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Rajendra Prasad was no rubberstamp head of state

Rajendra Prasad was no rubberstamp head of state

The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, on January 30, 1948, brought Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, differing on various issues, together. On Nehru’s 60th birthday, 14 November 1948, Patel praised Nehru for leading the nation safely out of the crisis that faced the country during the year and for enhancing India’s image abroad.

Nehru responded by describing Patel as a tower of strength who was there to advise and act firmly. Patel also wrote: “Mahatma Gandhi named Pt. Nehru as his heir and successor. Since Gandhiji’s death we have realised our leader’s judgement was correct.”

However, the relations between the prime minister and the home minister in independent India got strained over the choice of the first president. Nehru had wanted the first Indian governor general after independence, C Rajagopalachari, or Rajaji as he was called, to be bestowed the honour.

He had, in fact, persuaded, Rajendra Prasad, who was Patel’s choice, to step aside in favour of Rajaji. Nehru called a meeting of Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) members to ascertain their views. The majority, dominated by north Indian MPs, expressed their preference for Prasad.

The MPs had not forgiven Rajaji for resigning from the party when the Quit India movement was launched in 1942. The great democrat that he was, Nehru bowed to the party’s wish and paved the way for Rajendra Prasad to be the first President.

But from the start relations between the new President and his Prime Minister were uneasy. Prasad wanted the day fixed for the declaration of the Republic, 26 January, changed because his astrologers had told him that it was not an auspicious day. Nehru did not lose the opportunity to tell his President that India would not be run by astrologers, at least as long as he was around.

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