The political developments in Maharashtra reminded me of how the founding fathers of the nation themselves blatantly violated constitutional norms and democratic procedures in their unethical pursuit of power. In the 1952 elections, there were 375 seats in the Madras State Legislative Assembly, which consists of the present state of Tamil Nadu, plus many regions which are now parts of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Karnataka.
The Communists had considerable grass roots support, especially in the Telugu-speaking areas of the unified Madras state, as well as in the Thanjavur and Madurai regions. The Congress party in Madras State was split into numerous factions, all of which were at bitter loggerheads with each other. The most powerful faction was led by Kumaraswami Kamaraj Nadar, largely comprised of non-Brahmin Tamils.
Second was the Rajaji faction of former governor general and union home minister Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari. Although Rajaji was not a mass leader, many leading politicians, both at the centre as well as in Madras state, supported him because of his stature and past record. Kamaraj and Rajaji detested each other. Rajaji was an elite, patrician, scholarly Iyengar Brahmin. Kamaraj came from a very poor Nadar family, and had worked his way up as a freedom fighter.
There was a large faction which owed allegiance to Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramayya, who had recently been the president of the Congress party. However this faction got wiped out in the 1952 elections. Both the Dravidar Kazhagam and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam did not contest the January 1952 elections. The Dravidar Kazhagam came to an understanding with the Communist Party of India, mainly to oppose the Congress.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supported the Vanniyar community parties – Tamil Nadu Toilers Party and Commonweal Party. The Congress party won 152 seats, to emerge as the single largest party, but falling short of a majority in the 375 member Assembly. However, most of the prominent leaders of the Kamaraj faction lost. There were 62 Independents.
The Communist Party of India, led by M Kalyanasundaram and P Ramamurti, won 62 seats. The Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party, which had just been founded by Acharya JB Kripalani after leaving the Congress, won 35 seats. In Madras the KMPP was led by Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu ( T Prakasam ).
While he was in the Congress party, T. Prakasam had served as the premier of Madras state in 1946-1947. In 1946, T Prakasam had allied with Kamaraj, whom he loathed, to prevent Rajaji from becoming the premier, as he detested Rajaji even more. After horse trading between the Kamaraj and Rajaji factions, Prakasam ended up being chosen as the compromise premier.
During his tenure as Congress premier in 1946-1947, Prakasam had persecuted the Communists, with the encouragement of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Then Kamaraj overthrew T Prakasam, and Mahatma Gandhi ordered Prakasam to leave the Congress party because there were numerous allegations of corruption against him.
The Tamil Nadu Toilers Party won 19 seats; NG Ranga’s Krishikar Lok Party won 15; and the Socialist Party bagged 13 seats. Although T Prakasam had persecuted the Communists during his tenure as a Congress premier, he now decided to tie up with them to try to head an anti-Congress coalition government. This was even though he had lost his own election in his constituency. Winning the support of the 62 Independents would be crucial.
In February 1952, the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party and the Communist Party of India together formed the United Democratic Front and issued a “Common Minimum Programme”. This United Democratic Front claimed the support of 166 legislators – 70 from the CPI and CPI-backed independents; 36 from the KMPP; 30 Independents; 19 from the Tamil Nadu Toilers Party; six from the Commonweal party; and five others from smaller parties.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supported the Vanniyar community parties – Tamil Nadu Toilers Party and Commonweal Party in the UDF. Panchapakesan Ramamurti of the CPI, a freedom fighter and trade union leader who had been elected from Madurai, was widely expected to lead the United Democratic Front coalition.
Even after independence, Ramamurti had been jailed for eight years for being a communist; he had fought and won the 1952 election from inside jail. But T Prakasam insisted on heading the UDF, even though his KMPP had only 36 seats in the 166 member UDF coalition, and he had lost his own election.
The UDF coalition staked their claim to the Governor, Krishna Kumarsinhji Bhavsinhji (raja of Bhavnagar). There was panic in the union government over the prospects of Communists forming a government. The US and UK governments expressed their concern to Indian diplomats.
Governor Bhavsinhji wrote officially to president Rajendra Prasad seeking directions on whether he should invite the Congress, since it was the single largest party with 152 out of 375 seats.
Or whether he should invite the UDF, which had 166 out of 375 seats, keeping in mind that the UDF was formed after the election results were declared, and the voters therefore had not had any chance to examine its “Common Minimum Programme”. Or whether he should impose Governor’s Rule.
