Jawaharlal Nehru: the first and oldest PM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has completed eight years in power, recently hinted that he was ready for a third term. Speaking virtually at a meeting in Bharuch where beneficiaries of various central government programs were gathered, he said a ‘highly placed’ opposition leader once asked him what he had left to accomplish after becoming Prime Minister twice. Modi said he would not rest until “100%” coverage of government programs was achieved in the country.

Modi, 71, is the first PM to be born after independence. Over more than seven decades, the country has seen 15 prime ministers, on a journey marked by social, political and economic change. The Indian Express examines Indian parliamentary democracy through the tenures of its PMs.

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Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, remained in office continuously for a total period of almost 17 years after independence. His tenure as prime minister spanning 6,130 days – the longest premiership in the country to date – over multiple terms ended with his disappearance on May 27, 1964 at the age of 74.

After leading the caretaker government in pre-independence India, Nehru became Prime Minister when the country gained independence on August 15, 1947 and led the government ahead of the first general elections held in 1951- 1952.

In the elections for the first Lok Sabha, 14 national parties participated including Indian National Congress (INC), All India Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS), Indian Bolshevik Party, Communist Party of India (CPI), Forward Bloc (Marxist Group ), Forward Bloc (Ruikar Group), Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, Krishikar Lok Party, Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party, Revolutionary Communist Party of India, Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad, Revolutionary Socialist Party, All India Scheduled Caste Federation and Socialist Party. In addition, 39 state parties and 533 independents had also challenged the polls.

Jawaharlal Nehru. (File photo express_

Led by Nehru, the Congress party won the election, winning 364 of the total 489 seats for which elections were held. In fact, 3 out of 4 seats in the elections went to Congress.

Of the 14 national parties, 11 entered the Chamber. The three parties which could not win any seats in the first general elections were the Bolshevik Party of India, the Forward Bloc (Ruikar Group) and the Revolutionary Communist Party of India.

The BJS – whose offshoot like the BJP would eventually overwhelm the Congress over the following decades – won only 3 seats, including 2 from West Bengal and 1 from Rajasthan, with its founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee managing to win his seat in Calcutta South East.

In the first Lok Sabha, the Congress led by Nehru enjoyed a complete majority as there was virtually no opposition. Independents were the second-largest group in the House, whose vote share (7%) and seats (37), excluding Congress, outnumbered each of the remaining 13 national parties as well as the 39 state parties. Indeed, besides the Congress, only two national parties – the CPI (16 seats) and the Socialist Party (12) – could reach double digits.

Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr S Radhakrishnan, Chou En Lai and Dr Rajendra Prasad at Rashtrapati Bhawan in June 1954. (Express Archive)

In the second general election of 1957, four national parties—the INS, BJS, CPI, and Praja Socialist Party (PSP)—and 11 state parties contested. Nehru again led the Congress to a landslide victory, with the party winning 371 of the Lok Sabha’s 494 seats. The other three national parties also improved their tally – the CPI won 27, the PSP 19 and the BJS 4. The combined number of seats won by the party states stood at 31. However, like the first Lok Sabha, this time also the Independent’s candidate tally of 42 seats as a bloc was second only to Congress. In the second Lok Sabha, Nehru again did not face strong opposition.

Elections to the third Lok Sabha in 1962 were Nehru’s last national election before his death. During this election, 6 national parties – INC, CPI, BJS, PSP, Socialist (SOC) and Swatantra (SWA) – 11 recognized parties and 10 unrecognized parties presented their candidates.

Congress also swept third Lok Sabha polls, winning 361 of the total 494 seats, although the party’s tally was down slightly from its figure in previous elections. Other national parties, including the CPI (29 seats), BJS (14), PSP (12), SOC (6) and SWA (18), also improved their tally. In this election, the number of independent winners also fell to 20 from 42 in the previous House.

In the first general elections, Nehru contested and won the constituency of Allahabad district (east) and Jaunpur district (west). In the second and third Lok Sabha polls, he won from the seat of Phulpur. In the 1962 elections, Nehru defeated Ram Manohar Lohia, a socialist stalwart, by a margin of 64,571 votes.

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