Govind Ballabh Pant, freedom fighter and first UP CM

Representing 80 of the Lok Sabha’s 543 seats and a 403-member Assembly, Uttar Pradesh, with its more than 15 million voters, is India’s most politically important state. Since January 25, 1950, when the United Provinces was renamed Uttar Pradesh, the state – through 17 Assembly elections – has determined the course of national politics, launching a legion of stalwarts, ministers in leader and prime ministers. However, of his 21 CMs, only Yogi Adityanath, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati have completed a full five-year term, reflecting the intense volatility of his politics. Also in the range of the CMs is the truth about the state caste equations. Ten of his 21 CMs have been Brahmins or Thakurs. The others include three Yadavs, three Baniyas, one Lodh, one Jat, one Kayasth, one Dalit and one Sindhi. A series on the history and political changes of UP through its CMs.

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As Prime Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Govind Ballabh Pant, a pillar of Congress and a leading figure in India’s freedom movement, is credited with providing stable government and ensuring communal harmony in the state in the years following independence when neighboring states like Punjab and Bihar were in the throes of communal conflagration.

His government implemented the legislation abolishing the state’s zamindari system without facing a significant backlash from tens of thousands of zamindars.

After independence, Pant emerged as a natural choice as UP CM as he had already ruled the state since 1946 and earlier from 1937 to 1939 (as Premier of the United Provinces at the time, who was renamed Uttar Pradesh on 25 January 1950).

Congressional leadership decided that Pant should continue as UP CM even after the first state assembly ballots in 1952, which were swept away by the party. He won in the Bareilly Municipality constituency, beating Bhartiya Jan Sangh (BJS) candidate Manmohan Lal Mathur. The UP Assembly then had 347 seats, which involved 263 single-member constituencies and 83 dual constituencies in addition to one nominated seat. The Congress won 388 seats, the Socialist Party 20, the BJS 2, including 15 for independent candidates and a few others.

On March 14, 1952, Pant announced to the Assembly: “We will be able to implement the Zamindari Abolition Act. This will free the farmers from economic and feudal bondage and give them self-respect. After the election, when then-Governor HP Modi addressed the first sitting of the newly constituted Assembly on May 21, 1952, most of his speech was devoted to reforms such as the abolition of Zamindari, which, passed by the interim Pant government earlier, was implemented in July 1952. Later, the UP Consolidation of Holdings Act, 1953 was also implemented from 1954.

These laws were considered “revolutionary” for farmers in the UP, even though they were implemented without significant social unrest. Raja Virendra Shah of Kalpi, who was then an MP for the UP Praja party, told the assembly: “I was also one of the zamindars concerned. We have suffered economic losses. But we were silent because of Pant ji’s good behavior, kindness and politeness.

The Pant government also passed the Hindu Code Bill and made monogamy compulsory for Hindu men while granting Hindu women the right to divorce and inherit ancestral property.

Born on September 10, 1887 in Khoont village in Almora district, Pant studied law at Allahabad University and became a prominent lawyer in Nainital and Kashipur before joining politics. He was engaged in provincial politics and gradually moved closer to the top leaders of the Indian National Congress amid the freedom movement. He was appointed chairman of the UP Congress Committee in 1927. Later he also became a member of the Constituent Assembly.

On January 3, 1955, Pant was called to Delhi by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to be sworn in as Union Minister without Portfolio. A week later, he was appointed Minister of the Interior. He was twice elected to the Rajya Sabha. In 1957, he was conferred with the Bharat Ratna – the only UP CM to have received the country’s highest civilian honor so far. He was then Union Home Secretary.

Pant enjoyed enormous success among the masses of the state and was admired by the leaders of the Congress and opposition parties. His government had several ambitious leaders such as Chaudhary Charan Singh, Kamlapati Tripathi and Chandra Bhanu Gupta – all of whom later became CMs – but Pant was able to keep them together and performing well. In early 1955, the UP government’s Home Secretary, Dr. Sampurnanand, replaced him as CM of the most populous state (over 6 crore population at the time), but stability UP politics also seemed to have disappeared with Pant’s departure, which continued until 2007 when BSP President Mayawati took over as CM and completed his full five-year term in office on higher.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath pays tribute to Govind Ballabh Pant on his birthday at Lok Bhawan in Lucknow in 2021. (Express Photo)

Prior to his move to the Center, the UP Assembly bid farewell to Pant in December 1954. During the event, socialist leader Ram Narain Tripathi said, “With the departure of Pant ji, the UP will be politically poor… he can be called all-rounder. Reflecting his cordial relations with opposition leaders, another Socialist Party leader, Raj Narain, said, “When I spent time in jail during Pant ji’s tenure, I was so happy. I was so happy that if I had to go to prison, it should be under the orders of the government employees of the competent and kind administrator Pant ji.

In his last speech to the UP Assembly on December 27, 1954, Pant said, “Majority rule and minority rule are nothing. Democracy is the rule of law and that law does not come from the mind but from the heart. This right means justice.
Pant died on March 7, 1961. After his disappearance, his son KC Pant was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1962. He died in 2012 after serving in various roles in central government, first as a member of Congress , then as a leader of the BJP. .

Thelma J. Longworth