Was there a conflict between Jawahar Lal Nehru and Dr. Rajendra Prasad?
Yes, there was conflict between Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Pandit Nehru. Nehru never wanted Dr. Prasad as the first President of independent India. He wanted C. Rajgopalachari or as informally called “Rajaji”, the last Governor General of India as the first President of independent India.
“Sardar Vallabhbhai has nothing to do with whatever I wrote. I wrote that based on my estimates. Vallabhbhai don’t know anything about this.”
The above quote is from the letter written by Pandit Nehru to Dr. Prasad. But for you to understand the context of the above quote, here is a brief backstory.
Nehru was so desperate to make Rajaji as the President that he chose to deceive Dr. Prasad. He wrote a letter to Dr. Prasad stating that both Sardar Patel and he has concurred that Rajaji should be the President thinking that hearing this Dr. Prasad might withdraw himself from the “candidature”. Dr. Prasad wrote a letter back to Nehru stating that he is a senior member in the party and hence should be treated fairly. What Nehru did not expect was that Dr. Prasad would send a copy of the letter to Sardar Patel as well. The above quote came in response to the counter letter from Dr. Prasad.
Nehru wrote a letter to Prasad on September 10, 1949, informing him that he spoke to Sardar Patel about the new president and that Rajaji’s appointment for the post was decided.
Rajendra Prasad was furious with this idea of Sardar Patel. The next day he wrote a counter letter to Nehru in which he told Nehru that he should be treated fairly given his status in the party, he also sent a copy of this letter to Sardar Patel.
Why Nehru did not want Dr. Prasad as the President?
Congress during the pre-independence era emerged as the one main political party that represented the majority of the Indian. Many people became a part of this party. Needless to say, there were multiple ideologies that co-existed within the party. Nehru was more inclined towards socialism (influenced by the progress of USSR),secularism etc. Dr. Prasad on the other hand was a conservative and religious. He too wanted progress and development but not at the cost of culture and tradition. Nehru wanted Rajaji, his close friend and another urbane scholar just like him, as the President of India,possibly assuming more favourable stance towards his policies and decisions from Rajaji. Nehru has often been found guilty of being biased towards people he shared close relationship with. His fondness of Rajaji could be found in the below excerpt:
It was from 1946 that the two men began to work more closely together. In the next eight years, while Nehru was Prime Minister in New Delhi, Rajaji was, successively, a minister in the interim government, Governor of Bengal, Governor-General of India, Minister without Portfolio and Home Minister in the Central Government, and Chief Minister of Madras State. In all these jobs he had direct and regular dealings with Nehru. But official business drew them closer at the personal level too.
While they worked together, Nehru did regard Rajaji more-or-less as an equal. They shared a cultivated interest in literature and the arts: it was only to Rajaji, and to no other Congressman, that Nehru could write recommending a recent book by a British anthropologist or praise the beauty of the folk traditions of India.
This is also the reason why Nehru opposed the restoration of Somnath temple while Dr. Prasad was more than happy to inaugurate the restored temple.
How then Dr. Prasad became the first President of India?
Nehru was not the only powerhouse within Congress. There was yet another man and perhaps more influential than Nehru, Sardar Patel. Dr. Prasad had the backing of Sardar Patel which of course Nehru did not have much idea about.
Majority of the people within Congress were not happy with Rajaji’s candidature. They saw him as the man who left Quit India Movement in the middle. Some even argued that he was responsible for the partition.
“Rajaji’s supporters argue Rajendra Prasad [is] physically unfit for a strenuous job of this nature, while the other camp is raking up the past to damn C.R. as the man who paved the way for [the creation of] Pakistan.”
Here is an interesting excerpt that shows how Sardar Patel outsmarted Nehru.
On 5 October, Nehru called a meeting of Congress MPs to decide the matter. As he proposed Rajaji’s name for president, his words were loudly interrupted by the MPs present. Given Nehru’s stature and his standing, this was quite astonishing. Disoriented by the intensity of opposition, Nehru turned to Patel for support and, of course, at that crucial moment, the Sardar played his hand: he did not back Nehru. Stunned by this turn of events, Nehru stopped his speech and sat down as MP after MP attacked Rajaji’s candidature. The meeting had all but wrecked Rajaji’s chances of becoming president. It had also deeply embarrassed Nehru – in public. So much so that Nehru threatened to resign, the first of many such threats.
This is how we had our first president.
How Dr. Prasad was elected twice?
In 1957, Nehru had the chance of pitching his own candidate for the post of President and this time he placed his bet on Dr. Radhakrishnan, the then VP of India. However, majority of the Congress, much to the disappointment of Pandit Nehru, sided with Dr. Prasad and he became the President for the second time.
A large section of the Congress supported Rajendra Prasad. Apart from this, Maulana Azad was also in favor of Rajendra Prasad, and Nehru was once again disappointed.
Radhakrishnan was so upset that he submitted his resignation from the position of vice-president.
No other party elected a candidate against Rajendra Prasad in the 1957 presidential election, although some independent candidates contested and continued the formalities of casting votes.
Rajendra Prasad got 4,59,698 votes in this election, with his closest contender being Chaudhary Hariram with 2672 votes.
While after independence, everything appeared smooth in the political arena from outside, there was sure as hell a lot of political tug of war going on within.