New Delhi, Feb 15, 2020: The Nehru versus Patel story sells like hot cakes in Indian politics. First Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel has been BJP’s one of the favourite icons belonging of the Congress party. Former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani "claimed" Patel from the Congress, which worshipped Nehru, India Today reported.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid almost solitary claim on Patel building the tallest statue in his name. The Congress has not liked this "usurpation" of its leader and pitted against its foremost pantheon.
Stories about Nehru-Patel rivalry continue to surface every now and then despite a majority of historians have claimed that Patel and Nehru were not rivals but partners in securing India’s future on both sides of Independence. In the latest instance, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, a PhD in International Relations from JNU, has stoked fresh row at a book release event.
In a series of tweets, Jaishankar said he has "learned" that Nehru wanted to keep Patel out of his first cabinet after Independence. He wrote on Twitter, "Learnt from the book that Nehru did not want Patel in the Cabinet in 1947 and omitted him from the initial Cabinet list. Clearly, a subject for much debate. Noted that the author stood her ground on this revelation. (sic)"
Though Jaishankar noted that this view was up for debate, it drew sharp counters from historian Ramchandra Guha and Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh, both former Union ministers.
Guha said it is a myth that has been "comprehensively demolished" and went on to accuse Jaishankar of "promoting fake news". He said, "promoting fake news about, and false rivalries between, the builders of modern India is not the job of the Foreign Minister. He should leave this to the BJP’s IT Cell."
Guha also posted a letter written by Nehru to Patel on August 1, 1947 inviting him to join the first cabinet of free India. Tagging Jaishankar in the Twitter post, Guha reminded that Nehru called Patel the "strongest pillar" of that cabinet.
With to and fro going on between Jaishankar and Guha, the external affairs minister wrote, "Some Foreign Ministers do read books. Maybe a good habit for some Professors too. In that case, strongly recommend the one I released yesterday. (sic)"
Guha was not the one to relent. In his comeback, Guha told Jaishankar, "Sir, since you have a PhD from JNU you must surely have read more books than me. Among them must have been the published correspondence of Nehru and Patel which documents how Nehru wanted Patel as the "strongest pillar" of his first Cabinet. Do consult those books again."
The debate that if Nehru actually planned to leave Patel out of his cabinet appears in the backdrop of the fact that 12 of 15 Pradesh Congress Committees had in 1946 favoured Patel as their next leader and thereby the prime minister of Independent India. Rest three had abstained. But Mahatma Gandhi thought Nehru would make a better prime minister and Patel agreed to withdraw.
The most quoted - and perhaps the only -- source for the story that Nehru wanted to leave Patel out has been VP Menon, the bureaucrat who worked closely with the Sardar. This finds mention in HV Hodson’s book,The Great Divide: Britain, India, Pakistan - published in 1969 - quoting Menon following an interview by the author.
But many researchers have contested Menon’s version of Nehru-Patel rivalry with regard to the first cabinet of Independent India.
However, the book that Jaishankar released - a biography of VP Menon by Narayani Basu - cites a letter written by Nehru to then Viceroy Lord Mountbatten in the first week of August 1947. Basu says the letter did not have the name of Patel as member of the first cabinet.
Contesting the claim after Jaishankar posted a tweet, Jairam Ramesh wrote a thread on Twitter revealing "truth" about Nehru versus Patel rivalry. He posted five letters that Nehru to Mountbatten between July 19 and August 4, 1947 and an office note of Nehru dated August 15. These letters and note can be seen below in the embedded tweets of Ramesh.
However, the last word has not yet been said on Nehru-Patel rivalry, real or cooked up. Basu, the new biographer of Menon, has quoted Mountbatten from a letter he wrote to Hodson wherein he refers to Nehru wanting to leave out Patel saying, "I have a feeling this was such a hot potato that I probably just mentioned it quickly to Nehru at teatime and made a point of not recording it anywhere and probably not even of passing on the story." What historians have quoted is all recorded and what Basu, Jaishankar and others pick on is "not recorded" part of history.