Prime Minister Narendra Modi released a barrage of attacks on the Congress in the course of his speech in Parliament on Wednesday. But the one that rattled the Congress the most and reduced the party to near incoherence was the assault on its greatest icon and independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In doing so, Modi hit two birds with one stone. First, he demolished the Congress’s claim of having ushered in democracy in the country. And second, he underlined Nehru’s failure that seeded the Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) problem. There cannot be a denial of historical facts. Months before independence, when the time came for the Congress to elect a leader who would by extension be the country’s Prime Minister, an overwhelming majority of State Congress committees chose Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. A couple of them opted for Rajendra Prasad. Not one named Nehru. However, Mahatma Gandhi reportedly swung the issue in Nehru’s favour by personally endorsing his name. Sardar Patel gracefully accepted the situation. The ‘democrat’ that Nehru was, he should have insisted that the majority prevails and that the Sardar be named the new leader and Prime Minister-in-waiting. Instead, he grabbed the opportunity and became the Prime Minister.
The other dent in the Congress’s claim to being the upholder of democracy came much later when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency and made a mockery of the Constitution. Modi is absolutely correct in his assessment that, had Sardar Patel been the Prime Minister, the J&K problem would not have arisen nor would Pakistan be in illegal occupation of a part of the State today. Although Sardar Patel became Minister for Home Affairs and brilliantly helmed the integration of princely States into the Indian Union through gentle persuasion and forceful coercion, depending on the situation at hand, the affairs of J&K were directly handled by Nehru. Deeply influenced by Governor General Lord Mountbatten, he messed up the issue by taking it to the United Nations. The idealist in Nehru failed to understand the cunningness at play. Sardar Patel, on the other hand, was rooted to the ground and had on many occasions warned the Prime Minister of the impending disaster.
Incidentally, had Nehru listened to Patel, India would perhaps not have faced the humiliation it did in 1962 at China’s hands. Months before his death, Patel wrote to Nehru and cautioned him about Beijing’s designs. But Nehru was then infatuated with the Hindi-Chini bhai bhai sentiment. The India story would have been very different had Sardar Patel become the Prime Minister.