Kamaraj was in favour of letting the UDF form the government, calculating that it would disintegrate quickly because of its internal contradictions and Prakasam’s ambitions and personal behaviour. In the subsequent mid-term elections, Kamaraj reckoned that his own position would be strengthened greatly, both against Prakasam’s KMPP as well as against his rivals within the Congress.
President Rajendra Prasad asked prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to give him a cabinet advisory on Bhavsinhji’s letter. However, Nehru’s cabinet decided not to respond to the president in writing, and instead began to take steps to prevent the Communists from forming the government.
Krishna Kumarsinhji Bhavsinhji was ordered to resign from the governorship immediately.
Sri Prakasa, who had earlier been high commissioner to Pakistan and governor of Assam, had just been elected to the Lok Sabha from Allahabad a few days earlier. The Nehru cabinet ordered Sri Prakasa to resign from his new Lok Sabha seat, and take over immediately as the new governor of Madras state, which he did on 12 March 1952.
Ram Nath Goenka, Chidambaram Subramaniam, and Thiruvellore Thattai Krishnamachari, who were vehemently anti-communist, requested the ailing Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari to come out of retirement to prevent the Communists from coming to power. Rajaji had long asserted that the Communists were the greatest threat to India.
Nehru and Rajaji had had numerous differences for several years, and Rajaji had resigned from the home ministership in protest against Nehru’s policies.
In a facade of unity, Kamaraj, under the discreet verbal instructions of Jawaharlal Nehru, announced to the press on 31 March 1952 that Rajaji was now the leader of the Congress party in the legislature. This was even though Kamaraj himself was strongly opposed to Rajaji, who was not even a member of the legislature.
Nehru was careful neither to support nor to oppose in public this proposal of having Rajaji lead the Congress party in the legislature. He cautiously made a lukewarm remark that he hoped Rajaji would manage to get himself elected to the assembly.
But Rajaji thought that it was below his dignity to stand for election, after having been governor general of the nation, and union home minister.
Then Chidambaram Subramaniam told the new governor Sri Prakasa to nominate Rajaji to the Legislative Council, the upper house, under the category of “eminent persons having experience in social service”.
Within a couple of hours of Kamaraj’s announcement on 31 March 1952, governor Sri Prakasa nominated Rajaji to the Legislative Council, and he soon swore in a 15-member Congress cabinet with Rajaji as the chief minister.
Sri Prakasa gave Rajaji three whole months to seek a vote of confidence.
Most of Rajaji’s cabinet consisted of landlords and wealthy businessmen and prominent lawyers. He included C. Subramaniam in his cabinet, as well as M. A. Manickavelu Naicker, who was elected on the Commonweal Party ticket. The Hindustan Times reported: “Mr Naicker, who met Mr Rajagopalachari today for the third time, told newsmen he would be shortly clarifying the position of his party in relation to the Congress in the legislature. The Commonweal Party has six members in the State Assembly.”
Nehru wrote to Rajagopalachari cautioning him: “…the one thing we must avoid at all costs is giving the impression that we want to stick to office and that we want to keep others out.”
The Communist Party of India leader Panchapakesan Ramamurti, who had won his election from jail, filed a writ petition in the High Court of Madras.
Chief Justice Pakala Venkataramana Rao Rajamannar and Justice Venkatarama Ayyar immediately dismissed Ramamurti’s writ petition on 7 April 1952, ruling:
“…We must first dispose of the argument that it is the duty of this court to interfere under Article 226 of the Constitution whenever any violation of any of the provisions of the Constitution is brought to the notice of the court ‘pro bono publico’ by any citizen…
…The petitioner who argued his case himself went to the extent of saying that even if the attention of this court was not drawn by any person it was still incumbent on this court so far as it was practicable, to interfere in this manner ‘suo motu’…
…We have no hesitation in not accepting this argument…It is certainly not the province of this court to interfere either ‘suo motu’ or at the instance of any person whenever there is any disregard or violation of any of the provisions of the Constitution…
…Our power under Article 226 of the Constitution can only be invoked at the instance of a personwho has a personal grievance against any act of the State in its executive capacity which inflicts a legal injury on him…
…The petitioner developed an argument that he was personally affected by the order of nominationbecause if Sri C. Rajagopalachari had not been nominated but nevertheless had been called upon to form a ministry as the Chief Minister, then Sri C. Rajagopalachari would have had to face an election at the end of six months from the date of his nomination and at such an election the party to which he belongs might be able to defeat him…
…In our opinion the petitioner is mixing up two things.What is actually impugned in this petition is the nomination of Sri C. Rajagopalachari and not the act of the Governor in calling upon him to form the ministry…
…The latter act is not the subject-matter of this petition; and we have grave doubts whether that action can be the subject matter of any petition in a court of law…
…So in any consideration of the validity of the nomination, we should completely omit any referenceto the action of the Governor in calling upon Sri C. Rajagopalachari to form the ministry…
…Now, in what way can the petitioner be said to have been personally aggrieved by this nomination?
