The triumph of freedom was laced with the tragedy of Partition, with independent India’s leaders inheriting a bleak political and economic landscape as they went about the task of building a new republic on top of a bruised civilisation. Vallabhbhai Patel gave the nation territorial coherence, but after 1950, the political leadership largely rested with Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi’s protégé who combined mass charisma with broadly democratic instincts and a sense of India’s place in the world. In the first phase of Independence, India worked on foundations and consolidation.

The myths and reality of the Nehru years

As India turns 75, it is natural to survey the past and reflect on how the country has changed since 1947. Yet, because archival records for India’s history after 1947 are patchy at best, our understanding of the Jawaharlal Nehru years has only become murkier over time.

Increasingly, public perceptions of this period have come to be dominated by the debates of the present. Whether lionising him or demonising him, political parties, social scientists and ordinary people have mobilised Nehru for their own ends, weaving myths about the Nehru years in the process.

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Jawaharlal Nehru attends a Congress Seva Dal volunteers’ rally in Kanpur.

In the first phase of Independence, India worked on foundations and consolidation.

The early years of India’s Parliament

On August 29 1947, the Constituent Assembly had two choices — to act as a constitution-framing and a law-making body or to separate these roles. The Assembly opted to divide these functions. It resolved that “The business of the Assembly as a Constitution-making body should be clearly distinguished from its normal business as the Dominion Legislature, and different days or separate sittings on the same day should be set apart for the two kinds of business.” As a result, the Constituent Assembly would meet in what is now the Central Hall to draft the Constitution. And on different days, it would convene in the Lok Sabha chamber as the Constituent Assembly (Legislative) to make laws and question Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s Government. Read more

The Constituent Assembly would meet in what is now the Central Hall, to work on drafting the Constitution.

A union of states takes shape

Although independent India held its first general elections in 1951, at least a section of Indians were not voting for the first time in their lives. This was because the British government gave limited democratic representation to Indians before independence. Does the presence of limited franchise and electoral competition mean that the post-1947 period was insignificant, as far as the foundations of India’s electoral democracy is concerned? In the first of five interactive graphics, we track 75 years of politics in data. Read more and view graphics

Must read 5 books that capture the era

Compiled by Prashant Jha. To see why he picked these books, click here

How we got here The revolt that ended Company Raj

The summer of 1857 changed the course of Indian history. From soldiers to peasants, princely rulers to landlords, Hindus to Muslims, the most unlikely of allies came together to wage the most powerful rebellion that the nation had seen. In this episode, William Dalrymple, the author of The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857, joins HT to discuss the revolt, its roots, its significance, and how it changed the British colonial architecture in India.

The birth of the Indian National Congress

It had been three decades since the mutiny. It was a period of gloom, as the Crown consolidated its rule, caring little for the well-being of Indians. But a set of early Indian nationalists and a somewhat unusual British reformer came together in Bombay in 1885 to set up what was to become the primary vehicle of India’s political aspirations — the Indian National Congress. In this episode, Dinyar Patel, a Harvard-trained historian and an accomplished biographer of Dadabhai Nauroji, brings alive the early years of Indian nationalism and the birth of one of the world’s premier political organizations — the Indian National Congress.