republic day

How Rajendra Prasad (and not Rajaji) became India’s first president

The selection was preceded by a fierce political contest between Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel.

The date 26 January, 1950, heralded in many changes for India as its newly minted constitution was pressed into service. One of those changes was that the country ceased to be a constitutional monarchy, with the British King as head of state, and became a republic. This meant that the representative of the British Crown, the governor-general, would have to give way to a president. On that date, therefore, the last governor-general of India, C Rajagopalachari, swore in Rajendra Prasad as President of the Republic of India.

This passing of the baton, while smooth in outward appearance, was actually preceded by a fierce political tug of war, as Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel jostled for influence within the government.

Tale of two candidates

By mid-1949, the constitution-making process was drawing to a close and the need to choose a president, to act as head of the new republican state, was looming. For this post, Nehru preferred Rajagopalachari, a scholar-politician from Madras. Rajaji, as he was fondly called, was already governor-general at the time and appointing him president would involve nothing more than a change of title.

Patel, though, had other ideas and supported Bihar Congressman Rajendra Prasad instead. To some extent, this split was driven by ideology. Rajaji and Nehru agreed with each other on the type of secularism India should follow, an idea Patel did not quite buy into: the Sardar would once call Rajaji “half a Muslim” and Nehru “the Congress’ only nationalist Muslim” (the latter was also a backhanded dig at Abul Kalam Azad). Rajaji had also, back in the day, opposed and eventually dissociated himself from the Quit India Movement, a fact that rankled with many Congressmen.

Patel’s choice, Rajendra Prasad, was like him a social conservative. As president, Prasad would bitterly oppose Nehru’s Hindu Code Bills, which gave women greater rights. He would also help rebuild the Somnath Temple, after the Sardar’s death. His most interesting clash with Nehru though was over the very date of Republic Day: Prasad wanted it moved because he thought the day to be astrologically inauspicious.

Mostly, however, this clash was nothing but your garden-variety political turf war and was driven by Patel’s desire to put a check on Nehru’s power. A year later, Patel would even manage to push his own candidate as Congress President, tartly remarking: “At the time of Rajen babu’s election he [Nehru] got a slap in the face. This is the second.”

Patel outmanoeuvres Nehru

His decision made, Patel privately communicated his support to Prasad. He did not, however, publicly reveal his hand, preferring to bide his time.

Rash and impetuous, with characteristic disdain for the nitty-gritty, Nehru preferred to take a more direct and ultimately imprudent approach. With murmurs swirling around in the Congress of Prasad’s candidature, Nehru wrote directly to him on 10 September 1949, expressing the opinion that “Rajaji might continue as president” and Prasad was not welcome since “it would involve a change and consequent rearrangements”.

Privately supported by Patel, Prasad wrote back, belligerent, refusing to bow out of the race. Publicly, however, Patel kept his cards close to his chest. In his communication with Nehru, Patel gave the impression that he did not have a dog in this fight, telling him that is was for Nehru to “deal with the situation now”, giving off the impression that he would back him. Blithely unaware of what was going on behind the scenes, Nehru kept on writing to Patel complaining about “vigorous canvassing [that] has taken place on this subject and there is a large majority who favour Rajendra Babu”.

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 (a tactic our current Prime Minister also seems to be warming to).

History repeats itself

Interestingly, an almost identical situation was played out more than 50 years later at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Goa conclave of 2002. At Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s behest, Narendra Modi was to resign as chief minister of Gujarat in the aftermath of the 2002 pogrom. Till the conclave started, Vajpayee was led on to believe that he had LK Advani’s backing on the matter. In the background, however, Advani had organised a coup. Dramatically, during the conclave itself, key BJP members vociferously refused to force Modi to resign as a shocked and isolated Vajpayee looked on. That parallels are often drawn between Nehru and Vajpayee on the one hand and Patel and Advani on the other make this anecdote all the more delicious: a rather exacting case of history repeating itself.

Back to 1949: seeing that he had been outmanoeuvred, a desperate Nehru exchanged the stick for the carrot. He tempted Prasad first with the chairmanship of the Planning Commission and then the presidentship of the Congress, but Prasad did not bite.

Defeated, Rajaji announced his retirement. Later on he would be inducted into the Cabinet as a Minister without Portfolio and, after Patel’s death, he would go on to become the Home Minister.

