“At the time of independence Mahatma Gandhi forced Sardar Patel to withdraw to anoint Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister at great cost to the nation. It has now culminated in Sonia Gandhi and her associates simultaneously appeasing anti-national forces while looting the nation, with Manmohan Singh an impotent bystander.” – Dr. N.S. Rajaram
B.R. Nanda, in his authorized (by Congress) biography of Mahatma Gandhi writes: “It was inevitable that Gandhi’s role as a political leader should loom larger in the public imagination, but the mainsprings of his life lay in religion not politics. … His deepest strivings were spiritual.” The claim is absurd. It is as a politician that Gandhi has left his mark on history; unlike say Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda no one today reads his ‘spiritual’ writings. His interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita is a perversity. And the Gandhi family today is not known for its spiritual leanings.
Coming to specifics, it was Gandhi the Politician and not Gandhi the Saint who dominated the national scene in the decades leading to independence. It was Gandhi the Politician, and not the Saint who turned Swaraj into a movement in support of the theocratic aims of the Khilafat; it was Gandhi the Politician and not the Saint who expelled Subhash Bose after his election as Congress president; it was Gandhi the Politician and not the Saint who imposed Pandit Nehru over Sardar Patel as prime minister of India against the wishes of the party; it was also Gandhi the Politician and not the Saint who imposed his will on the newly formed Indian Government to release funds for Pakistan which was then at war with India, the act that was the direct cause of his assassination (as well as the death of many soldiers fighting Pakistani invaders in Kashmir).
Viewed against this background of this legacy instead of the Congress-created Gandhi mythology, it is easier to see him as a theocratic political leader than a spiritual seeker. Those who had to work with Gandhi—Dr. Ambedkar for example—were keenly aware of his tyrannical, even blackmailing tactics to force things his own way. An Iranian friend of mine saw little difference between Mahatma Gandhi and Ayatollah Khomeini. A scholarly study along those lines should be most interesting.
But that is not the point of the present essay which is to look at the impact of Gandhi’s fateful act in persuading Vallabhbhai Patel to withdraw as candidate in favor of Jawaharlal Nehru just in the 1946 election for the Congress presidency. The election’s importance stemmed from the fact that the elected President would lead free India’s first Government. Gandhi asked all 16 states representatives and Congress to elect the right person and Sardar Patel’s name was proposed by 13 states representatives out of 16— the other three stated no preference, but Gandhi put pressure on Patel to withdraw in Nehru’s favor.
This means Nehru became prime minister without the support of a single state. Unlike Patel or Subhas Chandra Bose, Nehru had led no major movement nor done much organizational work. He rose mainly through privilege and patronage of his father Motilal Nehru and Gandhi— not unlike Rahul Gandhi today. There were no compelling reasons why he was needed as Prime Minister at that juncture in history. Patel on the other hand was the one indispensable man at the dawn of Independence.
Let us look at the records as leaders of the two men— Patel and Nehru. Patel’s achievement integrating the states into the Indian union remains unmatched. The one state that was kept out Patel’s hands was Kashmir, which Nehru insisted on dealing with personally. Even Kashmir was saved only when Patel pushed the dithering Nehru to air lift troops to the Valley. General Thimayya saved the day for India but Nehru on Mountbatten’s advice took it to the United Nations with consequences that are still with us.
Nehru wanted to take Hyderabad also to the UN, again on Mountbatten’s advice, but Patel stood firm and ordered the army in. To keep it within the purview of the Patel’s Home Ministry, it was called ‘Police Action’ in place of the military action that it was. Patel’s other great contribution was filling the vacuum in administration as the British left. So he created the administrative infrastructure that gave India a functioning government.
Nehru’s dreams, Sardar’s visionary letter
That was an awesome achievement, but Patel might have achieved even more had he lived longer. While Nehru pursued dreams— socialism, secularism (badly compromised when he introduced the Haj Bill giving subsidies to Muslims), and above all Pancha Sheela, Patel saw the reality of Chinese threat when China occupied Tibet and wrote Nehru the following letter outlining the threat (Excerpted from November 7, 1950):
My dear Jawaharlal:
Ever since my return from Ahmedabad… and after the cabinet meeting the same day which I had to attend at practically fifteen minutes’ notice and for which I regret I was not able to read all the papers, I have been anxiously thinking over the problem of Tibet and I thought I should share with you what is passing through my mind.
