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In Patel vs Nehru saga, remember that India’s first PM wasn’t elected unanimously

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A perusal of Congress party documents shows that despite Gandhiji having made his choice known, 12 of 15 state committees nominated Patel for party president.

It has been repeatedly said that Jawaharlal Nehru was unanimously elected as the first Prime Minister of India and was the darling of the country. The documents and facts speak completely opposite.

Maulana Azad was elected Congress president in the Ramgarh Session in 1940. Because of various factors like World War II, Quit India Movement and most of the Congress leaders being in jails, Azad continued to be the Congress president until April 1946.

As the war was coming to an end, it was becoming clear that India’s freedom is not very far. It was also very clear that the Congress president, shall be invited to form the interim government at the Centre — due to the number of seats in the Central Assembly the Congress had won in 1946 elections.

Once the election for the post of the Congress president was announced, Maulana Azad expressed his desire for the re-election. Maulana writes in his autobiography,

“The question normally arose that there should be the 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 term….”

This “agonised Azad’s close friend and colleague Jawaharlal who had his own expectations.” However, on 20 April 1946, Gandhiji made his choice known in the favour of Nehru. Despite Gandhiji’s open support for Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress party overwhelmingly wanted Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as the president and consequently the first Prime Minister of India, because Patel was considered “a great executive, organizer and leader” with his feet firmly on the ground.

At that time only the Pradesh Congress Committees could nominate and elect the Congress president. And April 29, 1946 was the last date for the nominations for the post of the Congress president, and thereby the first Prime Minister of India. A perusal of the Congress party documents shows that despite Gandhiji having made his choice known, 12 out of 15 Pradesh Congress Committees nominated Sardar Patel. The remaining three abstained from nomination process. Thus, no Pradesh Congress Committee, the only legitimate body to nominate and elect the President, nominated Jawaharlal Nehru.

However, Nehru was proposed by a few working committee members who had no authority to do so.  After this, efforts began to persuade Sardar Patel to withdraw in favour of Jawaharlal. To resolve the issue, Gandhiji said to Nehru:

“No PCC has put forward your name…only [a few members of] the working committee has.”

This remark of Gandhiji was met by Jawaharlal with “complete silence”. Once Gandhiji was informed that “Jawaharlal will not take the second place”, he asked Patel to withdraw.  Rajendra Prasad lamented that Gandhiji “had once again sacrificed his trusted lieutenant for the sake of the “glamorous Nehru” and further feared that “Nehru would follow the British ways”.

When Rajendra Prasad was using the phrase “once again”, he indeed was referring to the denial of Congress president-ship to Patel in 1929, 1937 and 1946 in preference to Nehru; and always at the last moment.

Patel accepted to take the second position because of two reasons: firstly, for Patel, post or position was immaterial; and secondly, Nehru was keen that “either he would take the number one spot in the government or stay out. Vallabhbhai also reckoned that whereas office was likely to moderate Nehru, rejection would drive him into opposition. Patel shrank from precipitating such an outcome, which would bitterly divide India.”

Maulana Azad, who had issued a statement on 26 April 1946, three days before the last date of nomination, to elect Nehru as Congress president, wrote in his autobiography, published posthumously in 1959:

“After weighing the pros and cons 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 President….

“I acted according to my best judgment but the way things have shaped since then has made to realise that this was perhaps the greatest blunder of my political life. …(It was a great mistake that) I did not support Sardar Patel. … He would have never committed the mistake of Jawaharlal…  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.”

 Michael Brecher, one of the most sympathetic biographers of Nehru, writes:

“In accordance with the time-honoured practice of rotating the Presidency, Patel was in line for the post. Fifteen years had elapsed since he presided over the Karachi session whereas Nehru had presided at Lucknow and Ferozpur in 1936 and 1937. Moreover, Patel was the overwhelming choice of the Provincial Congress Committees…. Nehru’s ‘election’ was due to Gandhi’s intervention. Patel was persuaded to step down….

“If Gandhi had not intervened, Patel would have been the first de facto Premier of India, in 1946-7…. The Sardar was ‘robbed of the prize’ and it rankled deeply.”

Looking back at all those tumultuous years C. Rajagopalachari, who had all the reasons to be angry, and uncharitable to Sardar Patel because it was Patel who deprived Rajaji the first Presidentship of India, wrote in Bhawan’s Journal in 1972 (almost 22 years after Patel’s death):

“Undoubtedly 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 two… This was a wrong notion but it was the prevailing prejudice.”

