Sardar Patel & first Prime Ministership

Er. Prabhat Kishore

The world has seen a large number of great men, who had reserved their name & fame in the history through their merit and work, but met rare persons, who has changed not only history but geography of a country without shedding a drop of  blood. Born on 31ST October’ 1975, in a poor Kisan family of  Patelad (Gujarat) Vallabh Bhai Patel was the such uncommon person who did the impossible task of integrating 560 princely states to Indian union. A constructive engineer in politics, a recognized umpire in disputes and an organizer of victories in campaigns, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel is all this but something more.

Although, Patel is much credited for his particular work of preventing fragmentation and Balkanization of India, but a large number of decisive facts have been brushed under the carpet  in  the Indian history. As Machiavelli wrote – “History is written by the victors”. The history of independent India was written and overseen by that faction of the Congress party which emerged victorious in the leadership tussle on the eve of independence with the tacit but partisan support of none other than the all-powerful and universally venerable Mahatma Gandhi.The history taught by the Congress governments in independent country totally concealed the happening of debarring Patel from Congress leadership.

Congress Presidency :

           on 2nd September 1946, Nehru was invited to form the Interim Government and to be its Vice President (defacto Prime Minister) by the then Viceroy, Lord Wavell, manifestly because he (Nehru) happened to be the Congress President at that time. He got this post in 1946 mainly through Mahatma Gandhi’s intervention in his favour, for none of the provinces has proposed his name. As per constitution of the Congress, its President was elected on the majority of Provincial Congress Committee’s recommendations. Despite Gandhiji’s open statement for Nehru on 20th April 1946, twelve out of fifteen provincial Congress committees  recommended Patel’s name and three abstained from nomination process. Obviously, the overwhelming majority in favour of Sardar Patel, was a challenge to Mahatma Gandhi as well.

According to Kripalani (the then general secretary of Congress), “Gandhi expressed his deep concern over the proposal of the provinces, because transfer of power was certain as hinted by the British Prime Minister in London on 16th February 1946 and he (Gandhi) wanted to see Nehru as the Prime Minister at any cost. Then Kripalani obtained fifteen signatures of some working committee members and a few local AICC members of Delhi (who were not the legitimate body to nominate the Party President) as per Gandhi’s instruction and duly proposed Nehru’s name. It must be noteworthy that the last date for receiving recommendations from the provincial Congress committees (29th  April’ 1946) had  already expired “.

It’s not that Gandhi was not aware of the immorality of this exercise to overlook the overwhelming support for Patel. He had fully realized that what he was trying to bring about was wrong and totally unfair. In fact, he tried to make Nehru understand the reality. A shell-shocked Nehru was defiant and made it clear that he will not play second fiddle to anybody and he may even leave the party. Gandhi knew that Nehru could go upto any extent for power, whereas Patel could sacrifice without any hesitation. Patel also not get struck on the issue as he was aware that any break up in the party would  send wrong signal at such a crucial juncture. The Congressmen were not happy with Gandhi’s choice; but then for the sake of unity and in reverence to Gandhi,  they endorsed it. Disappointed Rajendra Prasad remarked that Gandhi had once again sacrificed his “trusted lieutenant” in favour of the “glamorous Nehru”.

            Thus, setting aside all rules and regulations, Nehru was elected (selected !) the Congress President.  A few days later on 16th  May’ 1946, a 3-member “Cabinet Mission ” arrived in  India, which suggested the formation of an Interim Government at the centre and to constitute Constitution Assembly.

             In Kripalani’s words, who was instrumental in proposing Jawahar’s name, “It was certain that if Jawahar’s name had not been proposed illegally, then Sardar would have been elected as the Congress President. In that event, Patel (and not Nehru) would have been invited to head the Interim Government (on 2nd September 1946) and to be the first defacto Prime Minister.“ It is reasonable to think that as head of the Interim Government Patel (who always demonstrated his edge over Nehru in party control and management) would have further consolidated his position as the unchallenged leader of the party and as dejure Prime Minister when independence came on 15TH August 1947. Due to Gandhi’s restiveness Patel, despite having overwhelming support, “missed the Bus “.

          From the defacto position, dejure Prime Ministership for Nehru was not a very difficult move. As Gandhi was still alive in 1947 and his opt-repeated declaration about Nehru being his ‘political heir’ was well known; hence Nehru was unanimously elected the leader of Congress Parliamentary Party; and, as such, he became the first PM of Independent India.

          The incident of 1946 was not the first time that Patel was debarred from the leadership. Earlier on several occasions Nehru superseded him through Gandhi’s intervention. In 1929, for Congress presidency, ten provincial recommendations were for Gandhi, five for Patel and three for Nehru. After Gandhi’s refusal, the natural chance was for Patel. But Gandhi intervened for Nehru and he (Nehru) ultimately became the Congress President.

          In 1931, Patel was elected the President of the Congress in Karachi session. Again in 1937, his name was considered for Congress Presidentship; but knowing Gandhi’s wish, he himself suggested the re-election of Nehru. As chairman of party election committee, Patel show his credibility in provincial elections held in 1937 and 1946, when Congress got a majority it most of the provinces.