I have carefully gone through the correspondence between the External Affairs Ministry and our Ambassador in Peking and through him the Chinese Government. I have tried to peruse this correspondence as favourably to our Ambassador and the Chinese Government as possible, but I regret to say that neither of them comes out well as a result of this study. The Chinese Government has tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intention. My own feeling is that at a crucial period they managed to instill into our Ambassador a false sense of confidence in their so-called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means. [Sic: This ambassador was K.M. Panikkar, a Communist sympathiser as was Nehru’s major advisor V.K. Krishna Menon. - NSR]
There can be no doubt that during the period covered by this correspondence the Chinese must have been concentrating for an onslaught on Tibet. The final action of the Chinese, in my judgement, is little short of perfidy. The tragedy of it is that the Tibetans put faith in us; they chose to be guided by us; and we have been unable to get them out of the meshes of Chinese diplomacy or Chinese malevolence. From the latest position, it appears that we shall not be able to rescue the Dalai Lama.
Our Ambassador has been at great pains to find an explanation or justification for Chinese policy and actions. As the External Affairs Ministry remarked in one of their telegrams, there was a lack of firmness and unnecessary apology in one or two representations that he made to the Chinese Government on our behalf… [China’s conduct] indicates that even though we regard ourselves as the friends of China, the Chinese do not regard us as their friends. With the Communist mentality of “whoever is not with them being against them”, this is a significant pointer, of which we have to take due note.
During the last several months, outside the Russian camp, we have practically been alone in championing the cause of Chinese entry into UN and in securing from the Americans assurances on the question of Formosa. We have done everything we could to assuage
Chinese feelings, … In Peking we have an Ambassador who is eminently suitable for putting across the friendly point of view. [Sic: Nehru had earlier rejected the possibility of permanent membership of the Security Council in favor of China! - NSR]
In the background of this, we have to consider what new situation now faces us as a result of the disappearance of Tibet, as we knew it, and the expansion of China almost up to our gates. Throughout history we have seldom been worried about our north-east frontier… The Chinese interpretation of suzerainty seems to be different. We can, therefore, safely assume that very soon they will disown all the stipulations which Tibet has entered into with us in the past. That throws into the melting pot all frontier and commercial settlements with Tibet on which we have been functioning and acting during the last half a century…
Chinese ambitions in this respect not only cover the Himalayan slopes on our side but also include the important part of Assam. They have their ambitions in Burma also. Burma has the added difficulty that it has no McMahon Line round which to build up even the semblance of an agreement. Chinese irredentism and communist imperialism are different from the expansionism or imperialism of the western powers. The former has a cloak of ideology which makes it ten times more dangerous. In the guise of ideological expansion lie concealed racial, national or historical claims. The danger from the north and north-east, therefore, becomes both communist and imperialist. While our western and north-western threat to security is still as prominent as before, a new threat has developed from the north and north-east…
Our northern and north-eastern approaches consist of Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling and the tribal areas in Assam. From the point of view of communication, there are weak spots. Continuous defensive lines do not exist. There is almost an unlimited scope for infiltration. Police protection is limited to a very small number of passes. There, too, our outposts do not seem to be fully manned. The contact of these areas with us is by no means close and intimate. The people inhabiting these portions have no established loyalty or devotion to India.
I am sure the Chinese and their source of inspiration, Soviet Union, would not miss any opportunity of exploiting these weak spots, partly in support of their ideology and partly in support of their ambitions. In my judgement the situation is one which we cannot afford either to be complacent or to be vacillating. We must have a clear idea of what we wish to achieve and also of the methods by which we should achieve it. Any faltering or lack of decisiveness in formulating our objectives or in pursuing our policies to attain those objectives is bound to weaken us and increase the threats which are so evident.
