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Why Rahul Gandhi-led Congress needs to put Nehru-Patel records straight

An authorised account from the Congress is required to put the Nehru-Patel, Nehru-Bose ties in perspective, even if it means admitting some mistakes.

 |  5-minute read |   25-10-2018
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Given Prime Minister Narendra Modi's penchant for constantly raking up controversies relating to Jawaharlal Nehru and Congress' alleged 'shabby' treatment given to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhas Chandra Bose and other stalwarts, Rahul Gandhi-led Congress needs to put the record straight.

The Congress under Sonia Gandhi missed an opportunity of sorts when it brought out volumes in 2010 to mark 125 years of the Indian National Congress. Editors Pranab Mukherjee and Anand Sharma, assisted by a battery of historians namely Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee, Sucheta Mahajan, Rizwan Qaiser and Bhashyam Kasturi dealt with the persona of Patel and Bose rather hurriedly, sticking to basics and a few carefully worded sentences.

The opportunity was lost, allowing half-truth, slur and fertile imagination to run freely. The fact of the matter was that Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad and several others believed in writing and airing their differences out in the open, often in rather acrimonious way.

Patel, for instance, who had often used sharp language for Nehru, wrote sometime in August 1947: "My services will be at your disposal, I hope, for the rest of your life and you will have unquestioned loyalty... from me... Our combination is unbreakable and therein lies our strength."

rahul-sonia-story_102418060225.jpgThe Congress under Sonia Gandhi missed an opportunity of sorts when it brought out volumes in 2010 to mark 125 years of the Indian National Congress. (Photo: AP)

Again, on February 4, 1948, the Union Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister gave a glowing tribute to Nehru, barely a month after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, describing him as "my leader" and confessed before Congress MPs, "I am one with the Prime Minister on all national issues. For over a quarter of a century both of us sat at the feet of our master and struggled together for the freedom of India. It is unthinkable today, when the Mahatma is no more, that we should quarrel."

It is an open secret that Patel was opposed to Nehru's idea of taking Kashmir reference to the UN. But it is also true that Patel was in agreement with Nehru on induction of Article 370, removal of Maharaja Hari Singh and according primacy to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in matters relating to Kashmir.

As Rajmohan Gandhi, a biographer of Sardar Patel wrote in an article, both Nehru and Patel respected each other's abilities, influence and perspectives and often spoke honestly to each other about their views. "The exercise was not pleasant or easy for either but it was part of their commitment. The two provided an impressive example of accommodation despite disagreements."

In this context, a structured and authorised account from the Congress is required to put the Nehru-Patel, Nehru-Bose ties in perspective, even if it means admitting some mistakes or making critical remarks towards Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

patel-nehru-story_102418060023.jpgThe fact of the matter was that Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad and several others believed in writing and airing their differences out in the open, often in rather acrimonious way. (Photo: Archive)

Take for example an instance of Nehru's alleged slight towards Patel shortly after his death.

On April 7, 1951 the Congress Working Committee met in New Delhi. Item number three on agenda was setting up a Sardar Patel memorial fund. Patel's biographer Pran Chopra has recalled in his book, The Sardar of India - Biography of Vallabhbhai Patel, that when Union Minister SK Patil, Patel's confidant and the Congress MP from Mumbai, raised the issue in the presence of PD Tandon, GB Pant, Maulana Azad, C Rajagopalachari, DP Mishra, BC Roy, Atulya Ghosh and others, Nehru sounded less than enthusiastic.

The minutes recorded read, "Members were of the opinion that funds collected should be used only for some specific purposes like the construction of village roads, village wells and others means of water supply and village school buildings."

An amount of Rs one crore was to be raised. Author Arun Bhatnagar who served as a 1966 batch IAS officer and who had headed UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi's National Advisory Council (NAC) secretariat in close coordination with Manmohan Singh' PMO between 2004 to 2008, claims that Rs 50 lakhs were collected by industrialist GD Birla and several state Congress units had offered Rs 10 lakh each, but the proposal failed to make headways due to Nehru's lukewarm response.

Nehru was unenthusiastic to the idea of memorials and awards. In 1955 when Nehru was conferred Bharat Ratna, the prime minister was on a visit to Europe in June-July 1955, addressing heads of Indian missions in Europe at Salzburg and meeting the Chancellor of Austria, Julius Raab, in Vienna when the award was announced.

modi-new-story_102418061127.jpgGiven PM Modi's penchant for constantly raking up controversies relating to stalwarts, Rahul Gandhi needs to put the record straight. (Photo: Reuters)

President Rajendra Prasad, who had an uneasy relationship with Nehru following differences over several issues, took full responsibility for conferring the Ratna on Nehru. "In doing so," Prasad said on July 15, 1955, "for once, I may be said to be acting unconstitutionally, as I am taking this step on my own initiative and without any recommendation or advice from my Prime Minister; but I know that my action will be endorsed most enthusiastically..."

Nehru had however, approved of a circle on parliament street, New Delhi named after Sardar Patel.

Patel's birth centenary fell on October 31, 1975 when the country was under the spell of emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. Patel's birth centenary was kept a low key affair.

Bhatnagar recalls how Nehru centenary celebrations continued round the year in 1989 when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister. Indira and the Congress also made no mention of Patel while abolishing privy purses ( payment made to the 565 royal families of princely states as part of their agreement to first integrate with India in 1947) which he had made a solemn pledge in the constituent assembly to abolish in Independent India.

Also read: How Congress’ defensive attitude towards contributions of Subhas Bose, Sardar Patel and BR Ambedkar is helping BJP

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Rasheed Kidwai Rasheed Kidwai @rasheedkidwai

Journalist-author Rasheed Kidwai is a visiting fellow of ORF]

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