Acharya Kriplani on Nehru’s election as Congress President

From the Book “Gandhi – His Life and Thought” by Acharya J B Kriplani, published by the Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, in the year 1970:


At this stage we would like to go back a little in time and record the events leading to the election of Jawaharlal as the President to succeed the Maulana. The Working Committee meeting held in Calcutta from December 7 to 11, 1945 decided to hold the session of the Congress in the first week of April 1946. Proposals were invited by the A.LC C. office for the election of the President* April 29 was fixed as the last day for receiving the proposals. Three names were duly proposed by the provinces those of Sardar Patel, Pattabhi and mine. Jawaharlal’s name had not been proposed.

Gandhiji had earlier expressed a wish that at that juncture Jawaharlal should be the President. What reasons impelled Gandhiji to recommend his name were not mentioned, so far as I remember. The final date for the proposals to be received by the A.LC.C. office was drawing near. Only fifteen  members of the All India Congress Committee are required to propose the name of the President. A meeting of the Working Committee was being held in Delhi a few days earlier. I sent a paper round, proposing the name of Jawaharlal. The members of the Working Committee signed it and also some local members of the All India Congress Committee. It was thus that the name of Jawaharlal was proposed for the presidentship. The others thereupon withdrew their names. It was certain that if Jawaharlal’s name had not been proposed, the Sardar would have been elected as the President. The Sardar did not like my intervention. I have since wondered if, as the General Secretary, I should have been instrumental in proposing Jawahar lal’s name in deference to Gandhiji’s wishes in the matter. But I did not think that the matter was of very great importance. The President of the Congress is the Chairman of the Working Committee. He is first among equals. No important issue can be decided except by the Working Committee. Also, I did not think that independence, in whatever form it might come, was round the corner. I thought that we had many more struggles ahead. But who can forecast the future? On such seemingly trivial accidents depends the fate of men and even of nations. The assassination of an Austrian prince led to the holocaust of World War I.


About Jawaharlal’s election, the Maulana in his book India Wins Freedom writes that he (the Maulana) had been President for seven years. He adds, “I, therefore, decided I should not permit my name to be proposed.” The Maulana seems to have forgotten the constitution of the Congress, The consent of the person proposed is not required. The proposals come from the provinces. The Maulana had not issued any public statement about not seeking re-election. Further, the Maulana writes, “The next point which I had to decide was the choice of my successor.” Here also the Maulana has made an over-statement. No out-going President has ever suggested his successor’s name. Even when sometimes Gandhiji indicated his preference, he did it from the names which were proposed. The Maulana writes, “I was anxious that the next President should be one who agreed with my point of view and would carry out the same policy as I had pursued . . I came to the conclusion that Jawaharlal should be the new President,” I have never known any President deciding the basic policies of the Congress. They are decided by the session of the Congress. When for any reason the session of the Congress cannot meet, they are decided by the A.LCC. If in an emergency the AJ.C.C. cannot meet, decisions are taken by the Working Committee. But in that case such decisions must be confirmed by the session of the Congress or the A.I.C.C. The Congress President is the Chairman of the Working Committee.


Further, the Maulana writes, “I issued a statement on 26th April, 1946, proposing his [Jawaharlal’s] name.” I cannot understand how the name of the President can be proposed by the issue of a statement by any man, however eminent he may be in the Congress. As I have said before, the proposals could come only from members, I have also described how Jawaharlal’s name came to be proposed. The Maulana also writes that Gandhiji had perhaps a preference for Vallabhbhai I would not have taken upon myself the task of getting 15 signatories for Jawaharlal if I had known that Gandhiji was inclined to favour Vallabhbhai’s name as successor to the Maulana. Apart from this, it is on record that the Maulana did not want to resign to give place even to Jawaharlal. It was at the insistence of Gandhiji that he consented to resign. And it is also on record that Gandhiji in his letter to the Maulana had suggested Jawaharlal’s name. It is, therefore, difficult to understand how the Maulana could have forgotten all this.


It may be that after Jawaharlal’s name had been duly proposed as related by me, the Maulana might have issued a statement asking people to vote for him. If he did so, it was superfluous as the three other candidates whom the Maulana had mentioned withdrew from the contest as soon as Jawaharlal’s name was duly proposed.


2 thoughts on “Acharya Kriplani on Nehru’s election as Congress President

  1. Fascinating story. At some level, pointless to discuss this any further, because nothing can alter what transpired after Nehru was elected (nominated?) the President of the Indian National Congress and consequently became the first Prime Minister. But then, if we all discussed only things that had a “point”, life would be very boring. Several questions arise from this account of Acharya Kriplani, none of which can be satisfactorily answered, at least from this excerpt:

    First, why on earth did the three duly nominated members (Patel, Kriplani, and Pattabhi) withdraw once Nehru’s name was proposed? This is odd particularly considering Kriplani’s assertion that “It was certain that if Jawaharlal’s name had not been proposed, the Sardar would have been elected as the President.” If the Sardar had such popular support, why withdraw?

    Second, Kriplani does not seem to find it odd that he has been instrumental in subverting a democratic process by slavishly (I use this word with caution, but it seems warranted in this case) accepting one person’s “preference” over and above that of everyone else’s. If there were no nominees, then, perhaps, accomodating this preference would have been understandable, but then there were three others, including Kriplani himself.

    Third, Kriplani appears to make Maulana the villain of this piece by outlining all the Maulana’s inconsistent utterances on the topic. I agree. The Maulana looks like an ass (if all this were true, of course). But, I see it very differently when it comes to the villain ofthe piece. I see many villains, the Maulana the least of them. First, I would have to say the primary villain of the piece is the author himself for advancing a clearly dictatorial preference over a democratic process. Second, the person who thought that he could have over-riding preferences when there were already three candidates nominated by due process – the Mahatma. Third, the three candidates (I guess the Acharya gets a double whammy) who withdrew – I come back to my first point – why on earth did they withdraw? Finally, and only finally, Nehru – who could have taken the high road and said – “look, this is not fair” – but then, he might well say, “who am I to object? I am, but a humble party member”.

    The only glimmer of remorse comes when the Acharya wonders “I have since wondered if, as the General Secretary, I should have been instrumental in proposing Jawahar lal’s name in deference to Gandhiji’s wishes in the matter. But I did not think that the matter was of very great importance.”

    If this is an apology, it is half-baked at best. He appears to be saying – I *might* have done something wrong, but I did not think it was all that important. He finds it so hard to even acknowledge that what transpired was procedurally, ideologically, and morally wrong. Not having read the rest of the book, it is perhaps unfair to be so harsh, but at a time when many people are wondering where we would be as a country if only Patel had been the first P.M, this event seems pretty darn important.

    Gandhi subverted a democratic process, the Acharya helped him, Nehru benefited while the others just stood by and watched. The whole thing stinks. No one comes out smelling good.

    • Shankar, not sure if you are following up on Indian Politics. Last month end Modi said in a function, things would have been different if Patel was first PM. so there is a debate going on about what happened. I am trying to add my 2 cents to the confusion 😀

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