A brief (alternate) history of India — Joe Nehru’s first term

Posted in fantasy by jrahman on May 13, 2011

Previously…. the swaraj movement of the early 1920s spiralled into a violent uprising, exhausting both the Congress and the Raj….  after Gandhi died a broken man in 1926, Motilal Nehru, CR Das and MA Jinnah negotiated Indian independence and a federal republic with an executive president was established in 1937….  Jinnah was the first president, leading India during the second world war… after his successor Das was assassinated in 1948, Motilal’s son Jawaharlal, foreign minister under Jinnah and economy minister under Das, successfully challenged Das’s successor Ghulam Mohammed (GM) for presidency….  Joe Nehru became the fouth president of the Indian Commonwealth in March 1949, promising a Noble Mansion of India for all of her children. 

Even though at 59 when taking office, he was older than GM by six years, and of similar age as Jinnah at independence, Nehru projected an image of youth and vitality.  The foreign press called him Joe.  At home, his detractors called him rangeela raja — pointing to his many amorous entanglements.  But millions of Congress rank-and-file affectionately addressed him as bhai (his father was called Punditji or Chachaji by the party foot soldiers, making him their cousin).

How was the ‘young’ Nehru’s first term in officer? 

It didn’t start out well.

Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) still held sway the party’s parliamentarians at both centre and key states.  He himself chose to move to the Senate, as did his key ally Iskander Mirza.  Meanwhile, the charismatic Subhas Bose returned to his native Bengal. 

But the cabinet was hardly dominated by Nehru’s allies.  Ballavbhai Patel retained the home ministry.  Baldev Singh, Mirza’s deputy, was promoted to head the defence portfolio.  The surprise pick in the cabinet was John Mathai, a technocrat, for the economic affairs.  Foreign Affairs went to Liaquat Ali Khan, formerly Nehru’s deputy in the job during the Jinnah administration. 

Nehru chose Maolana Abul Kalam Azad, a scholar and veteran of the 1920s uprising, as his vice president.  While hailed as a gesture to unify the nation behind the spirit of the freedom movement, Azad proved a disaster in the parliament.  He was constantly outmaneuvered in the legislature by Rajaji.

The result was that the omnibus constitutional amendment bill outlawing untouchability, extending the suffrage to all adults, and initiating a rationalisation of state boundaries along ethnic-sectarian lines — brilliantly crafted by Dr Ambedkar, a key Nehru ally — effectively died by early 1950.  In the summer of that year, the Nehruvian revolution seemed over.

Then two things happened.

First, on 25 June, the Korean War begun.  After the United States, the Indian Commonwealth provided most troops.  Led by Maj Gen Ayub Khan, Indian troops landed at Inchon in September and marched on to Seoul.  And then, when the American commander Gen MacArthur crossed the 38th parallel, Nehru withdrew Indian troops in protest (the UN resolution was to restore status quo ante, not overthrow the North Korean regime). 

The war changed the political dynamics at home.  Nehru was seen first as a brave commander, and then a statesman in the world stage — India was the first non-communist country to recognise Red China, Nehru visited Beijing in 1951, and HS Suhrawardy, his special envoy, played a crucial role in negotiating the eventual armistice.  By the time the war ended, Nehru had won the Nobel Peace Prize and was hailed as the undisputed leader of the so-called Third World.  This bore enormous political dividend at home.

No less material was the economic boon the war presented.  Both raw materials and light manufacturing boomed.  Madras and Chittagong became important industrial centres around this time.  And unlike during the war boom of the 1940s, a team of economists were already planning for the post-war era — but more about this in due course.

The war boom, however, bypassed Calcutta — the industrial and commercial centre for the previous two centuries.  This is because, by the early 1950s, Calcutta had been buffetted by repeated communal and ethnic violence.  Maolana Bhashani, a fiery proponent of universal suffrage, had called on ‘direct action’ in August 1950.  This descended into intermittent communal violence that raged throughout the state and beyond, lasting well into late 1951. 

Azad was sent to the state in October 1951 to broker a ‘peace’ between Bhashani and the anti-suffragists (led by Subhas Bose).  Before he could begin, he was shot dead by Muslim extremists.  Nehru declared martial law in the state, sending Ayub Khan (now a Lt Gen) as the governor.  In February 1952, Bengal was partitioned by executive decree, pending ratification by the parliament. 

However, instead of placing the required bill before the parliament, Nehru and Liaquat (the new vice president, Suhrawardy was the new foreign minister) declared the 1953 election to be a referendum on universal suffrage. 

Next episode: 1953 election.

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  1. […] Since August, I have been posting about an alternate universe where partition had never happened.  I have been asked about the reasons for this series.  Is it really ‘the smoking gun’ evidence that this blog is really anti-Bangladesh, and wants to establish an Akhand Bharat?  […]

  2. […] Since August, I have been posting about an alternate universe where partition had never happened.  I have been asked about the reasons for this series.  Is it really ‘the smoking gun’ evidence that this blog is really anti-Bangladesh, and wants to establish an Akhand Bharat?  […]

  3. […] Previously…  with his ambitious reform agenda stalled in a legislative quagmire, and Vice President Maolana Azad assassinated amidst communal violence, Nehru declared the 1953 elections to be a referendum on universal suffrage. […]

  4. […] Even though the Noble Mansion agenda stalled in Nehru’s first term, he still managed to win […]

  5. […] India wins freedom; President Jinnah; President Das; Nehru elected; Nehru’s agenda; Nehru’s first term; Nehru re-elected; Nehru’s second […]

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