Interesting read. Was Nehru unanimously elected as Indiaâ€™s first Prime Minister? Dr. Ashok Jahanvi Prasad Recently I witnessed two interviews of Congress (I) personnel on different channels. They were incisively quizzed on whether their sole reliance on the members of the Nehru-Gandhi family was desirable given their inability to provide direction and leadership needed in the contemporary context. Both Manish Tewari and Rita Bahuguna Joshi became extremely defensive and came up with a similar logic -which was that the Nehru-Gandhi family was the only family that had an umbilical link with the Indian people but that the people had repeatedly posed their trust in them ever since they appeared on the political horizon.They went further to state that the party had always given primacy to the family ever since Jawaharlal Nehru was unanimously chosen as the Prime Minister immediately prior to independence.Even the language was identical which lead me to suspect whether a script had been prepared which both of them were reading out. What was troubling here was that there was no challenge to this inaccurate statement by the moderators. Jawahralal Nehru was not unanimously elected as the only choice for the Prime Ministerial position; Bipin Chandra has written and lectured extensively on this topic and lest this inaccuracy acquire validity, I think it would be apposite to produce some substantiated facts which the learned professor had come up with in a lecture he delivered way back in 1992 in New York that I was privileged to attend. I still have the transcript with me. According to Chandra, the country was deeply polarized along communal lines following the defeat of Muslim League in 1937.Mahatma Gandhi at the time felt that the best person to lead Congress at the time would be Maulana Azad. He was elected President of the Party in 1940 just 15 weeks before the Lahore Resolution for the creation of Pakistan which had been moved by Jinnah. The Second World War was in full swing and with most of the Congress leadership in gaol, the next elections for the post could not take place until April 1946.The Maulana had represented the Party in various negotiations with the British government and its Missions.When it became very clear that India was going to be granted independence, It also became very clear that whosoever was heading the Congress would be invited to form the Interim Government. In India Wins Freedom, Maulana states: â€œThe 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 selected President for another termâ€¦. 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.â€ Rajmohan Gandhi in his book Patel:A Life states that this move â€œagonized Azadâ€™s close friend and colleague Jawaharlal who had his own expectations.â€ Gandhi intervened and made his preference for Nehru known on the 20th of April 1946. He wrote to Azad stating: â€œPlease go through the enclosed cuttings.â€¦ 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 continueâ€¦. 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 againâ€¦. In todayâ€™s circumstances I would, if asked, prefer Jawaharlal. I have many reasons for this. Why go into them?â€ (Reference:Rajmohan Gandhi, 1991, Patel: A Life, Ahmedabad, p. 370) Despite this unequivocal endorsement, the party overwhelmingly wanted to see Vallabhbhai Patel as the Congress President and the Prime Minister.The last date for the nominations for the post of the President of Congress, and thereby the first Prime Minister of India, was April 29, 1946.12 out of 15 Pradesh Congress Committees, the only legal bodies having power to nominate and elect President of the Party, nominated Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Two were in favour of Rajendra Prasad but there were none in favour of Jawaharlal Nehru. J.B Kripalani took the lead in finding the proposers and seconders for Nehruâ€™s candidacy, in deference to Gandhiâ€™s wishes, during the Working Committee meeting on 29.04.1946 in New Delhi. Kripalani succeeded in getting a few Working Committee members and local members of AICC to propose Nehruâ€™s name for the post. According to Rajamohan Gandhi ,the Mahatma had acted in this manner because 'â€œJawaharlal will not take a second place but by giving Jawaharlal the first place India would not be deprived of Patelâ€™s services and the both will be like two oxen yoked to the Governmental cart. One will need other and both will pull togetherâ€ It would be instructive to note what the Maulana had to say about the matter in India Wins Freedom which was published after his death: â€œAfter weighting the pros and cans 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 Presidentâ€¦. â€œI 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 form the Presidentship of the Congress at this junction. It was a mistake which I can describe in Gandhiâ€™s words as the one of Himalayan dimension. â€œMy 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.â€ Maulana is generally perceived to have been antagonistic to Patel.His comments therefore acquire even greater meaning as do those of Rajagopalachariar who again had good reason to feel peeved with Patel as he always believed it was because of the Sardar he was denied the presidency of India: â€œWhen 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 Prime Minister of India, although he knew Vallabhbhai would be the best administrator among them allâ€¦ â€œUndoubtedly it would have been better if Nehru had been asked to be the Foreign Minister and Patel made the Prime Minister. I too fell into the error of believing that Jawaharlal was the more enlightened person of the twoâ€¦ A myth had grown about Patel that he would be harsh towards Muslims. This was a wrong notion but it was the prevailing prejudiceâ€(Swarajya, 27.11.1971) It would also be instructive to delve into the most favourable of Nehru's biographies - the one authored by Micheal Brecher: â€œIn accordance with the time-honored practice of rotating the Presidency, Patel was in line for the post. Fifteen years had elapsed since he presided over the Karachi session where as Nehru had presided at Lucknow and Ferozpur in 1936 and 1937. Moreover, Patel was the overwhelming choice of the Provincial Congress Committeesâ€¦. Nehruâ€™s â€˜electionâ€™ was due to Gandhiâ€™s intervention. Patel was persuaded to step down. â€œOne month after the election the Viceroy invited Nehru, as Congress President, to form an Interim Government. If Gandhi had not intervened, Patel would have been the first de facto Premier of India, in 1946-7. Gandhi certainly knew of the impending creation of Interim Government. One must infer, therefore, that he preferred Nehru as the first Prime Minister of free India. The Sardar was â€˜robbed of the prizeâ€™ and it rankled deeply. He was then seventy-one while Nehru was fifty-six; in traditionalist Indian terms the elder statesman should have been the first primer and Patel knew that because of his advanced age another opportunity would probably not arise. â€œThere is striking parallel with Congress election of 1929; on both occasions Gandhi threw his weight behind Nehru at the expense of Patel.â€ In effect, the proposition repeatedly put forward by the Congress (I) worthies that Nehru's election to the prime ministerial position was spontaneous and unanimous is not supported by evidence. I believe the best and the most befitting tribute we can pay to the great Sardar is to set this record straight- particularly as the present government seems to have embarked on a project to adumbrate Patel's seminal contribution to nation-building which is not generally appreciated. In all fairness, the government needs to be commended for this exercise especially as it was Patel who had banned the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the organization that has always been the metaphorical foster-mother to the Bharatiya Janata Party and its predecessor the Jana Sangh.