TODAY -

India's last Governor-General : The story of a stamp

S Balakrishnan *



The other day I was frantically searching for a particular stamp from among my philatelic collection since the 1940s. Well, I was born in mid 1950s but my father had a small, random collection from a decade earlier.

As I was madly searching, I could clearly hear my wife mutter, "There goes this old crank, again rummaging through his 'kuppai' (trash) collection. Sigh! Even after retirement he is not helping me in household chores. Blah, blah...."

Of course, she wanted me to know she was angry, so it was a clear and loud muttering; a warning before UFOs start flying from the kitchen. As I decided to postpone my search operation, my eyes caught sight of an old stamp which I had never noticed.

It is always like that; I never get what I search for but get something unexpected. The collection is so disorgnaised that even after retirement I haven't had the time to systemize it. After sulkily helping out my wife in household chores, when I analysed the stamp it transported me to the pre-republic days of our nation.

The stamp depicts Rajaji taking over as Governor-General of India, the first Indian to hold the post before its nomenclature was changed to that of President of India after becoming a republic. So, Rajaji was also the last Governor-General of India. Here is the background story -

As India attained Independence, it was time for the British to quit India. Lord Louis Mountbatten replaced Wavell as the last Viceroy of the British government in India.

As the last Viceroy of British India (March–August 1947) it fell on Mountbatten to oversee the transfer of power from Britain to India and Pakistan (West & East), the two new independent nations of the subcontinent that parted way with effect from the midnight of Aug. 14–15, 1947.

However, Mountbatten continued as Governor-General of India from August 1947 to June 1948, when he helped persuade the Indian princely states to either merge with India or Pakistan. When finally Mountbatten left India in June 1948, Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari (Rajaji / CR) took over as governor-general of India's interim government on 21 June 1948, serving until 26 January 1950.

Mountbatten's first choice for the post, however, was Patel. But Prime Minister Nehru was not in agreement with Mountbatten's first choice of Patel as his replacement. Neither was Patel himself interested.

So it was Rajaji, Mountbatten's second choice. In fact, Rajaji had served as Acting Governor-General of India for 15 days from 10 to 24 November 1947, when the Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten, was on leave in England to attend the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (now Queen) to Prince Philip, Mountbatten's nephew.

With Queen Elizabeth II 94 years old now and not yet out as the Queen (she has been ruling for 48 years since 1952), alas, waiting in the line are her son Prince Charles (already aged 72), his son Williams and his son George (7 years)! Oh, well, I got (dis)attracted by the lineage. Prince Philip is aged 99!

Rajaji was initially reluctant to hold the post of Governor-General, but accepted it when Nehru 'egged' him on. Oops, Rajaji could get offended; he was a strict vegetarian. So, for the next 1 ˝ years Rajaji was the first Indian to hold this post of Governor-General, the first Indian Head of State.

It was likely that he would have continued as the first President of India as well but for the opposition from a section of Congress for the reason that Rajaji had not participated in the Quit India movement.

North India vs. South India parochial factor also played a role, it can be safely assumed. Though Nehru supported his candidature, Rajaji decided to opt out and Dr. Rajendra Prasad took over from him on 26 January 1950, but the post had been re-designated as President of India.

Later, however, fissures developed between Nehru and Rajaji when Rajaji served as Home Minister in Nehru's cabinet after the death of Patel (Dy. PM, Home, Information) on 15 December 1950.

Rajaji could hardly continue for ten months; he resigned as Home Minister on 25 October 1951 citing health reasons, because he could not tolerate any more being overruled by Nehru in critical issues.

Returning to Madras, he was again chief minister of Madras from 1952 to 1954. Nehru's government, however, awarded him Bharat Ratna in 1954 for meritorious service to the nation. That was political decency of those days.

Well, now coming to the story of the stamp – This was issued in 1978 on Rajaji's birth centenary and depicts him taking over as the first G-G of free India on 21 June 1948, an exact replica of the B&W photo taken on that occasion in 1948.

On 26th Jan. 1950 when Rajaji gave his farewell address from the same spot from where Rajendra Prasad took over as the first President, in the background stands an imposing figure of Buddha which was not there in 1948.

Probably it is symbolic of India's principle of peace!


* S Balakrishnan wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at krishnanbala2004(AT)yahoo(DOT)co(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on February 03 2020.



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