Prof. Makkhan Lal is Founder Director of Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management and currently Distinguished Fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation.


Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, 1959, India Wins Freedom

Rajmohan Gandhi, 1991, Patel: A Life

Durga Das, 1969, India From Curzon to Nehru and After

Brecher, 1959, Nehru: A Political Biography

C. Rajagopalachari, in Swarajya

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  1. Wow my neoliberal ThePrint and the sanghi-author Makhhan Lal cherrypicking details to suit his agenda.

    In early 1946, Gandhiji had realized that the interim government to be set up according to the Cabinet Mission Plan would be set-up somewhere in the middle of the summer of the same year. Since the Congress had been presided by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad since 1940, the Mahatma felt that a new president had to elected before the Interim government would become a reality, since this government would eventually invite the President of the Congress Party to occupy an important position in the government, which would most probably pave way for the Prime Ministership of Independent India.

    The usual way of election for the Congress Presidency was by a voting procedure in which all the delegates of the AICC were to cast their vote for the candidate they wanted as president (these delegates numbered into more than a couple of thousand). Since the Congress session was due in November of 1946, this usual method wouldn’t have been possible, since the president had to be elected before the Interim government was formed—before the end of the summer.

    Thus, in April, it was decided that the election would take place in a different way: the PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) heads were to submit their votes, and it was on the basis of the majority of these votes that would’ve finalized the Congress President for 1946.

    We more or less know the rest of the story: Patel, Nehru and Kripalani stood for the post; Out of 15, 12 votes were cast in the Sardar’s name, 2 in Kripalani’s, and the remaining PCC didn’t vote for any candidate; Gandhiji asked Kripalani to withdraw his name and lobby for Jawaharlal, who eventually got 2 of Kripalani’s votes. With Gandhiji wanting Nehru to be president, now the Sardar was asked to withdraw his nomination, which he did at once.

    This is where the usual story ends for those who resent Jawaharlal’s existence and the Sardar’s senility.


    We forget that the PCCs who voted for Sardar did so to elect him as the Congress President, not the Prime Minister of India. As Dwarka Prasad Mishra (one of the PCC heads who voted for Patel) wrote in a letter*, they had voted for Sardar and not Panditji because the latter had occupied the post (Congress Presidency) twice, that too consecutively in 1936 and 1937; whereas the last time Patel had held the post was 1931. It was because of this reason that majority of votes were cast in Sardar’s name. D.P. Mishra also clarified that even though he had voted for Sardar as president, for Prime Minister’s Office, he would’ve voted Nehru!**

    Eminent historian Rajmohan Gandhi, who is the author of arguably the most authoritative biography of Patel, himself says that had it been left to the people of India, Jawaharlal Nehru would’ve been elected as the Prime Minister. **

    Finally, since many talk about this affair of Congress Presidentship as some sort of an ambitious maneuver by Nehru, let me sum up by quoting from a biography of him (considered the best available):

    …Jawaharlal was elected in succession to Azad as president of the Congress. Azad’s handling of the Congress case in the discussions with the Cabinet Mission had merited no confidence, and there was general agreement that Jawaharlal should take over. Hindsight has led to much significance being read into this election, it being seen as a part of the Gandhian technique to ease Jawaharlal into the prime ministership which was looming ahead and deprive Patel of what was his by virtue of his control of the party machine. But at that time no one saw it in that light. In the summer of 1946 the presidency of the Congress seemed to bestow immediate responsibility rather than imminent office. ***

    Last but not the least, we must not forget why Gandhi had chosen Jawaharlal over Patel: appeal among all communities and groups, international stature, moderation, age, health etc. Patel himself wrote in 1949 that it was fitting that Nehru came to head the country after Independence:

    The sincerity of his convictions, the breadth of his outlook, the clarity of his vision, and the purity of his emotions – all these have brought to him the homage of millions in this country and outside.It was, therefore, in the fitness of things that in the twilight preceding the dawn of independence he should have been our leading light, and that when India was faced with crisis after crisis, following the achievement of our freedom, he should have been the upholder of our faith and the leader of our legions. No one knows better than myself how much he has labored for his country in the last years of our difficult existence. I have seen him age quickly during that period, on account of the worries of the high office that he holds and the tremendous responsibilities that he wields.****


    *The letter is cited in Patel: A Life by Rajmohan Gandhi
    ** See the interview of the historian below.

