Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, home minister and deputy prime minister in the interim cabinet, passed away due to a heart attack on December 15, 1950. The Constituent Assembly, which Patel was an active member of, had adopted the Constitution only a year and twenty days ago (on November 26, 1949). The same was brought into force nearly nine months before Patel untimely demise.
Indian Constitution, providing for universal adult franchise as the basis for parliamentary democracy, was brought in place on January 26, 1950. It was the Constitution that put in place an election commission to conduct the elections, including delimitation of constituencies, preparing the electoral rolls, organise polling, counting of votes and declaration of results.
Therefore, there was no way India could have an elected government without the Constitution. There was no way a prime minister could have been chosen without members of parliament elected to the Lok Sabha. And, elections were possible only with a Constitution in place. Thus, the question of who would head the first government could be answered only in March 1952. Polling for the first general elections began in October 1951 and went on until March 1952. This was one year and three months after Patel passed away.
This brief lesson on the events, dates and constitutional imperatives have turned necessary today in the context of statements and discourses that Patel as prime minister would have served India better. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi said this in a public meeting in Madhya Pradesh earlier this week. To be fair, PM Modi did not blame anyone for Patel not becoming Indiaâs first prime minister.Such debates depend on distortion of facts as much as evading facts. The facts are:
Vallabhbhai Patel died on a certain day â December 15, 1950. He died a natural death and there was no mystery or doubt from any quarter then and now on this. The first general elections were held a year after his death. And that Jawaharlal Nehru was elected Indiaâs first prime minister in March 1952, which is 14 months and a few days after Patel breathed his last.
One may argue that Patel ought to have been chosen as interim prime minister and not Nehru, as it happened on September 2, 1946. However, the fact is, invitation to form the interim cabinet was addressed to the president of the Indian National Congress. Jawaharlal Nehru happened to be the president of the Congress on that day. He had replaced Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as Congress president at the Meerut session in July 1946 who then was replaced as Congress president by JB Kripalani in November 1946.
The point is, neither the Congress leaders nor the colonial rulers had thought of the sequence and the pace of events as they unfolded in July 1946. The most important issue before the Meerut session was the Constituent Assembly (to be elected by the elected members of the Provincial Assemblies). No one in the Meerut session had thought of electing the leader of the interim cabinet while they elected Jawaharlal Nehru as Congress president.
If the Congress had waited for a couple to hold its session, the Viceroyâs invitation to form an interim cabinet would have landed at Azadâs doors. The invitation, thus issued on August 12, 1946, went to the then Congress president Jawaharlal Nehru! The fact is, no one in the Congress had expected an invitation to form the interim government on August 12, 1946 and, therefore, itâs better Â to leave it to things as they happened and not distort facts to suit a political rhetoric.
V Krishna Ananth is Professor of History, SLABS, SRM University AP, Amaravati.