Did Gandhi Interfere in the Election of First PM of India?
In Independent India, in many quarters, often the people talk, gossip and ask the question about the election of the First PM of India. After all, it was the most significant event in the history of independent India.
To defuse the situation, from the Congress side, Gandhi Ji very wisely chose Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as the Congress President in 1940, just a couple of months before the Lahore resolution for the creation of Pakistan.
The history of modern India today unhesitatingly could mostly solemnly conclude that this was perhaps the first surrender of the popular aspirations of the majority.
Because of various factors like World War II, Quit India Movement and most of the Congress leaders in jails, the annual elections for the post of Congress President at that time could not have been held until April 1946.
Therefore, Maulana Azad continued to be the Congress President and represented the Congress in various negotiations with the then Government and visiting Missions.
As the War was coming to an end, it was becoming clear that India’s freedom is not very far. It was also very clear that it will be the Congress President (due to the number of seats Congress had won in 1946 elections), who shall be invited to form the Interim Government at the Center and thus would be the First PM of India. Thus, suddenly the position of the President of the Congress Party became a matter of great interest.
Once the election for the post of Congress President was announced, Maulana Azad expressed his desire for the re-election.
This fact has been accepted by Azad himself but in a very twisted way.
In his autobiography Maulana Azad wrote:“The question normally arose that there should be fresh Congress elections and a new President chosen. As soon as this was mooted in the Press, a general demand arose that I should be elected President for another term. There was a general feeling in Congress that since I had conducted the negotiations till now, I should be charged with the task of bringing them to a successful close and implementing them.”
In the euphoria of the election of the president for Congress party, Gandhiji made his choice of Prime Minister of India known in the favor of Jawaharlal Nehru on 20th April 1946.
This was not the first time that Gandhiji spoke about his choice of Nehru, even before the process of election was set in motion. He had been speaking about it from the last several years. But Maulana’s desire for re-election and various newspaper reports about it upset Gandhiji and on 20.04.1946 he wrote to Maulana Azad, who had already been President of Congress for the last six years:
“Please go through the enclosed cuttings.… I have not spoken to anyone of my opinion. When one or two Working Committee members asked me, I said that it would not be right for the same President to continue…. If you are of the same opinion, it may be proper for you to issue a statement about the cuttings [the news item Gandhiji had sent him] and say that you have no intention to become the President again…. In today’s circumstances I would, if asked, prefer Jawaharlal. I have many reasons for this. Why go into them?”
The last date for the nominations for the post of the President of Congress, and thereby the First PM of India, was April 29, 1946. Let us not forget that by this time Gandhiji had already made his choice widely known. Still, 12 out of 15 Pradesh Congress Committees, the only legal bodies having the power to nominate and elect President of the Party, nominated Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
The remaining three may not have nominated Patel but then they did not nominate anyone else also including Jawaharlal Nehru.
No members of the Pradesh Congress Committee proposed the name of Jawaharlal Nehru for the post of the President of Congress, and thereby the First PM of India, even on the last day of filing the nominations i.e. April 29, 1946.
In view of these developments and his proximity with Nehru, J.B Kripalani took the lead in finding the proposers and seconders for Nehru’s candidacy, in deference to Gandhi’s wishes, during the Working Committee meeting on 29 Apr1946, in New Delhi.
Kripalani succeeded in getting a few Working Committee members and local members of AICC to propose Nehru’s name for the post of the President of Congress, and thereby the First PM of India,
Gandhiji knew that Jawaharlal’s nomination had almost missed the April 29 deadline, and he could not get the support of at least one Pradesh Congress Committee, the only legitimate body entitled to elect the President of the Congress, to nominate Jawaharlal.
However once Nehru was formally proposed by a few Working Committee members, efforts began to persuade Sardar Patel to withdraw his nomination in favor of Jawaharlal.
Patel sought Gandhiji’s advice who in turn asked him to do so and “Vallabhbhai did so at once.” But it must be mentioned that before advising Patel to withdraw Gandhiji had given enough hint to Nehru to allow the legitimate nomination of Sardar Patel to go through the process. Gandhiji said to Nehru:
This remark of Gandhiji was met by Jawaharlal with “complete silence”. Only after Gandhiji was informed that “Jawaharlal will not take the second place” he asked Patel to withdraw.
It is now no secret that at that time, Dr. Rajendra Prasad lamented Gandhiji and had said that he had once again sacrificed his trusted lieutenant for the sake of the ‘glamorous Nehru’ and feared that “Nehru would follow the British ways.”
Let it also be mentioned that Prasad was not the only person to complain about Gandhiji “sacrificing his trusted lieutenant for the sake of the glamorous Nehru.” There were many others as well.
In modern India, it is generally argued that Gandhiji at that time took the decision because he was convinced that “Jawaharlal will not take the second place but by giving Jawaharlal the first place India would not be deprived of Patel’s services and the both will be like two oxen yoked to the Governmental cart. One will need other and both will pull together”.
