Editorial Articles

Volume-31, 28 October-3 November, 2017

Sardar Patel : The Iron Man of India

Mohit Mishra

“We are building a nation and we are laying the foundations of One Nation, and those who choose to divide again and sow the seeds of disruption will have no place, no quarter, here, and I must say that plainly enough”
– Sardar Patel
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, popularly known as the Iron Man or Lauh Purush, is credited to shape up the territorial boundary of the independent India, making it a formidable Union of states. The visionary statesman played a significant role in shaping the destiny of our nation. With his political wisdom and great administrative skill, Sardar Patel laid the foundation of modern India. He was one of principal architects of Indian independence. When our country got independence in 1947, there were 565 princely states. Most of the Nawabs and Maharajas who ruled over these princely states dreamt of becoming independent rulers as British announced to quit India. In the midst of chaotic Independence, they demanded equal status from the Government of India. Some of them even declared themselves Independent and even planned to send their representatives to the United Nations. However, with his political acumen and foresight Sardar Patel tackled the situation by consolidating the support of the subject of these princely states and making the rulers realize the impossibility of independence from Indian republic. A unique case was that of Junagadh, a princely state which was surrounded by India on all its sides, with an outlet onto the Arabian Sea. The Nawab of Junagarh, Muhammad Mahabat Khanji III, decided to become part of Pakistan. The decision was against the popular will of his subject, majority of which were Hindus. On September 15, 1947, Junagadh acceded to the Dominion of Pakistan. The grave situation was tactfully handled by Sardar Patel who offered Pakistan time to reverse its acceptance of the accession and to hold a plebiscite in Junagadh. He also ordered the annexation of three principalities of Junagadh. Eventually, the government of Junagadh invited India to take control. Subsequently, a plebiscite was conducted in which over 99 percent people chose India over Pakistan and the princely state became part of our nation. Likewise, he handled the merger of Hyderabad (Operation Polo) with carrot-and-stick approach which was backed up by swift army action. Entrusted with the intimidating and massive task of uniting independent India, Sardar Patel successfully integrated all princely states. The India that we see today was a result of the tireless and determined efforts put in by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who is rightly hailed as ‘India’s Bismarck’.
Born on October 31, 1875 in Nadiad village of modern day Gujarat, Vallabhbhai Patel was fourth of the six children of his father Zaverbhai and mother Ladbai. His father had served in the army of the Queen of Jhansi while his mother was a very spiritual woman. In 1891, he married to Jhaverba Patel. He completed his matriculation in 1897 at the age of 22 due to the poor financial condition of his family. He wanted to make a career in law. To pursue a degree in law Patel travelled to England in 1910. He completed his law degree in 1913 from Inns of Court. Like many of his generation of political leaders, he qualified as a barrister and came back to India to start his law practice. He returned to India around the same time as Mahatma Gandhi returned from South Africa, on the eve of the World War I. Soon he became one of the most successful lawyers of Ahmedabad. British Government
offered him many lucrative posts for his legal proficiency but as a staunch opponent of the colonial rule in India, he rejected all.
Sardar Patel came in contact of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji’s words deeply affected Vallabhbhai and he adopted Gandhian principles to become his staunch supporter. In 1917, Sardar Patel was elected as the Secretary of the Gujarat Sabha, the Gujarat wing of the Indian National Congress. He joined Gandhiji in representing the weavers in the dispute will mill-owners in Ahmedabad in 1918. He was Gandhiji’s chief lieutenant in his second satyagraha movement in Kheda. The peasants of Kheda were unable to pay high taxes because of crop failure and plague epidemic. Sardar Patel and his colleagues organised a major tax revolt. The revolt was astounding in terms of discipline and unity. Even when all their personal property, land and livelihood were seized, a vast majority of Kheda’s farmers remained firmly united in the support of Patel. The peaceful movement forced the British Government to seek to foster an honourable agreement for both parties. The tax for the year in question, and the next would be suspended, and the increase in rate reduced, while all confiscated property would be returned. Attributing the success of Kheda to Sardar Patel, Gandhiji wrote in his autobiography, “I will say that without the help of Vallabhbhai Patel, we should not have won the campaign.” In 1920, Sardar Patel was nominated and elected as the President of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee. He served in the post till 1945. He actively supported the non-cooperation Movement launched by Gandhiji. Sardar Patel toured the nation with him, recruited over three lakh members and helped collect over Rs. 1.5 million in funds. He worked against alcoholism, Untouchability and caste discrimination in Gujarat. He was elected as the municipal president of Ahmedabad in 1922, 1924 and 1927. In 1923, when Mahatma Gandhi was in prison, he successfully led a satyagraha in Nagpur against a law banning the raising of the Indian flag. This movement gave him a countrywide recognition. Later, Dr Rajendra Prasad, who became the first President of independent India, wrote about him, “I met Sardar earlier too. But in Nagpur, I had a close interaction with him, one of the most cherished memories of my life. At the same time, there was great respect for his work-efficiency, seriousness and leadership power in my heart.”
