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Govind Ballabh Pant, freedom fighter and first UP CM

A Congress stalwart and leading light in freedom movement, Pant was conferred with Bharat Ratna in 1957, the only UP CM to have been given the country’s highest civilian honour so far; he implemented ‘revolutionary’ legislations for zamindari abolition and land reforms

Govind Ballabh Pant (Express Archives)

Accounting for 80 of the Lok Sabha’s 543 seats, and a 403-member Assembly, Uttar Pradesh, with its over 15 crore voters, is India’s most politically significant state. Since January 25, 1950, when the United Provinces was renamed as Uttar Pradesh, the state – through 17 Assembly elections — has determined the course of national politics, throwing up a legion of stalwarts, chief ministers, and Prime Ministers. Of its 21 CMs though, only Yogi Adityanath, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati have completed a full five-year term, reflecting the intense volatility of its politics. In the line-up of CMs, also lies the truth about the state’s caste equations. Ten of its 21 CMs have been Brahmins or Thakurs. The remaining include three Yadavs, three Baniyas, one Lodh, one Jat, one Kayasth, one Dalit and one Sindhi. A series looking at UP’s political history and changes through its CMs.

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As the first Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Govind Ballabh Pant, a Congress stalwart and leading figure in India’s freedom movement, is credited with providing a stable government and ensuring communal harmony in the state in post-Independence years when neighbouring states like Punjab and Bihar were in the throes of communal conflagration.

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

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After Independence, Pant emerged as a natural choice as the UP CM as he was already heading the state since 1946 and earlier during 1937-1939 (as the Premier of the then United Provinces, which was renamed as Uttar Pradesh on 25 January 1950).

The Congress leadership decided that Pant should continue as the UP CM even after the first state Assembly polls in 1952, which was swept by the party. He won from the Bareilly Municipality constituency, defeating Bhartiya Jan Sangh (BJS) candidate Manmohan Lal Mathur. The UP Assembly had then 347 seats, which involved 263 single-member and 83 double-member constituencies besides one nominated seat. The Congress won 388 seats, the Socialist Party 20, the BJS 2, with 15 going to independent candidates and few others.

On March 14, 1952 Pant announced in the Assembly, “We will be able to implement Zamindari Abolition Act. It will free farmers from economic and feudal bondage and give them self-respect.” After the elections, when the then Governor H P Modi addressed the first sitting of the newly-constituted Assembly on May 21, 1952, most of his speech was devoted to reforms like Zamindari Abolition Act, 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 legislations were considered “revolutionary” for the UP farmers, even as their implementation was carried out without any notable social turmoil. Raja Virendra Shah of Kalpi, who was then a UP Praja Party MLA, told the Assembly, “I was also one of the affected zamindars. We suffered economic losses. But we were silent because of the good behaviour, gentleness and politeness of Pant ji.”

The Pant government also passed the Hindu Code Bill and made monogamy compulsory for Hindu men while giving Hindu women the rights of divorce and inheritance to ancestral property.

Born on September 10, 1887 in Khoont village in Almora district, Pant studied Law from Allahabad University and became a prominent lawyer in Nainital and Kashipur before he joined politics. He was engaged in provincial politics and gradually came close to top leaders of the Indian National Congress amidst the freedom movement. He was appointed president 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 the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to take oath as a Union minister without portfolio. A week later, he was appointed as Minister of Home Affairs. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha twice. In 1957, he was conferred with the Bharat Ratna — the only UP CM to have been given the country’s highest civilian honour so far. He was then Union Home Minister.

Pant enjoyed enormous following among masses in the state and was admired by leaders from both 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 subsequently went on to become CMs — but Pant was able to keep them together and performing. In early 1955, the UP government’s Home Minister Dr Sampurnanand replaced him as the CM of the most populous state (over 6 crore population then), but UP’s political stability also seemed to have gone with Pant’s departure, that continued till 2007 when BSP president Mayawati took over as the CM and completed her full five-year tenure in the top post.

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

Before his shift to the Centre, the UP Assembly held a farewell for Pant in December 1954. During the event, Socialist leader Ram Narain Tripathi said, “With departure of Pant ji, UP will be politically poor… he can be termed as 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 need to go to jail, it should be under the employees of the able and kind administrator Pant ji’s government.”

In his last speech in the UP Assembly on December 27, 1954, Pant said: “Rule of majority and rule of minority are nothing. Democracy is rule of right and that right does not come from mind but heart. That right means righteousness.”

Pant passed away on March 7, 1961. After his demise, his son K C Pant was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1962. He died in 2012 after playing various roles in the central government, first as a Congress member and later as a BJP leader.

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