It is of course, impossible to be exhaustive in setting out all these problems. I am, however, giving below some of the problems which, in my opinion, require early solution and round which we have to build our administrative or military policies and measures to implement them.
a) A military and intelligence appreciation of the Chinese threat to India both on the frontier and to internal security.
b) An examination of military position and such redisposition of our forces as might be necessary, particularly with the idea of guarding important routes or areas which are likely to be the subject of dispute.
c) An appraisement of the strength of our forces and, if necessary, reconsideration of
our retrenchment plans for the Army in the light of the new threat.
d) A long-term consideration of our defence needs. My own feeling is that, unless we assure our supplies of arms, ammunition and armour, we would be making our defence perpetually weak and we would not be able to stand up to the double threat of difficulties both from the west and north-west and north and north-east.
e) The question of China’s entry into the UN. In view of the rebuff which China has given us and the method which it has followed in dealing with Tibet, I am doubtful whether we can advocate its claim any longer. There would probably be a threat in the UN virtually to outlaw China, in view of its active participation in the Korean War. We must determine our attitude on this question also… 
Nehru did not bother to reply to this letter (or even discuss it with Patel). Unfortunately for India, Patel died on December 15. This freed Nehru from the only strong opposition he had and left him free to pursue his dream of courting Mao with his Pancha Sheela fantasy that led directly to the disaster of 1962. Its legacy is still with us.
Most of what Patel wrote sixty years ago still makes sense, but he was not the only one to caution him about Chinese intentions. The Army Chief General (later Field Marshall) Cariappa did too, advising Nehru that the northeast should be developed to bring its population into the national fold. But a British missionary called Verrier Elwin advised Nehru that the region that had many tribal communities should not be interfered with to preserve their pristine character. This left the field open for foreign Christian missionaries who went on to dominate the area.
Indian historians, many of them sponsored by the Congress (and the Nehru-Gandhi family and institutions that carry their name) studiously ignore all this especially Sardar Patel’s contribution while upholding Nehru’s supposed ‘idealism’. To take an example, the Nehruvian author Ramachandra Guha in his compilation Makers of Modern India completely leaves out Sardar Patel while devoting many pages to his own hero Verrier Elwin! It is an example of how blind hero worship can cloud judgment—or willing blindness driven by prejudice.
Who was this Verrier Elwin by the way? Elwin was a British missionary who exploited tribal girls, sometimes under-aged, in the guise of being an anthropologist. When he was 40 Elwin married a 13 year-old tribal girl Kosi who was his student. He treated her like a guinea pig, the subject of his anthropological studies including publishing intimate sexual details in what is called participant observation. After nearly nine years of marriage, Elwin left her and married Leela, a tribal girl in NEFA (Arunachala Pradesh) leaving Kosi in dire poverty. In the process it undermined national security by creating a vulnerable northeast.
With the advent of Rajiv Gandhi and Bofors there was a paradigm shift. Defense services from being an instrument of national security became a source of personal enrichment. The scope was extended to international operators, especially Sonia Gandhi’s friends and relatives. It has now reached mammoth proportions. Many vital military acquisitions are being held up by the bureaucracy, while the plunder goes on unhindered.
Corruption has always been there, but what is striking today in the Sonia Gandhi regime is its brazenness. She and her family and friends have extended the loot far beyond defense procurements as was the case during Bofors. It now includes national assets like the Nehru founded National Herald. In the face of this daylight robbery, what are national leaders doing? Manmohan Singh is a prime example. He is so grateful to Sonia Gandhi for making him prime minister he is willing to assist any of her partners in loot from Quattrocchi to Robert Vadra. He is happy to be little more than her mask.
National interest has no place in this conundrum. Where Nehru neglected national interest in pursuit of his dreams of personal glory, his successors—political and dynastic—have gone on to subvert national institutions for personal profit and plunder. Even the East India Company was not so venal. Robert Clive was nothing compared to the present breed.
- Patel’s letter to Nehru is found for example in Claude Arpi’s brilliant book The Fate of Tibet. It is very famous but biased commentators calling themselves historians ignore it just as Ram Guha ignores Patel in his Makers of Modern India. – NSR
» Dr. N.S. Rajaram, a scientist and historian, is Contributing Editor of FOLKS
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