S Jaishankar wades into political row over Sardar Patel

Last Updated 13 February 2020, 16:02 IST

Wearing the political hat, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar kicked off a controversy with remarks that first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not want Sardar Patel in his council of ministers in 1947, claims that were rebutted by Congress leaders.

Jaishankar, a career diplomat-turned-minister, made the observations after releasing a biography of V P Menon, who worked closely with Patel in the integration of princely states with the Union of India.

“Learnt from the book that Nehru did not want Patel in the Cabinet in 1947 and omitted him from the initial Cabinet list. Clearly, a subject for much debate. Noted that the author stood her ground on this revelation,” Jaishankar said on Twitter after releasing the book penned by Menon's great-granddaughter Narayani Basu.

The minister's remarks set off a Twitter spat with historian Ramchandra Guha, who advised Jaishankar against spreading “fake news”.

“Promoting fake news about, and false rivalries between the builders of modern India is not the job of the Foreign Minister. He should leave this to the BJP’s IT cell,” Guha said.

“Some Foreign Ministers do read books. Maybe a good habit for some Professors too. In that case, I strongly recommend the one I released yesterday (Wednesday),” Jaishankar said.

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh dug out letters penned by Nehru to Lord Mountbatten dated July 19, 1947, that had Patel's name on the top of the list of cabinet ministers of the interim government that was to assume office on August 15.

“Nehru letter to Patel dated July 19, 1947, shows how Patel was a close confidante & ally of Nehru in cabinet formation,” Ramesh said sharing the letter reflecting the consultations Nehru had with Patel on the composition of the council of ministers.

“As formalities have to be observed to some extent, I am writing to invite you to join the new Cabinet. This is somewhat superfluous because you are the strongest pillar of the Cabinet,” Nehru had written to Patel on August 1, 1947.

“Problem with this very accomplished and erudite Foreign Minister is that he wishes to forget the books he read before becoming Foreign Secretary in Jan 2015,” Ramesh said in a retort to Jaishankar.

Former union minister Shashi Tharoor also had a gentle nudge at Jaishankar noting that “human recollections can be wrong”.

(Published 13 February 2020, 13:54 IST)

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