External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar on Thursday got into a Twitter spat with historian Ramchandra Guha. Earlier the minister had tweeted a photograph of him releasing a new book on V.P. Menon, a bureaucrat who served as secretary to Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, India’s first home minister.
The minister’s tweet caught the attention of several historians as Dr Jaishankar tweeted: “Released an absorbing biography of V.P. Menon by Narayani Basu. Sharp contrast between Patel’s Menon and Nehru’s Menon. Much awaited justice done to a truly historical figure (sic).”
He went on to add, “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.”
“Exercise of writing history for politics in the past needs honest treatment. "When Sardar died, a deliberate campaign was begun to efface his memory. I know this, because I have seen it, and at times, I fell victim to it myself. " So says VP Menon.”
Historian Srinath Raghavan was among the first to react and debunk the story with facts.
Writing in theprint.in, Raghavan wrote, “What to make of V.P. Menon’s claims to Hodson? The most defensible interpretation is that Menon picked up an unfounded rumour about Patel’s exclusion and relayed it to Mountbatten. There is not a shred of archival evidence that Mountbatten broached the matter with either Gandhi or Nehru. Megalomania was central to Mountbatten’s character. He never passed up an opportunity to claim that he was the principal orchestrator of developments around him. For instance, in the same note of 1 August 1947, Mountbatten claimed that he had dissuaded Nehru from travelling to Kashmir and that Patel had told a friend that in so doing “I [Mountbatten] had probably saved Nehru’s political career”.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted, “In light of the fake news doing the rounds that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru did not want Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in his cabinet, sharing a series of letters & documents. Here's the truth: 1. Nehru letter to Mountbatten of July 19th 1947 with Patel right on top of new cabinet list.”
Ramchandra Guha was next to join the issue. He tweeted another letter in which Nehru had invited Patel to join the first cabinet of free India, calling him the strongest pillar of that cabinet. “Can someone show this to Dr Jaishankar”, the historian enquired.
The External Affairs Minister was quick to respond to Guha’s tweet. “Some Foreign Ministers do read books. May be a good habit for some Professors too. In that case, strongly recommend the one I released yesterday,” the minister replied.
Curiously Jaishankar chose to reply to Guha’s tweet in which he had mentioned that the myth had been comprehensively demolished by Professor Srinath Raghavan in The Print. Besides, 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.”
The minister was clearly stung by the rebuke. But Guha was not to be silenced.
“Sir, since you have a Ph D from JNU you must surely have read more books than me. Among them must have been the published correspondence of Nehru and Patel which documents how Nehru wanted Patel as the “strongest pillar” of his first Cabinet. Do consult those books again.