Shadowed by the other stalwarts of his time like Nehru, Gandhi, Patel etc., Govind Ballabh Pant too was a prominent figure in the Indian Independence movement and a renowned politician in the post-independence era.
His service is exemplified by the fact that he was awarded Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, in 1957 – just seven years into the Indian Republic.
Early life and as a practicing lawyer
Govind Ballabh Pant was born on 10 September 1887 in Almora, Uttarakhand. His father was a government official and had to move constantly and thus Govind was brought up by his maternal grandfather, Badri Dutt Joshi, who played a significant role in shaping Pant’s personality and political views.
After having obtained B.A. degree, Pant decided to study law in 1907. Having performed outstandingly in his Bar examination, he was subsequently awarded with the Lumsden award.
Around this time, he was highly influenced by Madan Mohan Malaviya, who, in his own words, was “one of the greatest men ever born and at whose feet I received my first lesson in public life.”
Pandit Pant practiced as a lawyer in Almora initially, eventually moving to Kashipur, Uttarakhand in 1912. In this capacity, he played an active role in 1914 in helping the local village council to successfully challenge the law requiring locals to provide free transportation for the luggage of travelling British officials, referred to as ‘coolie beggar’.
Kumaon region was included in the schedule of backward areas by the British administration, and thus was excluded from the implementation of the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms. In November 1918, Pandit Pant along with other leaders of Congress was successful in getting this changed by arguing in front of the Franchise Committee.
In the freedom struggle
Pant formally entered into Politics in 1921, when he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh (which he later himself renamed as Uttar Pradesh). Here, he was instrumental in highlighting issues such as zamindari, forest preservation and eroding hills and also passing appropriate bills for them.
When a committee was formed under the chairmanship of Motilal Nehru to defend those arrested in the Kakori train robbery case, Pant was also a part of it.
Pant suffered serious injuries from which he was never able to fully recover while protesting against the Simon Commission in Lucknow. Alongside him, Lala Lajpat Rai was also mercilessly beaten at the hands of police and achieved martyrdom one month later.
He was an active participant in both the Non-Cooperation Movement and the Civil Disobedience Movement. He also organized a salt movement inspired by the Gandhiji’s salt Satyagraha in March 1930. Subsequently, he was arrested in May 1930 and held in Dehradun jail, only to be released after several weeks.
He was arrested again for seven months in 1933 just for attending a session of the then-banned provincial Congress in United Provinces. In 1935, the ban was removed and thus he was released. Thereafter, he joined the new Legislative Council created under the Government of India Act which allowed a provincial government.
However, he resigned from that position, like all other Congress ministers, after India was forcefully dragged into the Second World War.
Influential and respected Political leader
During this time, there were two factions in the Congress – the moderates backed by Gandhiji wanted to assist the British in the war efforts, while the others believed in Subhash Chandra Bose’s ideology of taking advantage of the situation to force the British out by using any and all means necessary. In such a delicate situation, Pant acted as a peacemaker and mediator between the two sides.
Undeterred and continuing to take lead in the nationalist activities, Pant was arrested in 1942 along with other prominent leaders of Congress for signing the Quit India resolution. He was released only in March 1945, three years later, when Pandit Nehru pleaded for his release on account of his deteriorating health.
Pant was appointed as the first Chief Minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh in Independent India and he had been the premier of United Provinces in the provincial government before that. During his tenure as the Chief Minister, he worked to abolish the zamindari system.
In the constituent assembly
Pant was an important and pivotal figure in the constituent assembly and also in many of its committees.
Countering the demand for separate electorates, Govind Ballabh Pant declared that it was not only harmful for the nation but also for the minorities. He agreed that success of a democracy was to be judged by the confidence it generated amongst different sections of people and that first the majority community had an obligation to try and understand the problems of minorities, and empathise with their aspirations. Yet he argued that this was a suicidal demand – one that would permanently isolate them, make them vulnerable and deprive them of any effective say in the government.
He further said, “There is the unwholesome and to some extent degrading habit of thinking always in terms of communities and never in terms of citizens. Let us remember that it is the citizen that must count. It is the citizen that forms the base as well as the summit of the social pyramid.”
As Union Home Minister of India
Govind Pant was called upon by Pt. Nehru to serve as the Home Minister of India in January 1955 after the untimely death of Sardar Vallbhabhai Patel.
His most important works as the Home Minister were the re-organisation of states along linguistic lines and the declaration of Hindi as the official language of the Government of India.
He continued to serve in that capacity till his death on 7 March, 1961.
Pant held progressive views on social reforms and favoured Western education, adapted to Indian context. As a nationalist, he had firm belief in India’s unity, despite its diversity and communal mistrust of the time.
After his death, Dr Rajendra Prasad, the then President of India said, “I had known Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant since 1922 and in this long period of association it had been my privilege to receive from him not only consideration but also affection. This is no time to assess his labour and his achievements. The grief is too intense for words. I can only pray for peace to his soul and strength to those who loved and admired him”.
- Awarded with the Bharat Ratna in 1957.
- He was included in the “Proud Past Alumni” list of “Allahabad University Alumni Association”.
- Several hospitals and educational institutions have been named after him, including the first and the largest agricultural university of India – GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, Uttarakhand.
- The city and Airport of Pantnagar in Northern India are named after him.
Pandit Pant’s son, Krishna Chandra Pant followed his father’s footsteps. He held the portfolios of Defence, Finance, Steel and Heavy Engineering, Home Affairs, Electronics, Atomic Energy and Science and Technology at different points of time in the central government. He was also the first chairman of the Advisory Board on Energy.