Remembering Rajaji – Warts and all

December 25th has many significances – one of which, it was the day ‘Rajaji’ died. Rajaji is a leader who is either deified or demonised. With him there are no shades of gray, only black or white. One criticism against him, famously by Shri P C Alexander was his ‘back door’ entry as CM of the composite Madras state after the 1952 election.

An excerpt from ‘The Rajaji Story 1937-1972’ by Shri Rajmohan Gandhi his grandson (son of his daughter Smt. Lakshmi and Shri Devadas Gandhi) published by ‘Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’.

….Led by the charismatic Nehru into the battlefield of the ballot, Congress did very well everywhere except in the South. When the Madras results (which trickled in from early January to Mid-February 1952) were added up, the party had won only 152 out of the 375 seats. The chief minister, Kumaraswami Raja, and five of his cabinet had lost. The communists won 61 seats; there were 63 independents; and nine other parties were represented.

‘Only the Congress is going to rule’, bravely declared Kamaraj, head of T.N.C.C. With 152 out of 375? We will rule, replied the communists, justly jubilant at the success at their switch from violence to elections. Claiming that an anti-Congress coalition was possible, Nagi Reddi said that even landlords elected on a non-Congress ticket could join it. The group of 35 steered by Prakasam (who, however, had lost his own seat) formed a front with the 61 Communists and sought to win over the uncommitted. But anti-Communism was a creed with many of them; they would not join. Prakasam claimed a strength of 166 for his united democratic front but the figure was not proved and was not, in any case a majority.

Who was the Governor to summon? The largest single party, the 152-strong Congress? Or Prakasam (on the assumption that he would before long find a place in the lower or upper house) because he claimed the support of 166? But the 166 were elected on different tickets, and it would be just as fair, if not fairer, to give Congress a chance to form a coalition ministry. The Governor, Maharaja Krishna Kumarsinhji of Bhavnagar, whose retirement was due, referred the matter to the President.

The Congress high command, conferring in February and again, for four days, in March, did not know what advice to give Nehru, who did not know what to advise the President, who was thus unable to send any word to the Governor of Madras….

But by this time there were persons in Madras who felt they had found the answer; the son of the South who had done big things in the past and was now doing nothing -well, more or less nothing – in his Bazlulla Road house. True he was 73, but if with his prestige, formed a ministry it would survive. Most of the independents and many smaller parties would support it. They had been opposed to Congress but not to Rajaji.

……

The truth was that he was terribly torn. The proposition was more than appealing; it was exciting. The wound of his rejection by Madras six years earlier had been healed by the sunlight surrounding him thereafter, but, present in memory, it could not but add a sweet irony to the appeals he was now receiving. …..

Yes, if he was honest, he liked the Chief Ministership of Madras! Not a creditable feeling perhaps, but no one could accuse him of pursuing the pleasure; the pleasure was pursuing him. Moreover, it was not going to be a picnic. He would have to face the Reds and rule through a minority. Because the task was difficult it was also, to C.R., more interesting. But there was another side.  Acceptance would seem undignified. And if his limbs and eyes were to fail him, would he not look like a fool? Als, he would be acutely embarrassed if he showed willingness but Nehru was cool. So far Jawaharlal had not said a word in support of the move to draft him. Almost eqaully important was Kamaraj’s attitude.

……..

Nehru had expressed ‘no objection’ rather than keenness, but the response seems to have played a part in obtaining C.R’s agreement.

……..

Great now was the relief and joy of Raja and Sri Prakasa, and of Goenka and Subramaniam, but it nearly vanished when C.R. communicated to them another decision of his: he was ‘absolutely definite.’ he said, ‘that he would in no circumstances stand for election.’

…….

Now the constitution was flexible enough to permit such obduracy: a member of the upper house could function as chief minister. The problem arose because Nehru had said in his note to Raja, ‘It must be understood of course that early steps will have to be taken for Rajaji’s election to the Madras Assembly.’ To install C.R. on his terms would amount to flouting Nehru’s wish, but the alternative was to lose C.R. and, with him, every chance of a congress government. Raja and Congress leaders of Madras chose the first course and, with Governor Sri Prakasa’s full cooperation, proceeded at once to implement it, before Nehru could come to know of C.R.’s inflexible condition.

………..

C.R. was nominated under a constitutional clause that enabled a Governor (as and when advised by his Chief Minister) to send to the upper house persons having ‘special knowledge or practical experience in such matters as literature, science, art and social service.’ No doubt C.R. qualified under both literature and social service, and no doubt Raja advised Sri Prakasa accordingly, but the clause was not really conceived for accommodating a chief minister-to-be who thought poorly of elections. The spirit of democracy had been violated.


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