5a) Blunder-6 : Undemocratic Elevation as First PM

Blunder–6 :
Undemocratic Elevation as First PM

Post 1945, with the increasing hopes of the imminence of India’s independence, all patriots looked forward to having a strong, assertive, competent, decisive, no-nonsense person as India’s first prime minister, who would bring back the lost glory of India, and turn it into a modern, prosperous nation. Iron Man was the clear choice, being a cut much above the rest. And, nobody looked forward to having some undemocratic, indecisive, clueless sissy to mess up a hard-won freedom after centuries.

The Congress Party had practically witnessed Patel as a great executor, organizer and leader, with his feet on the ground. Sardar had demonstrated his prowess in the various movements and assignments, including that in the Nagpur Agitation of 1923; the Borsad Satyagraha of 1923; excellent management of the Ahmedabad Municipality during 1924-27; tackling of the Ahmedabad Floods of 1927; the Bardoli Satyagraha of 1928 that earned him the title of "Sardar"; the Dandi March and the Salt Satyagraha of 1930; successful management of elections for the Congress during 1934-37; preparation, conduct and management of Haripura session of the Congress in 1938 on a massive scale; building up of the party machine; role in preparation for the Quit India Movement; and premier leadership role from 1945 onwards.

Patel’s achievements were far in excess of Nehru’s, and all Congress persons and the country knew it. The far greater contribution of Patel in the Quit India Movement, unmatched by Nehru, was fresh in the mind of the Congress leaders and public.

Sardar was far better academically, and much more intelligent than Nehru. Like Nehru, Sardar Patel too had studied in England. But, while Nehru’s father financed all his education, Sardar financed his own education in England, through his own earnings! While Nehru could manage to scrape through in only a poor lower second-division in England, Sardar Patel topped in the first division!

Professionally too, Sardar was a successful lawyer, while Nehru was a failure. Sardar had a roaring practice, and was the highest paid lawyer in Ahmedabad, before he left it all on a call by Gandhi; while Nehru was dependent upon his father for his own upkeep, and that of his family.

Based on the ground-level practical experience since 1917, it could be said with certainty in 1946 that Nehru was no match for Sardar for the critical post of the prime minister. Of course, Nehru as PM in practice confirmed beyond a shred of doubt that it should have been Sardar, and not him, who should have been the first PM of India. For details, please read the author’s other books ‘Foundations of Misery: The Nehruvian Era 1947-64’ (available on Amazon).


Whoever became the president of the Congress in 1946 would have also become the first prime minister of India, hence the presidential election was critical.

The Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs), 15 in number, alone had the power to nominate and elect a president. Gandhi had indicated his preference for Nehru 9 days before the last date of nomination of 29 April 1946, on which date the Congress Working Committee (CWC) met to consider the nominations sent by PCCs.

Result: Not a single PCC nominated Nehru! 12 of the 15 PCCs (80%) nominated Sardar Patel. 3 of the 15 PCCs (20%) did not nominate anyone. It was therefore a non-contest. Sardar Patel was the only choice, and an undisputed choice.

But, was Sardar Patel chosen? No! It was a case of déjà vu—a repeat of 1929. Gandhi asked Patel to withdraw. Patel complied without a protest or delay. That cleared the ground for Nehru.

“I sent a paper round proposing the name of Jawaharlal [at the instance of Gandhi, when Gandhi observed no one had proposed Nehru, even though such nomination (other than by PCC) was illegal]… It was certain that if Jawaharlal’s name had not been proposed, the Sardar would have been elected as the President… The Sardar did not like my intervention. I have since wondered if, as the General Secretary, I should have been instrumental in proposing Jawaharlal’s name in deference to Gandhi’s wishes in the matter… But who can forecast the future? On such seemingly trivial accidents depends the fate of men and even of nations.”

                                                     —Acharya Kriplani

Finding none had recommended Nehru, reportedly, Gandhi did tell Nehru: “No PCC has put forward your name…only [a few members of] the Working Committee have [that too at the prodding of Gandhi himself].” Nehru remained pregnantly silent. Despite his grand pretentions of Gandhi as his father figure, and he being his son, chela and follower, Nehru remained silently defiant and let it be known to Gandhi he would not play second fiddle to anyone.