In 1928, the farmers of Bardoli again faced a problem of “tax-hike”. After prolonged summons, when the farmers refused to pay the extra tax, the government seized their lands in retaliation. The agitation took on for more than six months. After several rounds of negotiations by Patel, the lands were returned to farmers after a deal was struck between the government and farmers’ representatives. It was here that he earned the title ‘Sardar’.
Sardar Patel was elected as the President of Indian National Congress in 1931. The Karachi session presided by Patel was an important event in India’s struggle for independence. The Gandhi -Irwin pact was endorsed in this session and Gandhiji was nominated to represent Congress in the Second Round Table Conference. A resolution on Fundamental Rights and Economic Policy was also adopted which represented the Party’s Social, Economic and Political programme. It was later known as Karachi Resolution. The resolution, for the first time, tried to define what would be the meaning of Swaraj for common people. The 45th Congress session at Karachi also spelt out the feeling of the Congress about the affairs in the states. As the President of the Congress Session, he indicated that the princes would not take all uncompromising attitude and join the proposed federation, and it would be possible to seek direct representation of the states’ people in the federal legislature.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel played a decisive role in the Constituent Assembly and remained the moving spirit behind some of the landmark provisions of Indian principles. He played an important role in the selection of members of the drafting committee. He made recommendations for the appointment of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedakar. He was also instrumental for the entry of eminent jurists like B N Rau, K M Munshi, Aaladi Krishnaswami Aiyar and Gopalaswami Ayyangar into the Assembly. Some of the basic tenets of the Constitution, particularly the balancing of fundamental rights with the maintenance of law and order in the state, and the reservation of a whole set of citizens rights as non-justiciable directives of the state were evolved by Patel. After adopting the ‘Objectives Resolution’, moved by Nehru, the Constituent Assembly appointed an advisory committee under Patel on January 24, 1947. The committee dealt with the rights of citizens, minorities, tribal and excluded areas. Patel presented the committee’s recommendations on political safeguards for minorities sans separate electorates on August 27. The recommendations were accepted in the Assembly the following day. On October 10, 1949, Patel defended the inclusion of Article 283-A (incorporated in the Constitution as Article 314) which gave constitutional guarantee to the terms and privileges granted to ICS officers opting for service in Independent India. It was Sardar Patel’s vision that the Civil Service should fortify solidly and national unity and the values of integrity, impartiality and merit became the guiding principles of Indian civil services.
In May 1946, it was clear that the next Congress president would end up as independent India’s first prime minister. The provincial committees of the Congress favoured Patel. However, Gandhiji pressed for Pt Jawaharlal Nehru. As a loyal party leader Sardar Patel fell in line and the personal disappointment did not come in the way of higher duty. Sardar Patel became the first Deputy Prime Minister of India. He was given vital portfolios of Home and States, signifying his stature in the Nehru Cabinet. It is also a known fact that Patel had many differences with Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. After successfully handling the issue of Junagadh and Hyderabad, the realist Patel advised Nehru against going to the UN. It is often argued that had Patel handled the Kashmir issue, the story would have been different. He had written to Nehru early on cautioning him about China’s policy. According to John W. Garver, a scholar on Sino- India relations, “Patel advocated a series of practical measures designed to strengthen India’s position: accelerated road building in the frontier areas, strengthening of India’s military capabilities, moves to better integrate the northeastern territories into India.” On the economy, while Nehru was a socialist with a firm belief in state-led industrialization, Patel believed in Gandhian self-sufficiency and was an advocate of private capital. Patel argued against nationalization of industries. He played a significant role in the liberal industrial policy resolution of 1948.
Sardar Patel, by integrating more than 560 princely states, prevented Balkanization of India and gave it a geographical coherence. He had a vision to make India a strong nation of the world and he relentlessly strived till last breath to make it  prosperous and united. Patel suffered a massive heart attack and he died on 15 December 1950 at Birla House in Bombay. His cremation was initially planned at Girgaum Chowpatty, but the venue was changed to Sonapur (currently at Marine Lines). This was done on the request of his daughter, when she conveyed that it was his wish to be cremated like a common man in the same place as his wife and brother were earlier cremated. He was given Bharat Ratna in 1991 by the Narasimha Rao government.  The present Narendra Modi Government has started observing the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel on October 31 every year as National Unity Day or Rashtriya Ekta Diwas. ‘Run For Unity’ is organized across the country, involving people from all sections of society. All the Government Offices, Public Sector Undertakings and other Public Institutions arrange a pledge taking ceremony to observe the Rashtriya Ekta Diwas. Talking about the Iron Man of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said, “Through his skill, vision and love for the nation, Sardar Patel integrated the country. We can never forget his contribution.”  As the nation will celebrate the 142nd birth anniversary of Sardar Patel on October 31, 2017, it is time to recall his unparalleled contribution to India’s unity and to utilize it as an opportunity to re-affirm the inherent strength and resilience of our nation to withstand the actual and potential threats to the unity, integrity and security of our country.
(The author is a Senior TV Journalist. Views expressed are personal.)