in 1942, 1943 and 1944, bringing some joy into their barred existence.
The barrister, thinker, intellectual and historian Nehru did not let that jail term go waste — the idle time in prison proved to be the wise wizard’s workshop — and he penned his epic masterpiece, ‘Discovery Of India’, there, which remains the best introduction to the country’s glorious history.
Historical records show how Nehru also did gardening on the jail campus, growing a variety of his favourite flower, the rose, symbolising love — and associated with his dear wife Kamala’s memories after her demise in 1938 — that cheered up the otherwise gloomy prison atmosphere, and he always wore a rose on the buttonhole of his jackets.
It was here that Nehru, then 53, played badminton with other Congress leaders on a court specially prepared for them, did daily exercises and voracious reading to keep himself fit mentally and physically, for the onerous task of leading a free India in the future.
With World War II raging globally during his release in March 1945, the country had entered a decisive phase in its freedom struggle, albeit hurtling to a truncated version of the British Empire’s sparkling Jewel in the Crown.
All India Muslim League (AIML) President, barrister Muhammed Ali Jinnah, was hell-bent on getting a separate Pakistan carved of India, despite vehement opposition from Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad, and others.
The preliminary rounds of Partition talks were held between Gandhi and Jinnah at the latter’s palatial Jinnah House in Mumbai in September 1944, and exactly a year before that bloody division, on August 15, 1946, Nehru, Jinnah, Lord Louis Mountbatten and other INC-AIML leaders hammered out the finer details of the proposed two nations.
Despite the historic developments, there were apparently no personal grudges among political leaders of that enlightened era, and post-Partition, Jinnah and Nehru maintained communication.
The Father of Pakistan was anxious about his beloved Jinnah House, and desired to breathe his last there, wanted it to be rented out to some refined Indian royal or a cultured European family.
The gentle and patient Nehru tried his best to help out the friend-turned-foe Jinnah, but much could not be achieved as the latter died in September 1948, barely eight months after India’s Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948.
After 1947, Nehru — along with his close friend from Mumbai, the legendary scientist Dr Homi Bhabha — laid the foundations for India’s nuclear programme, oversaw the setting up of the Atomic Energy Establishment Trombay (AEET, later Bhabha Atomic Research Centre), housing the country’s first nuclear reactor, drawing the attention of global powers.
Nehru visited Maharashtra often, founding and developing various mega-projects to put the country on the path of progress and development — the fruits of which a grateful nation is now reaping.
Maharashtra also displayed gratitude to his contributions and made him immortal in the form of many buildings, roads, flyovers, institutions, government or semi-government bodies, etc. named in his honour, prominently the Nehru Science Centre, Nehru Planetarium, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Authority, Nehru Garden, an entire suburb Nehru Nagar, and many more.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: email@example.com)