In the latest instance, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar triggered a Twitter storm on Thursday with a statement that he learnt from VP Menon's autobiography that the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru did not want Vallabhbhai Patel in his Cabinet in 1947.
On Wednesday, Jaishankar unveiled a new book by historian and analyst Narayani Basu, ‘V.P. Menon: The Unsung Architect of Modern India’. The external affairs minister was invited for the launch of this book.
Basu is the great-granddaughter of VP Menon, a British-era civil servant, who was political reforms commissioner to multiple viceroys. Menon played a key role in overseeing the Partition and integration of princely states into the Indian Union and worked closely with Patel in the period after independence.
The book claims Nehru did not include the name of Patel in the list he submitted for independent India's first cabinet to viceroy Lord Louis Mountbatten. Narayani Basu writes V.P. Menon went to Mountbatten and warned "you will start a war of succession. Congress will split in two...". The book claims Sardar Patel's name was included in the name of ministers after Mountbatten met Mahatma Gandhi.
Stories about Nehru-Patel rivalry continue to surface every now and then despite a majority of historians have claimed that Patel and Nehru were not rivals but partners in securing India's future on both sides of Independence.
Though Jaishankar noted that this view was up for debate, it drew sharp counters from historian Ramchandra Guha and Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and Jairam Ramesh, both former Union ministers.
Guha said it is a myth that has been "comprehensively demolished" and went on to accuse Jaishankar of "promoting fake news". He said, "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."
Guha also posted a letter written by Nehru to Patel on August 1, 1947 inviting him to join the first cabinet of free India. Tagging Jaishankar in the Twitter post, Guha reminded that Nehru called Patel the "strongest pillar" of that cabinet.
With to and fro going on between Jaishankar and Guha, the external affairs minister wrote, "Some Foreign Ministers do read books. Maybe a good habit for some Professors too. In that case, strongly recommend the one I released yesterday. (sic)"
Guha again took a dig at Jaishankar stating, “Sir, since you have a PhD 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.”
Getting into the debate, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh also tweeted a series of letters written between July 19, 1947 and August 14, 1947 by Nehru, in each of which Patel was “right on top of new cabinet list.”
Several BJP leaders have made the claim the country would have taken a different path if Sardar Patel was the first prime minister. In February 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Lok Sabha, “Had Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel been the first prime minister, a part of Kashmir would not have been under control of Pakistan.”