Prime Minister Narendra Modi while speaking on the Budget was aggrieved that the Congress did not make Sardar Patel the first Prime Minister of India. Unfortunately, no one had told Modi that Jawaharlal Nehru was Gandhi’s choice, and he had equal respect for both Nehru and Patel.
There was no rivalry between Nehru and Patel as both realized that India could only prosper if there were good relations with mutual respect for each other. Patel, even when he could muster a majority in Parliament, did not try to supplant Nehru. Let me give some instances of the respect which Nehru and Patel had, and indeed demonstrated, for each other.
In 1952, the Congress party returned to power with a clear majority in the Punjab Assembly elections. My father became the Chief Minister of Punjab, that then comprised present-day Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
I had, in 1946, become an active member of the Socialist party founded by Jai Prakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia and others. I myself had a personal experience in 1955 when I was the chairperson of the Socialist Party (Punjab) and the general secretary of the Punjab High Court Bar Association. In 1955, the Punjab High Court was shifting from Simla to Chandigarh. It was to be inaugurated by Nehru and he had come to Chandigarh the evening before.
My father, who was then the Chief Minister of Punjab, invited Nehru for an informal breakfast at our residence. I was staying with my father though my office was in another sector. It was a rare occasion for a young man like me, who had admired Nehru a lot during the freedom struggle.
Our party was convinced (rightly or wrongly), time alone will tell, that Nehru, who had shown the vision of socialism to us, had not kept that pace and was following wrong policies.
Our differences with his policies were deep. I was a small fry in that milieu. But I told my father that I will not be at the breakfast table to receive Nehru. My father and I had a beautiful understanding and respected each other’s views. He realized my reluctance but said that I was being childish.
I went to my office before Nehru arrived because I could not think of being at home and being rude by not joining him for breakfast. Of course, we received Nehru with all the dignity and deference due to him when he came to the High Court for its inauguration.
Now I laugh at my presumptuousness — a chit of a boy, whom Nehru will not even notice, denying himself a rare close breakfast meeting with one of the greatest leaders of India, a hero of our time. One may laugh now, but at that time it represented a youthful, genuine and unshakeable faith in socialism – which fortunately, I have still not lost.
Whatever little was left of democracy vanished when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency and stifled the press violating Nehru’s warning. My father an old Congressman wrote a letter to Indira Gandhi during Emergency reminding her of Nehru’s words:
“To my mind, the freedom of the press is not just a slogan from the larger point of view but it is an essential attribute of the democratic process. I have no doubt that even if the Government dislikes the liberties taken by the Press and considers them dangerous it is wrong to interfere with the freedom of the Press. By imposing restriction you do not change anything; you merely suppress the public manifestation of certain things, thereby causing the idea and thought underlying them to spread further. Therefore, I would rather have a completely free Press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or regulated Press.”
Let me give a few instances, where, even when they differed on State policy, Nehru and Patel accepted the others point of view. In 1947, Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir,after the tribal attack by Pakistan realized that it was no longer possible to remain Independent. So, he sent his Prime Minister Justice Mahajan with a letter to Nehru of acceding Jammu and Kashmir to India in return for military assistance.
Mahajan was finding it difficult to convince Nehru about immediate acceptance of accession of Kashmir, though Patel agreed with Mahajan. A heated debate was going on but Nehru still showed reluctance. At this time, Sheikh Abdullah, who was listening to this debate, came out from the adjacent room to tell Nehru to accept the view of Patel and Mahajan. It was in these circumstances of mutual respect for each other that accession of J&K to India took place.
Another important event concerned the accession of Hyderabad. It is well known that while Patel was for taking strong action against the Nizam of Hyderabad, who was wanting to remain Independent and not accede to India (even when his boundaries had no direct linkage with Pakistan), Nehru was still against military action. But, of the view that the conditions would become irredeemable, Patel decided on his own to send security forces.
While the security forces were moving in, Nehru came to know about it and telephoned N.V. Gadgil, Minister of State for Home and told him that he wanted to immediately talk to Patel about this action. Gadgil phoned Patel and communicated the message. Patel naturally sensed that Nehru would want to stop the action, so he told Gadgil to tell Nehru that he had not been able to contact him. The result was that the security forces moved in, and the Nizam immediately signed the latter of accession to India.
The Nizam realized and understood the working of Nehru and Patel. This is shown by the fact that soon after Nehru went to Hyderabad , the Nizam did not show the courtesy of receiving him at the airport. But soon after Patel went to Hyderabad, he realized the consequence of repeating his foolishness and quietly went to the Airport to receive Patel, as per the correct protocol.
(Published in The Citizen, 28 February, 2018)