    *** Sarvepalli Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography Vol.1 (1889–1947) (Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 326

    ****Nehru Abhinandan Granth, 1949, p.xviii-xxix.


  3. सावधान- लेखक माखन लाल आर एस एस यानी संघ का कार्यकर्ता है….ये एक प्रोपगेंडा लेख है

  4. There is not only 1 article like this 1. So many biographies from Pre to Post independence era write on same lines.
    How come people miss out that pre- independence parliament gave few(15) seats reluctantly to provinces & there also they tried to divide Muslims & Keshdhari sikhs.
    Back then Punjab wasn’t just Indian Punjab but Pakistan Punjab as well & Hyderabad wasn’t city it was as good as a state size of Pakistan Punjab. Such were Princely provinces who got seats to represent in Parliament.
    And when rest British parliament was leaving India had 15 seats back then who could vote for President of Congress who will b Prime minister of Free India.
    The other seats were filled post independence.
    And Gandhi wasn’t “political leader of Congress” but bcoz of his popularity & influence. He was able to Veto in Congress Voting. And he used those to make Sardar Patel step down from nomination. Gandhi supressed people’s voice of Free India & such other blunder decisions like going on satyagraha during partition when people r being raped n killed & people saying we will stand down but eat something. The cost of children life was nothing in front of aging old man.
    And Godse felt the need to pull a trigger bcoz nobody could be hanged for going on satyagraha esp Gandhi. And till he is alive. He won’t let Patel do his job. And thats what happened. Gandhi died & Patel sent Army to calm Hyderabad issue & he could hv solved Kashmir issue back then only. And there would not be any article 370 to deal with.

  5. can this guy know maulana azad was congress president in 1946 & j p kriplani was in 1947. next can he name 13/14/15/16 whatever nos quoted in internet web for PCC or state congress committees …i mean name of representative/head/state president of those PCC and which PCCs were those…any 5 person out these committees statements or acceptances in support to narration as proof… be it a print media record newpaper cuttings of 1947-50.. any book magzine or inteviews proving this as truth for at least 5 representatives out of said PCCs in later life or if any wrote book or any book published in their name have any reference to this narration that they voted sardar and voted out nehru.

  6. Nehru is more of an internationalist with an exposure of foreign affairs (need of the hour element), while Patel was more of a nationalist working on internal affairs of India. The India we see today is because of the deliberations and what may caused to embrace Nehru as PM that changed the fate of our polity and economy in the global sphere. And, not to forget that the first democratic election to the office of Indian PM has been altered affecting the founding values of ‘popular vote’

  7. Sardar Patel died in December 1950. Jawaharlal Nehru would have still been the prime minister afterward. You were saying something about 10-year history being different?

    • Patel would have looked into defence procurement straight away for those air crafts that could fly night time. Not given up kashmir to pakistan. Taken a stand which could have been pro american and opposed to Soviet block.
      This could have changed economy forever. Remember that pakistan was fastest growing economy and south korea was making pakistan its idol in terms of progress in 60s.
      Who knows with sabres, Patton tanks, starfighters, gaazi submarines what we could have done in wars.

  8. It is a complete work of fiction derived from the people who are struggling to identify the postion of their ideolog’s contribution in Indian Independence movement. They are giving wrong hypothetical positioning of two great indian politician ,and draging them against each other when they are not alive . more or less they are misguiding todays youth with altered cooked history .

  9. Like Birthers Movement, this is pathetic attempt to discredit Nehru. Jawaharlal Nehru became because Congress won 70% seats under his own Presidency- not because PCCs said so. In India PCCs don’t elect PMs. If that’s the case, Rahul Gandhi would be the PM now. Nobody in right would ever claim any PM elected unanimously. That’s not how Indian democracy works. PM has to enjoy at least 50% support in Lok Sabha (then called Constituent Assembly. Congress had 70% seats which means other parties had 30 percent. So PM could never be unanimous.

    • Its the party that decides the prime minister. Manmohan Singh, Do I need to say more and today’s congress is nothing like the congress of that time, if you know about the divisions that have taken place of the main branch for political gains by Nehru Pariwar.

