Not Indira Gandhi, Nehru wanted Jayaprakash Narayan as his political successor


The Congress party in pre-Independence

India was very concerned about succession planning,

and often chose young presidents.

Most presidents of the Congress party were in their forties

(Nehru was 40 when he first became Congress president in 1929),

and many like Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Subhas Chandra Bose

and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were in their thirties.

One of the many reasons why Nehru was chosen prime minister

over Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in 1947 was that Nehru was 58

compared to Patel who was 72, and the former was in far better health.

After Patel’s death in 1950, two key questions that would decide

the future of politics in India arose: who would be number two in the cabinet?

And who would succeed Nehru as prime minister?

Nehru’s first choice

Nehru was keen on Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP (born 1902) to succeed him,

in view of JP’s amazing organisational abilities which were exhibited during the Freedom struggle.

The intellectual in Nehru admired JP’s modern education in the US.

Nehru often remarked that he was not infallible.

He was also aware that many of his cabinet colleagues were too scared of him

to voice their differences. In fact, Nehru had this contempt for many of his cabinet colleagues:

they were men of straw who lacked the courage to frankly disagree with him.

This had also been observed by Mahatma Gandhi.

After his massive victory in the 1952 Lok Sabha elections,

Nehru invited JP to join his government as his deputy,

to be his conscience keeper, and to counsel him whenever he felt Nehru was wrong.

In fact, Nehru even proposed a merger between the Congress and JP’s Praja Socialist Party.

But JP rebuffed all of Nehru’s overtures.

JP had this image of himself as being a saint and as a successor to Gandhi,

far above the lure of office.

Nehru interpreted this as JP’s not wanting to take responsibility

for governance and administration, and he felt let down that

the man he wanted to groom as his chosen successor was not willing

to take on responsibility for running a difficult country.

Nehru’s offer to JP to join his cabinet and be groomed as his successor,

and of JP repeatedly declining, continued through 1952 and 1953.

In JP’s Praja Socialist Party, the issue of JP and Acharya J.B.

Kripalani taking up Nehru’s invitation to join his cabinet was discussed at length.

Asoka Mehta was in favour of it, but Kripalani said that

the party should provide support to Nehru’s government from outside

and neither JP nor he himself should join Nehru’s cabinet.

However, Ram Manohar Lohia and Acharya Narendra Deva were vehemently opposed to any support for Nehru at all.

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