Was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Jawaharlal Nehru's initial cabinet list in 1947? That was the hotly debated question on Thursday, 13 February with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar citing a new book to claim that Nehru did not want Patel in his cabinet and historian Ramachandra Guha joining Congress leaders to discount the argument and hit out at the minister.
The Twitter duel, with both sides deploying sarcasm and historical references, began on Wednesday night when Jaishankar put out a post on releasing an “absorbing biography” of V P Menon - a senior civil servant who worked closely with Patel - by Narayani Basu. He noted that the book had done “much awaited justice to a truly historical figure”.
“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,” he said.
Jaishankar's tweet evoked a sharp response from Guha, who said “this a myth that has been comprehensively demolished by Professor Srinath Raghavan”.
“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,” Guha said in his strongly-worded tweet.
Jaishankar hit back saying some foreign ministers do read books and it may be a good habit for some professors too.
"In that case, strongly recommend the one I released yesterday," the minister said.
It did not stop there.
Guha then posted a letter from Nehru to Patel dated August 1, 1947. In the letter, Nehru invites Patel to join the first Cabinet of free India, calling him the "strongest pillar" of that Cabinet.
"Can someone show this to Jaishankar, please," Guha asked on Twitter.
Tagging Jaishankar's 'foreign ministers do read books' tweet, the historian added, "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.”
It was not just Guha who came down hard on Jaishankar. Congress leaders also attacked the External Affairs minister.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said in light of the “fake news” doing the rounds that Nehru did not want Patel in his cabinet, he would share a series of letters and documents.
Ramesh posted Nehru's letter to Mountbatten of 19 July, 1947 with Patel right on top of the new cabinet list. He also shared Nehru's letter to Patel dated 4 August, 1947 with the cabinet list including the latter's name.
“Problem with this very accomplished and erudite Foreign Minister is that he wishes to forget the books he read before becoming Foreign Secretary in January 2015,” Ramesh said in reference to Jaishankar.
Another senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, tagging Jaishankar, shared Raghavan's piece that states Nehru never excluded Patel from cabinet list.