  10. I don’t know who the author is. It was party president election. Not PM election. How can 15 ppl decide PM of new country. Sardar got more votes because he had been party president only once where was Nehru git 2 chance. Author should know party president candidature was on round basis. Everyone got chance once, twice or thrice ar max. Voting were based on that lines only. Sardar got more votes. When gandhiji suggested party president should PM candidate, Sardar candidature was withdrawn since he was never in PM race. Lies have been repeated thousand times now it soundslike truth.

    • Like BJP gives post to andh vishwasi people, where education is most needed. Yeah yeah who is a fool here.
      Fool blame their ancestor where smart people work like AAP in Delhi.

  11. The article is totally wrong and not based on facts.In a democracy who becomes the Prime Minister? The person who gets the mandate of the people.Jawaharlal Nehru was the most charismatic political leader of the country at that time.Gandhi ji was not a political leader.He never fought an election in his life time.Patel was never in contention and Nehru’s choice was automatic.Nehru remains the most popular leader the World has ever seen. He won 3 consecutive elections with two thirds majority.By the way when country got independence, not Neheru but Shri J.B.Kripalini was the congress president.
    Party presidents do not become Prime Minister automatically.When Shri La lBahadur Sastri and Smt. Indira Gandhi became PM, Mr.K.Kamraj was the Congress president.When Shri Vajpayee became the PM, Shri L.K.Advani was the party president.When Shri Narendra Modi became PM, Shri Rajnath Singh was the BJP President.So this theory of 11 PCC for Patel and I PCC for Nehru is totally fabricated.The essence is that in a democracy,neither Gandhi ji not the Party nor the Pradesh Unit of the party but the People of India who elect the president

    • At that time there were no election or public voting for prime minister of India because We were not independent to did that why we made Jawahar Lal Nehru Ist prime minister of Independent India and not to Mohammed Jinnah to avoid the partisan. But in the history of India its always happened no political leader care of the public all wants the power and crushed the innocent peoples.

  12. Is this twisted fact as Vivekananda institute is run by Doval and its affiliated to BJP and question the credibility … Its easy ready for people they dont have time to fact check … Rather go quotes … If feel this like Modi ji speech nothing else my references for this article…

  13. सरदार पटेल को अगर नेहरू ने कश्मीर का मामला सौंपा होता , तो वर्तमान में कश्मीर समस्या ना झेलनी पड़ती।

  14. बेहद शानदार और प्रभावशाली तरीके से सही तथ्यों को सामने लाकर इतिहास की वास्तविकता से परिचय कराने हेतु धन्यवाद … प्रो. माखनलाल जी आपका ये प्रयास अत्यंत सराहनीय है… उम्मीद है आपकी लेखनी हमें आगे भी एेसी ही तमाम जानकारियों से रूबरू कराती रहेगी….

  15. Our country was sabotaged by this Gandhi Nehru Duo in the beginning itself, at least now this accursed dynasty should never be allowed to return to power and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. How shamelessly in our history textbooks we are taught that NEHRU was an apostle of democracy, a mass leader whereas in truth he was a petty palace politician made of straw as future events in kashmir and 1962 proved and who just got lucky .Our textbooks should be revised and these truths must be incorporated into them so that at least future generations knows what a fraud this Nehru Gandhi family is

  16. Really amazing !! JLN was not the choice but elected unfairly and Sardar Patel was compelled to go back inspite of most voted,deserved and liked person. Though perception was created that JLN was only deserving , suitable, and capable candidate for PM.
    The history must be shown as it is to all.

  17. India lost half of Kashmir, lost war with China and is engulfed with Kashmir problem because country was administered inefficiently. Mahatma might have done everything in good faith but his faith was betrayed.

    • sources:has been given in the last by writer itself………..
      here the sources:

      Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, 1959, India Wins Freedom

      Rajmohan Gandhi, 1991, Patel: A Life

      Durga Das, 1969, India From Curzon to Nehru and After

      Brecher, 1959, Nehru: A Political Biography

      C. Rajagopalachari, in Swarajya

  18. Pt. Nehru was not President of Congress when he became 1st Prime Minister of India on 15th August 1947.

  19. Tragedy is interference by Mahatma Gandhi when he was technically not a congress member. It shows that he did neither care for laid out procedure nor for majority. He behaved in similar fashion when he ousted duly elected Subhash Chadra Bose.

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