Overall Command :

          After becoming the defacto Prime Minister, Nehru gave up the Congress presidentship in October, 1946. Patel wanted Kripalani to succeed him. But as Kripalani found that the Government did not consult him on any matter, he resigned. Gandhi then wanted that Jai Prakash Narayan or Narendra Dev, both of whom were Congress socialist leaders, should succeed Kripalani. But Patel wanted Rajendra Prasad to be the Congress president. Prasad took over the charge from Kripalani. In December 1946 Nehru wanted N. Gopalswami Aiyangar to be the President of the Constituent Assembly, but instead had to agree to Patel’s choice Dr. Rajendra Prasad.

On the question of nominating the first President of Indian Republic, Patel gave his blessing to Rajendra Prasad for the post; but Nehru, was of view that C. Rajagopalachari (the then Governor General) should be given the responsibility. Ultimately, Rajendra Prasad became the first President of Indian Republic on 26th  January 1950.

          Nehru was not quite happy with the retention of crucial Home portfolio by Patel. But even from the Interim Government time, Patel insisted on keeping it despite considerable pressure from the Viceroy Mountbatten with Nehru’s apparent concurrence. There were great ideological rifts between right-leaning Patel and left-leaning Nehru on various policies such as, economic, industrial, educational, agriculture, border security issues and others. But despite being the Deputy Prime Minister, Patel had not only the control on the party organisation but also over the government. Ministers like N.V. Gadgil, R.R. Diwakar, R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, C.H. Bhabha and J.D. Daulatram were staunch supporters of Patel, whereas S.P. Mukherjee, Jagjivan Ram and Baldev Singh were also inclined towards him.

             Thus, despite being debarred from leadership, Patel and his supporters always demonstrated their edge not only over Nehru but even over Gandhi in Party affairs. In addition to showing Patel’s superior strength in the party, the outcome of the Presidential election had another ominous implication. In September 1950, the two contestants for Party Presidentship were J.B. Kripalani and P.D. Tandon – who had the blessing and support of Nehru and Patel respectively. Indeed, the contest was seen as a trial of strength between P.M. and Deputy P.M. all over the country. Several newspapers, national as well as abroad, described and commented upon it in that light. Tandon (1306 votes) won by defeating Kripalani (1092 votes). With the Party under the overall control of his protégé, Patel would have made it increasingly difficult for Nehru to function as leader of the Parliamentary wing and ultimately as the PM.  But luckily for Nehru, that was not to be, for Patel passed away suddenly on 15th  December, 1950 in Mumbai.

Cleaning operation  :

            After Patel’s death, Nehru’s political and functional constraints disappeared. The Patelites in the cabinet were left leaderless. Although Patel was dead, his protégé, Tandon was still the Congress President and as such in overall control of the party organisation. So Nehru’s first effort was directed towards capturing the Congress Organisation with a majority working committee of  his choice. But being unable to do so, he resigned from the working committee. This was folloed by a few more resignations. Finding himself isolated, Tandon resigned and Nehru was crowned as Congress President (alongwith Prime Ministership) in October 1951.

            After the 1952 general elections, Nehru came in full form and dropped out all the Patelites- Gadgil, Munshi, Diwakar, and  Bhabha- from the council of ministers. He had planned to axe Baldev Singh & Jagjivan Ram too, as they were suspected to have well wishers of Patel. However, Jagjivan Ram was retained at the instance of President Dr. Rajendra Prasad. The 14-member new council of Ministers was full of  Nehru’s handpicked men – Kailash Nath Katju, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Gopal Swami Aiyangar, C.D. Deshmukh, T.T. Krishnamachari, V.V. Giri, C.C. Biswas, Amrit  Kaur, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai. The other two ministers Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Jagjivan Ram were no more challengeable threat to Nehru. Thus in 1952, the Party as well as Government was free from Patel and his shadow (loyalists). Actually it was the beginning of “Nehru Era” and end of “Patel Era” of power politics in India.

            Rajaji, the first Indian Governor General and later Home Minister in the Nehru cabinet (till 1952), regarded that, “Gandhi had made a blunder mistake in wanting that Nehru and not Patel should be the PM. Had Nehru been the Foreign Minister and Patel the Prime Minister, India would have avoided   many of errors she was led into under Jawahar and (from) the glamour  of) egalitarianism, associated with communism, which captivated his innocent heart. “

            Thus the crucial presidential election of the Congress in 1946 was the turning point in the history of India. If Patel, the People’s choice, had been the head of the Indian Government, the national, international, economic, agricultural, education, industrial, defence, Border security issues, Tibet issue and other policies all would have been different and the great India might have emerged as a “ Super Power “ in the world.

(The author is a technocrat & educationist. He holds Master in Engineering from M.N. Regional Engineering College, Allahabad/Prayagraj. He is the chairman of Sardar Patel Rashtra Nirman Kendra)

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