Rajarshi Tandon’s politics did not initially irk Panditji. The latter had actively backed the former’s ‘No Tax’ campaign in 1930, and also lent support to his work with Kisan Sabhas. Both the leaders came from Allahabad, and worked together since the 1930s, beginning with the Civil Disobedience Movement. In the 1937 Provincial Elections, the INC won the majority in the UP Assembly, and formed the government after refusing power-sharing with the Muslim League. Purushottam Das Tandon became the Speaker of the Assembly, a post which he retained till 1950. Some apologist historians hold the view that this refusal to share power with the League ultimately led Jinnah to obvious separatist conclusions, and played a major role in the eventual Partition. Both Tandon and Nehru were party to this decision, but Nehru’s role in the decision to not ally with the League has gradually been white-washed.
This relationship came under stress during the 1940s. Tandon got elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1946. On June 12th, 1947, Congress Working Committee passed the resolution regarding Partition. The same had to be ratified by the AICC on June 14th, but Tandon presented a strong dissenting voice. He condemned the acceptance of partition as abject surrender to the British and Muslim League. He also raised the question of minorities in both the proposed dominions, and predicted that Hindus shall have to live in fear in the proposed Pakistan. His vehement opposition forced Nehru and Kriplani to stoutly defend the plan in the AICC. The proposal carried, but Nehru obviously didn’t take it kindly that he was pushed into taking a strong pro-partition position.
During the Constituent Assembly debates, Tandon came across as a pragmatist who put forth his candid views on religious conversions, the minority question and the status of Hindi. His views, rooted in the Indian reality, came into conflict with West-inspired Nehruvian ideas on many occasions. Tandon and K.M. Munshi spoke passionately against right to convert minors, saying it would be an ill-informed choice, made possibly under fear, fraud or inducement. They could not force the government’s hand on religious conversion of adults, since propagation of one’s religion was considered a fundamental right. But we have seen how under the garb of this freedom, large scale conversion industry has flourished in India. PD Tandon campaigned for Hindi, as opposed to the Hindu-Urdu hotch-potch called Hindustani by Gandhi and others, to be made the official language of India. He strongly argued for Sanskritized Hindi, which is understood by the largest number of people in this country. In this regard, he also highlighted the contributions of Hindi Pracharini Sabhas , working towards spreading Hindi awareness in the South.
Congress was bitterly divided during these years. If Patel was healthier, or if Rajaji was a more committed Rightist, a split could not have been averted. The Right wing within the Congress did not see eye to eye with the Nehru Camp on many key issues- Kashmir, rehabilitation of immigrants from West and East, treatment of minorities left over in India and Pakistan, exchange of populations, meaning and inclusion of secularism, religious conversions, status of Hindi, renovation of the Somnath Temple, policy on China, Hindu Code Bill and others. Patel was the arch pragmatist, who usually lent strength to the Right, kept up pressure on Nehru, but ultimately used to settle for some progress, either way.
Patel did ban the RSS between February 1948 and July 1949, and did pass some harsh remarks against its cadres, but later on, granted audiences to Golwalkar, wherein he acknowledged the relief and rehab work done by the RSS for the incoming refugees. PD Tandon also found the RSS approach as rational and scientific, and non-political in nature. Patel even wished to open Congress memberships for RSS cadres, but Nehru’s resistance thwarted the plan.
Purushottam Das Tandon had lost the 1948 Congress Presidential Elections to Pattabhi Sitaramayya. Rajarshi decided to contest again in 1950. Through a letter in which he addressed him as “Priya Purushottam…”, the PM tried to dissuade him from throwing his hat in the ring. To his loyalists, he declared that Tandon was unacceptable because of his communal outlook. What rankled Nehru was his consistent championing of the cause of the minorities stuck in the repressive Islamist regime of Pakistan. Nehru and his acolytes did not consider those non-Muslims left behind in Pakistan as worthy of India’s concern. But the partition had been accepted by the Congress on communal lines (although they tried to create a delusion that they had not), and as such not accepting communal interests and evil designs of the Pakistani Islamists was downright harsh, cruel and unbecoming of Congress. In any case, “Priya Purushottam” refused to budge, he was backed by the Sardar after all, and Nehru was forced to support Acharya Kriplani, another candidate who the PM did not wholeheartedly approve.
Tandon won the elections and became the President of the Nagpur Congress in September 1950. A furious Nehru initially refused to join the Congress Working Committee, but later acquiesced. Patel’s demise in December 1950 weakened Tandon, but the Rajarshi kept up the fight. In the run up to the 1952 General Elections, Tandon did not agree with Nehru’s assessment that the party was not focussed enough or geared to fare well at the hustings. Tandon blamed the government policies like Hindu Code Bill and grain controls as the reason for weakening of the Congress.
Nehru was not inclined to accept any challenge to his total and complete authority over the Congress. He decided to quit the Working Committee, but preceding that he resigned from the Parliamentary Board and the Congress Election Committee. In the meantime, Nehru’s loyalist Rafi Ahmed Kidwai engineered a resolution on July 13th, 1947 in which 29 members of the CWC authorized Nehru with the last word on all the 4000 odd Congress candidates for the upcoming General Elections. This was the beginning of authoritarian rule in the Congress. PD Tandon duly opposed this resolution. Kidwai resigned from the Congress, but Nehru still kept him in the Cabinet. When PD objected, Rafi resigned from the Cabinet as well. He kept attacking the Rajarshi, and eventually joined hands with Kriplani to form the Krishak Mazdoor Prija Party. Nehru also resigned from the CWC in the last week of July 1951. Nehru, the PM, had asked the party to choose between his vision (complete control) or Tandon (his Hindi and Hindu concerns). Tandon’s position had become untenable.
Eventually, Tandon was forced out of the Presidentship of the Congress Party in September 1951. He literally walked back home, cheered by hundreds of supporters. He did enter the Lok Sabha in 1952 and then the Rajya Sabha in 1956, but was not able to play a key political role. With his resignation, the Dharmik outlook in the party had been effectively checkmated. With Shyama Prasad Mukherjee’s resignation in April 1950 over Nehru-Liaquat Pact, and Patel’s death in December 1950, Rajaji remained the last person in the Cabinet to represent Right-wing interests. On the question of threat posed by Hindu Mahasabha vis-à-vis Communists, pardon to Telangana rebels and the China policy, Rajaji also resigned as Home Minister in October 1951. Nehru’s authoritarian hold over the party and the government were unchallenged. Nehru himself became the President of the party in 1951 and 1952.
Lackeys among historians present PD Tandon as an obscurantist, communal, orthodox, Hindi bigot, as against Nehru’s secular, socialist and liberal persona. Of course, their sleight of hand is economical with truth, and does great disservice to the last man who stood against Absolute Nehruvianism in the Congress party and the country. Even Nehru’s dictatorial measures are explained away by the exigencies of the times. That the Hindu-Sikh minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh did not get a fair deal in Partition, or its aftermath, has been proved to be true. Nehru-Liaquat Pact did not prevent massacre of Hindus in East Pakistan, while India looked away. Hindi owes some gratitude to the Rajarshi for the Official Language Status. His views on religious conversions have proved to be prescient. If Purushottam Das Tandon’s concerns on Partition, minorities and religious conversions had received more traction, Hindus would certainly have been safer and more secure today.
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