Surely, he cannot say that the majority which his party commands has been upset by this nomination…
…He is unable to specify any right, be it property right or personal right, which has been infringed in any manner by the nomination…
…The petitioner spoke of political rights. Any discussions about political rights would be completely outside the scope of judicial decisions. But we are unable to see even such political rights of the petitioner being infringed…
…It was said that but for the nomination, it would have been possible for the petitioner along with the other members of his party to have formed aministry. This is, to say the least, a very remote consequence of the nomination…
…We are unable to see any personal right of the petitioner which can be said to have been infringed even in an indirect manner by the nomination by the Governor of the second respondent…
…Finally, the petitioner dilated on his right as a Legislator to see that the nominations were made properly. We do not agree that the petitioner has any such right as a Legislator. Nor has he got a right to see that Sri C. Rajagopalachari does not form a ministry which may be entrusted with the Government of the State…
This application must therefore be, and is hereby dismissed.”
( Judgment of Chief Justice Pakala Venkataramana Rao Rajamannar and Justice Venkatarama Ayyar of Madras High Court )
Ram Nath Goenka, C Subramaniam, and TT Krishnamachari engineered defections to support Rajaji’s government. Fifteen Independents joined the Congress taking its strength to 167.
The VanniyarCommonweal Party, which had six members, was enticed away from the UDF by giving it ministerial posts.
Rajaji also lured away the other Vanniyar party in the UDF – the Tamil Nadu Toilers Party, which had 19 members, although they were not given any ministerial posts. Although supported by the DMK, they had till then preferred Kamaraj to Rajaji.
Rajaji also split NG Ranga’s Krishikar Lok Party, and the defectors joined the Congress party. All five members of the Madras State Muslim League, who were anti-communist, too supported Rajaji.
Governor Sri Prakasa had given Rajaji three whole months to prove his majority. On 3 July 1952, Rajaji won the vote of confidence by 200 votes to 151.
Dr Padinjarethalakal Cherian Alexander, who served as governor of Tamil Nadu from 1988 to 1990, wrote: “The most conspicuous case of constitutional impropriety by the Governor in the exercise of discretion to choose the Chief Ministertook place in 1952 when the thenGovernor of Madras, Sri Prakasa, invited Rajagopalachari to form the government in the composite State…The nomination of a person to the Legislative Council without the advice of the council of ministers and the selection of a nominated member as Chief Minister constituted by all standards a gross breach of constitutional propriety and morality…Equally so was the deliberate decision of the Governor to ignore the claims of the Communist Party of India to form the Government on the basis of his subjective views about national interest…Probably it was this Madras precedent which prompted the Sarkaria Commission to make an observation in its report several years later that the Governor’s task is to see that a government is formed and not to try to form a government which will pursue the policies he approves.”
Rajaji’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who served as governor of West Bengal, wrote: “Some Governors haveearned either popular opprobrium or informed criticism. Tamil Nadu remembers the scholarly Sri Prakasa who, as Governor from 1952 to 1956, did something that has gone into political and constitutional lore as indecorous, infelicitous. In the first elections held to the State Assembly in 1952, when the Congress suffered a debacle, Governor Sri Prakasa invited C. Rajagopalachari, who was not an elected member of the Assembly, to try to form the government through the procedure of nomination to the Upper House. This came from the calculation that many Independent MLAs and smaller parties that would not back a Congress ministry would back Rajaji, out of respect for him, and the Congress, its reduced seats notwithstanding, would be in office. The calculation worked, Rajaji won the House’s support. His biographer Rajmohan Gandhi writes: ‘… the clause (for nomination) was not really conceived for accommodating a chief-minister-to-be who thought poorly of elections. The spirit of democracy had been violated’.”
By Ravi Visvesvaraya Sharada Prasad
(An alumnus of Carnegie Mellon and Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, is a technology consultant and defence analyst, and consulting editor of GFiles.)