It has even been claimed that Nehru tried blackmail: he threatened to split the Congress on the issue. It appears that all the “sacrifice” for the nation by Motilal and his son was geared to ultimately grab power for the Nehru dynasty!

Nehru was not without shrewdness or guile; like Franklin D Roosevelt, he had something of the lion and the fox in him and none understood better the mechanics and manipulations of Indian politics.

                                                     —Frank Morass

Gandhi was a dictator. He was no democrat. And, it was not as if his dictatorial and undemocratic action did any good for the nation. It actually cost the nation dear. Rather than national interests, Gandhi’s personal bias dominated. Commented Dr Rajendra Prasad: “Gandhi has once again sacrificed his trusted lieutenant for the sake of the glamorous Nehru.”

Gandhi was actually a self-obsessed authoritarian harbouring an overblown self-image, with an inflated ego, believing his all-round quackery represented wide and deep knowledge and wisdom, and that only he knew what was best.

Didn’t Gandhi realise the immorality of his illegal and undemocratic act—and a repeat act at that? Why did he go against the wishes of the overwhelming majority?

The ‘Apostle of Non-Violence’ advocated non-violence as an all-encompassing principle: non-violence was not just in the context of use of force, but also about speech, behaviour, other acts, and so on. Was junking majority-vote not a violence against the voice of the overwhelming majority? How was being dictatorial compatible with the principle of non-violence? Is injustice compatible with non-violence? Was gross repeat injustice to Sardar Patel compatible with the principle of non-violence?

Why Gandhi kept throwing his weight behind Nehru since Nehru’s election as President of the Congress in 1929 (thanks to Gandhi), and kept giving Nehru a leg-up on the far more capable Sardar Patel right through, would remain a mystery! It proved in practice to be a major disservice by Gandhi (though unintentionally) to the nation.

Further, how could Nehru be called a democrat when he so undemocratically usurped the said post? Height of hypocrisy and brazenness was when Nehru grandly commented on his unjust elevation: “I was, for a long time, unable to make up my mind… But, the day before yesterday, I persuaded myself to shoulder the responsibility on the advice of Mahatmaji and also my colleagues in the Working Committee.”

“My own understanding is that if Sardar Patel had been Prime Minister during that time and not Nehru, India would have gone further and faster.”

                                  —Minoo Masani in ‘Against the Tide’

It cost India heavy to have Nehru in a position that could have been ably handled only by Patel as the President in 1946, and later as PM.

Even after Patel was no more, it should have been Dr Ambedkar or C Rajagopalachari or some other capable person, rather than Nehru at the helm.

Somebody asked Gandhi why he did so. Reportedly, Gandhi’s reason was he wanted both Nehru and Patel together to lead the nation, but while Nehru would not work under Patel, he knew that in the national interest he could persuade Sardar Patel to work under Nehru.

What Gandhi said amounts to this: While Sardar Patel, even though senior and much more experienced, and backed by majority, was patriotic enough to work under Nehru in the national interest, if so prodded by Gandhi; Nehru, junior, less experienced, and not backed by a single PCC, wanted only to become PM, and was not patriotic enough to work under Patel, in the national interest, even if persuaded by Gandhi!

 “...[then] it seemed to me that Jawaharlal should be the new President [in 1946—and hence PM] ...I acted according to my best judgement but the way things have shaped since then has made me to realise that this was perhaps the greatest blunder of my political life... My second mistake was that when I decided not to stand myself, I did not support Sardar Patel.”

—Maulana Azad, ‘India Wins Freedom’

Says Kuldip Nayar in ‘Beyond the Lines’:
“[Humayun] Kabir [translator-editor of Maulana Azad's autobiography] believed that Azad had come to realize after seeing Nehru’s functioning that Patel should have been India’s prime minister and Nehru the president of India. Coming as it did from an inveterate opponent of Patel, it was a revelation...A year earlier, Rajagopalachari had said the same thing...”