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Fifty years later, the Nehru-Patel war of nerves still simmers

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was most unhappy with Jawaharlal Nehru for his utterances, in the wake of the Cabinet Mission proposals, propelling Mohammad Ali Jinnah to ''renew'' the demand for Pakistan with the Muslim League deciding on ''direct action.''

Reacting to Nehru's 'unrestrained observations' at a press conference on July 10, 1946 immediately after his election as the Congress president, Patel, who favoured the Cabinet Mission proposals, said in a letter to D P Mishra, ''though the president has been elected for the fourth time, he often acts with child-like innocence which puts us in great difficulties quite unexpectedly.''

Though praising Nehru's passion for freedom and patriotism, Patel wrote about him, 'he has done many things which have caused us great embarrassment. His action in Kashmir, his interference in the Sikhs's election to the Constituent Assembly, his press conference immediately after the AICC are all acts of emotional insanity and it puts tremendous strain on us to set matters right,'' chronicles Dr P N Chopra, chief editor of The Collected Works of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the tenth volume of the 15-part series, published recently.

The volume, covering the period from January 1, 1943 to December 31, 1946, also details the Sardar's differences with Maulana Azad on policy matters and his emergence as India's ''shrewdest'' statesman.

Patel favoured the Cabinet Mission proposals according to which ''with setting up of a constituent assembly and in an interim government, the Muslim League will no longer hold the power of veto and the Indian states will have to enter into treaties with the constituent assembly or interim government''.

According to the book the other point which prompted Patel to accept the plan was that the Mission had rejected the idea of majority provinces losing weightage in the constituent assembly. He was also hopeful that the grouping suggested by the plan would be seriously opposed by the people of the groupings themselves.

However, Nehru's assertion in his speech to the AICC on July 7, 1946 and at a press conference three days later that the issue of minorities was a domestic problem and he would not accept interference from the British government, provided Jinnah with a pretext to rake up the issue of Pakistan and withdraw the Muslim League's acceptance to the Mission plan on July 29.

Nehru's words implying the sovereignty of the constituent assembly to make alterations in the Mission plan and the developments that followed considerably irked Patel. Subsequently, he invited Jinnah for talks to sort out the problem and expressed his willingness to refer the differences to arbitration and abide by the verdict. But the League did not join the interim government.

Surprisingly during the election of the Congress president that year, out of 15 provincial Congress committees, 12 voted for Patel to be president and none for Nehru, highlighting the Sardar's sway over the party.

Patel felt greatly disturbed over Maulana Azad's suggestion that a seat held by a Hindu in the interim cabinet should be vacated to include one more nationalist Muslim. He wrote to Gandhi on August 23, 1946 that he spent a restless night pondering on this matter and both he and Nehru agreed that they could not accept the Maulana's suggestion.

Earlier, Patel had written to Gandhi after the Royal Indian Navy mutiny describing Aruna Asaf Ali's role as ''deplorable'': "Aruna has thrown a spark and is fanning the flames. About two hundred and fifty people have succumbed to the bullets...If she is encouraged and we do not resist the rashness, things will go from bad to worse. In the same letter, he complained about Azad saying, ''I am finding it hard to carry on with Maulana. He is behaving like a despot.''

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