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Acceptance by Patel for the Second Position to the First PM of India
Despite all these facts and to fulfill the wishes of Gandhiji, Patel accepted to take the second position because of two reasons: firstly, for Patel post or position was immaterial. Service to the motherland was more important; and secondly, Nehru was keen that “either he would take the number one spot in the Government or stay out.
Vallabhbhai Patel also reckoned that whereas office was likely to moderate Nehru, rejection would drive him into opposition. Patel shrank from precipitating such an outcome, which would bitterly divide India.
The history connotes that however, Jawaharlal Nehru’s so-called unopposed elevation to the office of the President of the Congress did not automatically lead him to assume the office of the First PM of India. Another drama was unfolding.
Even after Nehru’s election as President of the Congress had become a foregone conclusion and results announced in the first week of May 1946, Maulana (the so-called friend of Nehru) announced on April 29 that despite this fresh election for the President, he shall continue to hold the office of the Congress President until November 1946. An another crisis was rebuilding.
It was again Gandhiji, who came to the rescue of Nehru and thwarted Maulana’s scheme. Gandhiji immediately wrote to him that Maulana’s “announcement does not seem proper.” Maulana, seeing that his game has been exposed by Gandhiji, took a very strange stand. He wrote to Gandhiji “I did not expect that you would think that Congress is not safe in my hands.”
The very same Maulana Azad, who had always been considered a great friend and confidante of Jawaharlal and who had issued a statement on 26th April 1946 to elect Nehru as Congress President, wrote in his autobiography, published posthumously in 1959:
Maulana Azad wrote:
“After weighing the pros and cons I came to the conclusion that the election of Sardar Patel would not be desirable in the existing circumstances. Taking all facts into consideration it seemed to me that Jawaharlal should be the new President….
I, at that time, had acted according to my best judgment but the way things have shaped since then has made to realize that this was perhaps the greatest blunder of my political life. I have regretted no action of mine so much as the decision to withdraw from the Presidentship of the Congress at this junction. It was a mistake which I can describe in Gandhi’s words as the one of Himalayan dimension.
My second mistake was that when I decided not to stand myself, I did not support Sardar Patel. We differed on many issues but I am convinced that if he had succeeded me as Congress President he would have seen that the Cabinet Mission Plan was successfully implemented. He would have never committed the mistake of Jawaharlal which gave Mr. Jinnah an opportunity of sabotaging the Plan. I can never forgive myself when I think that if I had not committed these mistakes, perhaps the history of the last ten years would have been different.”
Looking back to all those tumultuous years Rajagopalachari, who had all the reasons to be angry, unhappy and uncharitable to Sardar Patel because it was Patel who deprived Rajaji the first Presidentship of India, wrote almost 22 years after Patel’s death:
“When the independence of India was coming close upon us and Gandhiji was the silent master of our affairs, he had come to the decision that Jawaharlal, who among the Congress leaders was the most familiar with foreign affairs, should be the First PM of India, although he knew Vallabhbhai would be the best administrator among them all…
Undoubtedly it would have been better if Nehru had been asked to be the Foreign Minister and Patel made the First PM of India. I too fell into the error of believing that Jawaharlal was the more enlightened person of the two… A myth had grown about Patel that he would be harsh towards Muslims. This was a wrong notion but it was the prevailing prejudice.”
Before we close this chapter let us have a look at what one of the most sympathetic biographers of Nehru, who has not hesitated to distort even the well-known facts in favor of Nehru, has to say on the issue of Nehru’s elevation to the Presidentship of the Congress and thereby later on the First PM of India:
As the history of Independent India connotes, and as it was expected, one month after the election of President of Congress, the Viceroy invited Nehru, as Congress President, to form an Interim Government.
If Gandhi had not intervened and Nehru was not elected as president against the popular demands, Patel would have been de facto First PM of India, in 1946-47.
Gandhi certainly knew of the impending creation of Interim Government and he purposefully had driven the whole events in this order.
From the above episode, therefore, one must infer that Gandhiji preferred and wanted Nehru to be the First PM of India, and therefore he articulated the whole episode.
The Sardar was robbed of the most deserving prize and it rankled him deeply.
There was yet another a striking parallel in Congress election of 1929 too. On both occasions, Gandhi had thrown his weight behind Nehru at the expense of Patel.
Shall the citizens of independent and modern India ever forgive Gandhi, for his injustice meted to Patel? If things have been in order, the fate and the name of the First PM of India would have been different altogether.
- Sankar Ghose- Jawaharlal Nehru.
- M. Chalapathi Rau- Jawaharlal Nehru: Life and work.
- Maulan Abul Kalam Azad, 1957 India Win Freedom,p. 161.
- Durgadas, 1969, India from Curzon to Nehru and After, New Delhi, p. 230.
- Rajmohan Gandhi, 1991, Patel: A Life, Ahmedabad, p. 370.
- Swarajya, 27.11.1971; also quoted in Rajmohan Gandhi, Rajaji: A Life, p. 443, Penguin.
- M. Brecher, Nehru: A Political Biography, pp. 314-15, Oxford.