Nehru was born the son of a wealthy Brahman lawyer from Kashmir. He went to England at the age of 14 and was educated at the Harrow Public School, then at the University of Cambridge and later studied law at Inner Temple. Returning to India in 1912, he practiced law for some years and in 1919 joined the Indian National Congress, the principal nationalist organization of India, led by Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Nehru soon became a leader of the nationalist movement; between 1921 and 1945 he was imprisoned nine times by the British administration for his activities on behalf of Indian independence. He served as president of the Congress party from 1929 to 1931, a position he subsequently held six times.
Although Nehru remained a supporter of Gandhi until the latter's death in 1948, he did not share Gandhi's belief in passive resistance as a means of driving the British out of India. Instead, he put forth a militant program involving the adoption of all possible measures short of armed resistance to the British.
In 1942 Nehru replaced Gandhi as the recognized leader of the National Congress party. Four years later, when the British began preparations for withdrawal from India, he was invited to form an interim government to organize the transition from dependency to independence. During the following year Nehru attempted to prevent the partition of India into separate Hindu and Muslim states, but he was unsuccessful, and a separate Muslim state known as Pakistan was founded.
In August 1947, following the final withdrawal of the British and the establishment of India as a self-governing dominion within the Commonwealth, Nehru was elected prime minister. He continued in that post when India became a republic in 1950 and was returned to office repeatedly until his death in New Delhi.
As prime minister, Nehru was deeply involved in carrying out India's five-year plans and pursuing a policy of peaceful coexistence with nations of every political tendency. He supported the United Nations resolution on Korea in 1950, opposed the British and French move in 1956 at the Suez Canal, and told an aggressive China in 1959 that he would defend India's borders with armed force.
Under his guidance India became an influential force within the so-called Non-aligned Nations. His writings include letters published under the titles Glimpses of World History (1936) Letters to Chief Ministers (5 vol., 1987-90) and an autobiography published in the U.S. as Toward Freedom (1941); his addresses and articles were collected and published under the titles The Unity of India (1941) and Independence and After (1950).
Well-known historian Stanley Wolpert, in his Nehru, A Tryst With Destiny (Oxford University Press, New York) created ripples referring to Jawaharlal Nehru's "homosexual encounters" during his adolescence.
Moreover, according to Wolpert, during a stint in prison in 1941, Nehru was captivated by T.E. Lawrence's The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Lawrence, who fought with the Arabs against the Turks in World War I, was a homosexual).
"The book has held me, not only because of its fine writing but also because of his problems and difficulties with himself," Nehru confessed in his diary. "Sometimes - not always - that problem was not unlike mine in some ways."
Wolpert is convinced that "the deepest passions that drove and tortured Nehru throughout his adult life have always remained hidden." He was denied access to Nehru's letters by Sonia Gandhi, guardian of the Nehru-Gandhi estate. "I don't want you to think we have anything to hide," she told him in 1994, "but ..."