From Moments in Life… Memoirs of Upendra Vajpeyi

All general elections since 1952 have involuntarily tempted the candidates and the parties to expose their weaknesses and strengths which otherwise remain suppressed or undisclosed.

Jawaharlal Nehru was the Congress candidate for the Lok Sabha from a double-member Allahabad East – cum – Jaunpur West constituency (after fresh delimitation becoming a single member “Phulpur” constituency). Besides being the Prime Minister, he was regarded the biggest vote-catcher for his party all over. Even where he could not go, the Congress leaders, candidates and workers would swear by him and tell the people that every vote cast for a Congress candidate was a vote for Nehru, the leader of the nation.

UP Chief Minister Govind Ballabh Pant launched the party’s election campaign from Aminuddaula Park (Lucknow)
which was known as the most suitable central area for collecting crowd. Judging Govind Ballabh Pantfrom the requirements of those days, police bandobust was very modest. Nobody feared anybody would be attacked. Held in very high esteem by his colleagues and even opponents, Pandit Pant could sway the audience by his imposing personality and inspiring exhortations.

Convincing the people to vote for the Congress was no problem for him. “Who brought freedom for the country, which party has a galaxy of great men, which party can boast of a leader like Jawaharlal Nehru, who successfully represents the biggest democracy in the world” — these were some of the challenging observations which could not be disputed.

But, Pandit Pant himself was not fully sure if it answered all the prevailing issues. The candidate contesting against Jawaharlal Nehru was Prabhudatt Brahmachari, a swami, who was dead against the Hindu Code Bill which was designed to “reform” the outdated Hindu personal law. Brahmachari and his supporters argued it was a one-sided measure against the Hindu community, seeking to disturb the age old conventional values. Brahmachari himself was camping in his “Jhusi” (Allahabad) ashram. He would not speak. But, his silence had become so resounding that in a good section of the Hindus, the Hindu Code Bill seemed to have become a major election agenda, surpassing the greatness of Jawaharlal Nehru. This drawback had to be overcome. Who could do it better than a person of the stature of Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant? In the meantime, the Hindu sentiments were being refuelled by a newly born political party, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, with Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, as its president. Earlier, a member of Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet, Dr. Mukherjee enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most powerful parliamentarians. His message to his Jana Sangh followers, largely drawn from the RSS, was to maintain decorum even while fighting the Congress hegemony vigorously.

It was a tricky command even for the disciplined RSS-Jana Sangh cadre. How to translate it into action was the question. An opportunity was provided at the Aminuddaula Park meeting when Pandit Pant decided to assure the Hindus, who constituted the majority of the electorate, that the Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru had not turned against them and it was not enforcing any measures to undermine their culture and tradition. After recounting the achievements of the party in the freedom movement and the administration of the country, Pandit Pant felt it was a good occasion to dispel the misgivings created by the anti-Hindu Code Bill protagonists. He appealed to the audience not to be misled by the hostile propaganda. To impress upon the people that the interests of the Hindus were also well protected, Pandit Pant said: “aakhir hum bhi to Hindu hain” (after all, we are also Hindus).

Suddenly, there was a chorus from all corners of the meeting: “Pantji bhi aaj se Hindu hain” (Pantji is also a Hindu from today). Pandit Pant looked around. There was no police or Congress volunteers to stop the slogan mongers who had in small groups taken position in all corners. How they coordinated their peaceful turbulence could not be immediately ascertained. They were all committed volunteers of the newly born outfit, the forerunner of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Next morning’s newspapers highlighted how the Chief Minister’s speech had been disturbed with “Pantji bhi aaj se Hindu hain”. The achievements of the Congress and its leaders were subordinated, though reported at great length.

Two of us, the Pioneer correspondent S. L. Sah and me went to see Pandit Pant. Those days, the VVIPs were not so inaccessible. In fact, free from black cats and superfluous assistants, the Chief Minister and his other senior colleagues had personal rapport with the small tribe of journalists. The pressmen and politicians both had tremendous mutual respect without compromising their respective positions. We thought Pantji would be happy with the massive coverage he got. It was otherwise. (Incidentally, Mr. Sah belonged to Nainital, Pandit Pant’s home town). The first paper Pantji happened to read was Pioneer which carried such a “damaging” report as if there was nothing except “Pantji bhi aaj se Hindu hain”. Pantji was visibly hurt. His point was simple — the slogan shouting came towards the end of the meeting. Even if it deserved to be reported, how could it supersede his speech by appearing in the opening paragraph of the report? No amount of explanations by us could assuage his feelings. But, Pandit Pant did not repeat his claim “aakhir hum bhi to Hindu hain” at any of his subsequent election meetings in the State.

The 1952 Jana Sangh could make a negligible presence (only three out of 489 members) in the Lok Sabha. Today, along with the like-minded and not so like-minded groups in various regions of the country, the gargantuan BJP has acquired a totally new dimension. Among several other Congressmen, Govind Ballabh Pant’s own distinguished son K. C. Pant has embarrassingly discovered he is more at home in the BJP House.