New Delhi: As Machiavelli wrote -" History is written by the victors". The official 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.
According to this official history, Jawahar Lal Nehru was elected as the first Prime minister of India and Sardar Patel became his deputy and it was all done purely on merit.
The official history has always downplayed the grave injustice that was done to the ‘Iron Man of India' – Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. It's not that the official history does not mention the emergence of Sardar Patel and not Jawahar Lal Nehru as the overwhelming choice of the Congress party to lead India after independence but it has been reduced to mere footnotes and nothing more.
Today, on the 140th birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabh BhaiPpatel, let's revisit the entire intra-party power struggle within Congress on the eve of independence and let's figure out what really went in favour of Jawahar Lal Nehru and what was it that deprived Sardar Patel his moment of glory despite the overwhelming support he enjoyed amongst the Congressmen.
The entire rank and file of the Congress looked at Sardar Patel as the most deserving candidate to be sworn in as independent India's first Prime Minister, given his proven track record of being an able administrator and a no-nonsense politician. Then what really went wrong? To find out the answer, we need to rewind back to 1946.
By 1946, it had become quite clear that India's independence was only a matter of time now. The Second World War had come to an end and the British rulers had started thinking in terms of transferring power to Indians.
An interim government was to be formed which was to be headed by the Congress president as Congress had won the maximum number of seats in the 1946 elections. All of a sudden, the post of Congress president became very crucial as it was this very person who was going to become the first Prime Minister of Independent India.
At that time, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was the president of Congress party. In fact, he was the president for the last six years as elections could not be held for the Congress presient's post since 1940 due to Quit India movement, the Second World War and the fact that most of the leaders were behind bars.
Azad was also interested in fighting and winning election for the Congress president's post as he, too, had ambitions to become the PM, but he was told in no uncertain terms by Mahatma Gandhi that he does not approve of a second term for a sitting Congress president and Azad had to fall in line ,albeit reluctantly. Not only this, Gandhi made it very clear to everybody that Nehru was his preferred choice for the Congress president's position.
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.
And the nominations were to be made by 15 state/regional Congress committees. Despite Gandhi's well-known preference for Nehru as Congress president, not a single Congress committee nominated Nehru's name.
On the contrary, 12 out of 15 Congress committees nominated Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. The remaining three Congress committees did not nominate any body's name. Obviously, the overwhelming majority was in favour of Sardar Patel.
It was a challenge to Mahatma Gandhi as well. He instructed Acharya J B kriplani to get some proposers for Nehru from the Congress Working Committee (CWC) members despite knowing fully well that only Pradesh Congress Committees were authorized to nominate the president.
In deference to Gandhi's wish, Kripalani convinced a few CWC members to propose Nehru's name for party president.
It's not that Gandhi was not aware of the immorality of this exercise. 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. He conveyed to Nehru that no PCC has nominated his name and that only a few CWC members have nominated him. A shell-shocked Nehru was defiant and made it clear that he will not play second fiddle to any body.
A disappointed Gandhi gave into Nehru's obduracy and asked Sardar Patel to withdraw his name. Sardar Patel had immense respect for Gandhi and he withdrew his candidature without wasting any time. And it paved the way for the coronation of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru as India's first Prime Minister.
But why did Gandhi overlook the overwhelming support for Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel? Why was he so enamoured with Nehru?
When Dr Rajendra Prasad heard of Sardar Patel's withdrawal of nomination, he was disappointed and remarked that Gandhi had once again sacrificed his trusted lieutenant in favour of the ‘glamorous Nehru'.
Was it the ‘glamour' and ‘sophistication' of Nehru that floored Gandhi so much that he did not hesitate in doing grave injustice to Patel?