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BlindianProject History: Jawaharal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru (14 November 1889 – 27 May 1964) was an anticolonial leader, secularist, social democrat, author, and was India's first Prime Minister. He came from a privileged background and studied sciences and law at universities abroad in England before returning to India.

In 1919, Nehru joined the Indian National Congress (INC). His love for world peace and concern for poor people emanated from his humanism. During his time, India was at the forefront of the international community's support of the anti-apartheid movement. It was the first country to sever trade relations with the apartheid Government (in 1946) and subsequently imposed a complete -- diplomatic, commercial, cultural and sports -embargo on South Africa.

The African cause was close to Nehru’s heart. Alongside Indonesia's President Sukarno, he was one of the key organizers of the Bandung Conference of 1955 and considered Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah among his friends in Africa. In his speech at the concluding session of the Asian-African Conference, Nehru spoke of “the infinite tragedy of Africa in the past few hundred years. Everything else pales insignificance when I think of the infinite tragedy of Africa ever since millions of Africans were carried away as enslaved people to America and elsewhere, half of them dying in the galleys.” The whole world needed to accept responsibility for this travesty, he said while calling on “Asia to help Africa to the best of her ability because we are sister continents”. Nehru followed up such talk with concrete action. One of his pet projects was the scheme to provide scholarships and fellowships to African students.

Nehru's political and social work that helped create Indian independence inspired Martin Luther King in his struggle for the freedom of African Americans in the United States. A year before the two men met, King inscribed a copy of his newly published book, Stride Toward Freedom, to Nehru with the words: “In appreciation for your genuine good-will, your broad humanitarian concern, and the inspiration that your great struggle for India gave to me and the 50,000 African-Americans of Montgomery” (King, November 1958). King and Nehru met on 10 February 1959 at the prime minister’s home. During that visit, Nehru and King discussed the possibility of Indian universities assisting African-American students. Although Nehru supported the proposal, he acknowledged that “nobody in poor India had thought about offering scholarships for students from rich America” (Reddick, 1968).

Throughout his time, Nehru strongly supported African American left activists directly through friends like Paul Robeson and intermediaries like Cedric Grover. But, as Nico Slate describes in Colored Cosmopolitanism, "Indian independence transformed Nehru from an anti-colonial freedom fighter to the leader of a nation-state. The need to maintain cordial relations with the United States strained his solidarity with Black Struggles."

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