Remembering Sardar Patel

Prabhat Kishore
Contd from previous issue
A shell-shocked Nehru was defiant and made it clear that he will not play second fiddle to anybody and he may even leave the party. Gandhi knew that Nehru could go upto any extent for power, whereas Patel could sacrifice without any hesitation. Patel also not get stuck on the issue as he was aware that any break up in the party would  send wrong signal at such a crucial juncture. The Congressmen were not happy with Gandhi’s choice; but then for the sake of unity and in reverence to Gandhi,  they endorsed it. Disappointed Rajendra Prasad remarked that Gandhi had once again sacrificed his “trusted lieutenant” in favour of the “glamorous Nehru”.
Thus, setting aside all rules and regulations, Nehru was elected (selected !) the Congress president.  A few days later on 16th  May 1946, a 3-member "Cabinet Mission" arrived in  India, which suggested the formation of an Interim Government at the centre and to constitute Constitution Assembly.
In Kripalani's words, who was instrumental in proposing Jawahar’s name, “It was certain that if Jawahar's name had not been proposed illegally, then Sardar would have been elected as the Congress president. In that event, Patel (and not Nehru) would have been invited to head the Interim Government (on 2nd September 1946) and to be the first defacto Prime Minister.” It is reasonable to think that as head of the Interim Government Patel (who always demonstrated his edge over Nehru in party control and management) would have further consolidated his position as the unchallenged leader of the party and as dejure Prime Minister when independence came on 15th August 1947. Due to Gandhi's restiveness Patel, despite having overwhelming support, "missed the bus."
From the defacto position, dejure Prime Ministership for Nehru was not a very difficult move. As Gandhi was still alive in 1947 and his opt-repeated declaration about Nehru being his 'political heir' was well known; hence Nehru was unanimously elected the leader of Congress Parliamentary Party; and, as such, he became the first PM of Independent India.
The incident of 1946 was not the first time that Patel was debarred from the leadership. Earlier on several occasions Nehru superseded him through Gandhi's intervention. In 1929, for Congress presidency, ten provincial recommendations were for Gandhi, five for Patel and three for Nehru. After Gandhi's refusal, the natural choice was Patel. But Gandhi intervened for Nehru and he (Nehru) ultimately became the Congress president.
In 1931, Patel was elected the president of the Congress in Karachi session. Again in 1937, his name was considered for Congress presidentship; but knowing Gandhi’s wish, he himself suggested the re-election of Nehru. As chairman of party election committee, Patel showed his credibility in provincial elections held in 1937 and 1946, when Congress got a majority it most of the provinces.
(To be contd)