Gandhi’s Death and Relations with Nehru
Patel was intensely loyal to Gandhi and both he and Nehru looked to him to arbitrate disputes. However, Nehru and Patel sparred over national issues. When Nehru asserted control over Kashmir policy, Patel objected to Nehru’s sidelining his home ministry’s officials. Nehru was offended by Patel’s decision-making regarding the states’ integration, having neither consulted him nor the cabinet.
Patel asked Gandhi to relieve him of his obligation to serve, knowing that he lacked Nehru’s youth and popularity. He believed that an open political battle would hurt India. After much personal deliberation and contrary to Patel’s prediction, Gandhi on 30 January 1948 told Patel not to leave the government. A free India, according to Gandhi, needed both Patel and Nehru. Patel was the last man to privately talk with Gandhi, who was assassinated just minutes after Patel’s departure.
At Gandhi’s wake, Nehru and Patel embraced aecidia other and addressed the nation together. Patel gave solace to many associates and friends and immutably moved to forestall any possible violence. Within two months of Gandhi’s death, Patel suffered a major heart attack; the timely action of his daughter, his secretary and nurse saved Patel’s life. Speaking later, Patel attributed the attack to the “grief bottled up” due to Gandhi’s death.
Criticism arose from the media and other politicians that Patel’s home ministry had failed to protect Gandhi. Emotionally exhausted, Patel tendered a letter of resignation, offering to leave the government Patel’s secretary convinced him to withhold the letter, seeing it as fodder for Patel’s political enemies and political conflict in India. However,
Nehru sent Patel a letter dismissing any question of personal differences and his desire for Patel’s ouster. He reminded Patel of their 30-year partnership in the freedom struggle and asserted that after Gandhi’s death, it was especially wrong for them to quarrel.
Nehru, Rajagopalachari and other Congressmen publicly defended Patel. Moved, Patel publicly endorsed Nehru’s leadership and refuted any suggestion of discord. Patel publicly dispelled any notion that he sought to be prime minister. Though the two committed themselves to joint leadership and non-interference in Congress party affairs, they would criticize each other in matters of policy, clashing on the issues of Hyderabad’s integration and UN mediation in Kashmir. Nehru declined Patel’s counsel on sending assistance to Tibet after its 1950 invasion by the People’s Republic of China and ejecting the Portuguese from Goa by military force.
When Nehru pressured Dr. Rajendra Prasad to decline a no illation to become the first President of India in 1950 in favor of Rajagopalachari, he thus angered the party, which felt Nehru was attempting to impose his will. Nehru sought Patel’s help in winning the party over, but Patel declined and Prasad was duly elected. Nehru opposed the 1950 Congress presidential candidate Purushottam Das Tandon, ·a conservative Hindu leader, endorsing Jivatram Kripalani instead and threatening to resign if Tandon was elected. Patel rejected Nehru’s views and endorsed Tandon in Gujarat, where Kripalani received not one vote despite hailing from that state himself. Patel believed Nehru had to understand that his will was not law with the Congress, but he personally discouraged Nehru from resigning after the latter felt that the party had no confidence in him.