After swearing in Prasad as president, Rajaji wrote him a congratulatory letter wishing him “strength and support”. While Rajaji must obviously have been smarting at these turn of events which forced him to become a martyred pawn in a Nehru-Patel battle, he was above complaining directly about it. In his typical wry humour though, he ended the letter to Prasad with a postscript: “Please show this to Jawaharlal and Vallabhbhai. I am not writing separately to them.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What’s the difference between ‘a’ washing machine and a ‘great’ washing machine?

The right machine can save water, power consumption, time, energy and your clothes from damage.

In 2010, Hans Rosling, a Swedish statistician, convinced a room full of people that the washing machine was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution. In the TED talk delivered by him, he illuminates how the washing machine freed women from doing hours of labour intensive laundry, giving them the time to read books and eventually join the labour force. Rosling’s argument rings true even today as it is difficult to deny the significance of the washing machine in our everyday lives.

For many households, buying a washing machine is a sizable investment. Oddly, buyers underestimate the importance of the decision-making process while buying one and don’t research the purchase as much as they would for a television or refrigerator. Most buyers limit their buying criteria to type, size and price of the washing machine.

Visible technological advancements can be seen all around us, making it fair to expect a lot more from household appliances, especially washing machines. Here are a few features to expect and look out for before investing in a washing machine:

Cover your basics

Do you wash your towels every day? How frequently do you do your laundry? Are you okay with a bit of manual intervention during the wash cycle? These questions will help filter the basic type of washing machine you need. The semi-automatics require manual intervention to move clothes from the washing tub to the drying tub and are priced lower than a fully-automatic. A fully-automatic comes in two types: front load and top load. Front loading machines use less water by rotating the inner drum and using gravity to move the clothes through water.

Size matters

The size or the capacity of the machine is directly proportional to the consumption of electricity. The right machine capacity depends on the daily requirement of the household. For instance, for couples or individuals, a 6kg capacity would be adequate whereas a family of four might need an 8 kg or bigger capacity for their laundry needs. This is an important factor to consider since the wrong decision can consume an unnecessary amount of electricity.

Machine intelligence that helps save time

In situations when time works against you and your laundry, features of a well-designed washing machine can come to rescue. There are programmes for urgent laundry needs that provide clean laundry in a super quick 15 to 30 minutes’ cycle; a time delay feature that can assist you to start the laundry at a desired time etc. Many of these features dispel the notion that longer wash cycles mean cleaner clothes. In fact, some washing machines come with pre-activated wash cycles that offer shortest wash cycles across all programmes without compromising on cleanliness.

The green quotient

Despite the conveniences washing machines offer, many of them also consume a substantial amount of electricity and water. By paying close attention to performance features, it’s possible to find washing machines that use less water and energy. For example, there are machines which can adjust the levels of water used based on the size of the load. The reduced water usage, in turn, helps reduce the usage of electricity. Further, machines that promise a silent, no-vibration wash don’t just reduce noise – they are also more efficient as they are designed to work with less friction, thus reducing the energy consumed.

Customisable washing modes

Crushed dresses, out-of-shape shirts and shrunken sweaters are stuff of laundry nightmares. Most of us would rather take out the time to hand wash our expensive items of clothing rather than trusting the washing machine. To get the dirt out of clothes, washing machines use speed to first agitate the clothes and spin the water out of them, a process that takes a toll on the fabric. Fortunately, advanced machines come equipped with washing modes that control speed and water temperature depending on the fabric. While jeans and towels can endure a high-speed tumble and spin action, delicate fabrics like silk need a gentler wash at low speeds. Some machines also have a monsoon mode. This is an India specific mode that gives clothes a hot rinse and spin to reduce drying time during monsoons. A super clean mode will use hot water to clean the clothes deeply.

Washing machines have come a long way, from a wooden drum powered by motor to high-tech machines that come equipped with automatic washing modes. Bosch washing machines include all the above-mentioned features and provide damage free laundry in an energy efficient way. With 32 different washing modes, Bosch washing machines can create custom wash cycles for different types of laundry, be it lightly soiled linens, or stained woollens. The ActiveWater feature in Bosch washing machines senses the laundry load and optimises the usage of water and electricity. Its EcoSilentDrive motor draws energy from a permanent magnet, thereby saving energy and giving a silent wash. The fear of expensive clothes being wringed to shapelessness in a washing machine is a common one. The video below explains how Bosch’s unique VarioDrumTM technology achieves damage free laundry.

Play

To start your search for the perfect washing machine, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Bosch and not by the Scroll editorial team.