Why did Gandhi make Nehru Prime Minister and not Sardar Patel

  • How did the Nehru’s starting with Indira get the surname Gandhi? Why did Gandhiji choose Nehru as his heir in 1942 and as de-facto Prime Minister in 1946. FAQ has answers.

I was enjoying Filter Coffee and Idli Wada at Bengaluru’s Rameshwaram Cafe when my nephew stumped me with these questions. One, is Rahul Gandhi related to Mahatma Gandhi-they have the same surname. Two, did Gandhi select Nehru as Prime Minister and if so why. 


I have answered these questions in an FAQ format.


1. Is Rahul Gandhi related to Mahatma Gandhi?



2. Then how do they have the same surname?

Gandhi was born with that surname, Rahul was not.


Rahul’s Dadi (grandmother) was born Indira Nehru. She married a Parsi, Feroze Gandhi, became Indira Gandhi. Their sons were Rajiv and Sanjay. Rajiv Gandhi married an Italian, Christian Sonia. Their kids, Rahul and Priyanka. So Rahul became Rahul Gandhi. Priyanka married a Punjabi Christian Robert Vadra so has taken the name Priyanka Vadra. Per TOI his name was Feroze Ghandy


This way the surname Gandhi got tagged on to Indira Gandhi’s sons. 


Surnames were invariably based on occupation or village name in North India, south not sure. Gandhi had four sons, rarely remembered. Grandsons come into limelight sometimes.   


What is origin of the surname Gandhi?

According to Ancestary.com, “Indian (Gujarat Mumbai Rajasthan Punjab): Bania Vania Arora Jat Jain Parsi and Sikh occupational name meaning ‘perfume seller’ in modern Indic languages. Origin is from Sanskrit gandhika from gandha ‘perfume’. In Gujarati the word means ‘grocer’ or ‘pharmacist’. This name is found chiefly in Gujarat among Vanias and Parsis, the Oswal Banias of Rajasthan and  the Aroras and Jats of Punjab.” I have two friends with surname Gandhi, one is Parsi, second is  Punjabi Hindu Arora.


3. Why did Gandhi nominate Nehru and not Sardar as his successor/PM? 

Here is gist of answer given by Rajmohan Gandhi (grandson of Mahatma) in his book PATEL-A Life.

“It was on 15/01/1942 that Gandhi designated Nehru as his successor. He said “You cannot divide water by repeatedly striking it with a stick. It is just as difficult to divide us-When I am gone he will speak my language.” 1 Pg 301

Note that in 1942 Nehru was designated as Gandhiji’s successor. How Gandhi nominated him as Prime Minister in 1946 is answered later.  

Why did Gandhi prefer Nehru to Patel in 1942?

1. Sardar Patel was less popular than Nehru with the country’s leftists, youth and Muslims. 

2. Age (Nehru was 52 then) and health went against Patel. 1 Pg 302

3. Gandhi knew that Patel was there to supply a corrective, when necessary to Nehru, who would be primus inter spares (a first among equals) and not the sole guide.

4. Gandhi may have felt that Nehru was more likely than Patel to resent a number two position. He was certain that Patel’s commitment had nothing to do with rank. 

5. Patel’s distance from the Muslims. “You should try to learn Urdu” Gandhi advised Patel in a letter. Patel’s reply showed that the Wardha announcement had not made him any less frank or free with Gandhi. Sardar Patel said, “Sixty-seven years are over and this earthen vessel is near to cracking. It is very late to learn Urdu but I will try. All the same, your learning Urdu does not seem to have helped. The more you try to get close to them, the more they flee from you.” 1 Pg 303

Gandhi said later “Those like Patel who have followed me without question cannot be called heirs. Nehru has the drive that no one has in the same measure.”
4. How Gandhi selected Nehru as Prime Minister over Sardar Patel?

Aware that the next Congress President would be India’s first defacto Premier, Maulana Azad wanted to continue as President (was from 1940-46). Nehru had his own ambitions while Patel was backed by many PCC’s. Nine days before the date for withdrawal of nominations i.e. on April 20, Gandhi indicated his preference for Nehru but the party wanted Patel. 

12 of the 15 PCCs (Pradesh Congress Committees) had nominated him. Knowing that no PCC chief would propose Nehru, Gandhi asked Kriplani to propose Nehru’s name during a Working Committee meeting in Delhi. 

As soon as Nehru’s name was proposed Kriplani withdrew his nomination and handed over to Patel a fresh piece of paper with the latter’s withdrawal written on it.  

Gandhi said, “No PCC chief has recommended your name but the Working Committee has.” Nehru kept quiet. After obtaining confirmation that Nehru would not take second place, Gandhi asked Patel to sign the statement that Kriplani had given him. Patel did so as he had withdrawn in 1929, 1936 and 1939.


Dr Rajendra Prasad lamented that Gandhi “had once again sacrificed his trusted lieutenant for the sake of the ‘glamorous Nehru’ and further feared that “Nehru would follow the British ways.” 3

We must realize that when all this going on, Sardar Patel was close to 71 and Nehru 56, so had age on this side. Another leader might have thought that Patel being older could be PM for a few years, post which Nehru would take over. 

In the run-up to independence, Patel’s Working Committee colleagues acknowledged his crucial role. On May 11, 1947, Sarojini Naidu called him ‘the man of decision and man of action in our councils.’ Said Kriplani, 'When we are faced with thorny problems, and Gandhi’s advice is not available, we consider Sardar Patel as our leader.’


Yet, Nehru became India’s first prime minister. 


Why did Gandhi select Nehru as party President, defacto Prime Minister? 

1. Nehru, a Harrow boy, Cambridge graduate; barrister was required to carry out negotiations with the British. 1 Pg 370

2. Nehru’s rapport with a section of the Muslims contracted with Patel’s aloofness. 

3. That Nehru will not take second place, is better known abroad than Sardar.

4. Nehru will make India play a major role in international affairs. 

5. Gandhi realized that Nehru’s selection would not deprive India of Patel’s services but denial would drive Nehru into the opposition”.

Patel had a Hindu heart, was a desi. Nehru!

The man who sacrificed. Statue of Unity is a fitting tribute.  

We need to know how Vallabhbhai got the name Sardar?

It was during the battle of Bardoli, in April 1928, that someone referred to Patel as the peasant’s Sardar. The appellation caught on. It was due to Patel’s success in fighting the British that the Vallabhbhai of April became Sardar in June and a triumphant general in August.



1. Patel- A Life by Rajmohan Gandhi

2. Why India must remember Sardar Patel

3. How Patel was kept away from being India’s first Prime Minister  by Makkhan Lal 

4. The History and Culture of Indian People Volume 11 published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan


Also read

1. What happened during the Quit India Movement

2. Who was responsible for Partition

 3. Life Story of Sardar Patel


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