It is said in Allahabad that two great leaders of the city have divided between themselves the total inheritance of a great personality, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. If Rajarshri Tandon inherited Malaviya’s heart, his brain and eloquence went exclusively to Pandit Ballabh Pant, a diplomat, a stubborn statesman, a giant parliamentarian, and a towering personality.
Born in Almora on 10 September 1887 in the family of the Pants, who originally belonged to Maharashtra and had migrated to the Kumaon regions of U. P. under the patronage of the then rulers in the 10th century, Govind Ballabh Pant had all the traditions of a high caste Brahmin family, serving the Government in the Garhwal district. His father, Pandit Manorath Pant, was leading an average middle-class life. The boy showed brilliance from the beginning.
He passed the Middle School and Matriculation examinations from the Samay College, Almora. He obtained a scholarship and joined the Muir College, Allahabad, for graduation, with Mathematics, English and Politics as his subjects. But suddenly, as he listened to a speech by Gokhale in 1907, he was fired with a nationalist inspiration and decided not to be a slave of the Government. He chose to study Law. Two years later, he was at the top of the first batch of Law graduates from Allahabad, securing the Lumsden gold medal.
At this juncture he was influenced by Malaviya who, to quote Pant, was “one of the greatest men ever born and at whose feet I received my first lesson in public life.” Thus a moderate, quiet and simple soul was brought into active politics. The writings of Bankim Chandra, Digby, Dadabhai Naoroji, Ramesh Chandra Datta, Ranade, Henry George, Spencer, Mill, Dickens, Thackeray, Scott, Voltaire, Wendell Wilkie and a host of other thinkers helped fanning the patriotic fire in him.
Although he belonged to an orthodox and tradition-bound family, he held progressive views on social reforms. He believed that by the uplift of the suppressed classes and backward tribes and by bringing them to the general level of the ore than paying back a part of the debt it owed to them. For him it was intolerable that old prejudices outmoded concepts, obsolete notions and petty vanity should be allowed to deprive the people of their rightful dues. He believed in complete freedom of religion and hated those who fostered prejudice and passion in the name of religion with the result that often dust and smoke enveloped reason and light.
He was all in favour of Western education adapted to the national needs, and in keeping with the environment. As a nationalist, he believed in India’s unity. He always felt that political issues were to be settled between India and Great Britain, and any reference to communal difference or other difficulties was irrelevant. He always held that the unity of India, despite the diversity, was a living, throbbing reality and that caste, communal or religious barriers should not be allowed to imperil that unity.
His active political life started from the year 1912 when he first entered the U.P. Legislative Council where he showed his historic talents, first in the opposition and then on the treasury benches for more than thirty-five years, or rather till death as a member of the Central Cabinet in 1961.
For three decades or more his role in the Indian National Congress was very significant. Be it Pattabhi’s ‘History of the Indian National Congress’, Nehru;’s Autobiography’ or ‘Glimpses’, Mahatma’s writings or any other account of the national movement, Govind Vallabh Pant is invariably mentioned as a key figure.
In the Nationalist Movement Govind Ballabh Pant soon became one of the top-ranking all-India leaders in the Congress. He was the leader of
the U. P. Congress for many decades and served as the Chief Minister of the biggest State in India for the longest term. During the first few years of his legal practice at Kashipur, he served as a member of the Minicipal Board. In November 1918 he was one of the prominent Congress leaders of U.P. who gave evidence before the Franchise Committee, with Lord Southborough as Chairman, and vigorously pleaded the case of the Kumaon region which was treated as a backward tract and was consequently being excluded from the operations of the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms.
He succeeded in getting the Kumaon region removed from the schedule of backward areas. During the visit of the Simon Commission to Luchnow, Govind Ballabh Pant, along with Jawaharlal Nehru led the demonstration against it and was the victim of a permanent physical injury on his body. He was an active participant in both the Non-Cooperation Movement and the Civil Disobedience Movement.
After the 1937election, he was elected uncontested as the leader of the Congress Party in U. P. and became the first Chief Minister in U.P. under the Government of India Act, 1935. As Chief Minister he showed great administrative ability and introduced many urgently needed reforms in the State. He endeared himself not only to the people in general, but also to the Governor and the officials who appreciated his character and method of work.
In 1939 when India was dragged into the Second World War without her consent, the Congress called upon all the Congress Ministers in the Provinces to resign. Govind Ballabh Pant also resigned at this time and later participated in the individual Satyagraha Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi. The main resolution at the Allahabad Session of the All-India Congress Committee on non-violent Non-Cooperation proposed by Gandhiji was moved by Govind Ballabh Pant and seconded by Dr. Rajendra Prasad. As a staunch nationalist, Govind Ballabh Pant had its normal quota of prison life.
After the end of the Second World War, when elections were held to the Provisional legislatures, Govind Ballabh Pant was again chosen as leader of the Party in U.P. and again became the Chief Minister of the State. He was not, however, left in the State Government for long. Following the untimely death of Sardar Vallbhabhai Patel, Govind Ballabh Pant was taken into the Central Cabinet and given the very important portfolio of Home Affairs. In spite of his age and ill-health, he proved himself equal to the occasion and died in harness on 7 March 1961, at the age of seventy-four.
After he had gained great reputation as a lawyer in the first few years of his legal practice at Kashipore, Govind Ballabh Pant, along with Pandit Badri Durr Pande, started a weekly paper, the Shakti, for studying the special problems of the Kumaon region. Through this paper he carried on an intensive campaign for the abolition of the Kuli Begar (forced and free labour). He brought on him the wrath of the bureaucrats but he was undaunted and his campaign achieved success.
Govind Ballabh Pant was an effective public orator and could sway his audience by his impressive diction and force of argument. For many decades he was not only the head of the U. P. Congress but was also a member of the A. I.C.C. and of the Working Committee. In Congress politics in the thirties he stood very close to Mahatma Gandhi and supported Gandhiji when differences arose between Gandhiji and the Left-Wing group led by Subhas Chandra Bose. Govind Vallabh Pant, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel were the staunchest opponents to Subhas Chandra Bose in 1938-39. Like Sardar Patel he was also a man of action and firm determination.