Editorial Articles

Volume-30, 27 October - 2 November, 2018


Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

The Architect of Modern India

Swadesh Singh

It was the long cherished dream of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi to build a statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat. Known as the Statue of Unity, the project has been completed now and is the tallest statue in the world with a height of 182 meters. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the statue on October 31 - the birthday of this giant of Indian politics also known as the Iron Man. 

In 2014, the government started celebrating 31 October, as Rashtriya Ekta Diwas (National Unity Day). The official statement of the Home Ministry says, "This Day will provide 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."

These two initiatives of the government signify the importance of Sardar Patel in unifying India which stood broken into many parts at the time of Independence in the wake of the 'Divide and Rule' policy of the colonial rulers. Many believed that a united India could no longer be forged out of the pieces and the newly independent nation was bound to crumble. It was Patel who took up the mantle and pieced together a united India.

The Unifier

Modern India, as a sum of inalienable parts, is the biggest legacy of Sardar Patel. As the Home Minster he worked tirelessly to unite the country by bringing within  the national fold the princely states that were spread across the length and breadth of the country. All the princely states merged with India on the call given by Sardar Patel except three - Jammu and Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad. Nehru himself looked after the affairs of J&K but Junagadh and Hyderabad were integrated into India with Sardar Patel's intervention. For completing this Herculean task in a charged environment, Patel was considered as 'Bismarck of India'.

Patel worked to forge a united India out of the many pieces left by the British. These comprised the colonial provinces that had been allocated to India and approximately 565 self-governing princely states had been released. With tact and tenacity, Patel persuaded almost every princely state to accede to India. It earned him the title of "Iron Man of India" as he was able to accomplish what many saw at the time as impossible.

With the mammoth task of integrating princely states at hand, Patel sought the help of VP Menon, a senior civil servant with whom he had worked on the Partition of India. Menon  became his right-hand man as chief secretary of the States Ministry. It was on 6 May 1947 that Patel began concerted efforts to bring round the princes. This was the time when political ambiguity had sown seeds of distrust and led to clamour among the princely states for autonomy. At this point he lobbied with the princes and brought them to the discussion table. He used all tools of diplomacy and politics, meeting royals in unofficial settings and reaching out to them to convince them that their future was safe in united Independent India. On one hand he proposed favourable terms of merger and allowances like privy purses, while on the other he also appealed to the innate alligence of the royals to India. By the deadline of 15 August 1947, all except three had signed the instrument of accession document willingly merging into the Indian union.

An Organiser

Sardar Patel was an able organiser and administrator. He studied law from England and was a well known advocate before entering public life. He entered politics at the grassroots and organised the peasants of Kathiawar in Gujarat. He held successful peasant movements in Kheda, Borsad and Bardoli. These were important as they helped Congress to break out of the image of being a party for the middle class. It sent the message that Congress also represented the interests of farmers. 

The Kheda Satyagraha, in which Mahatma Gandhi also participated, began with a village-by-village tour to document grievances of the villagers. Patel undertook this difficult task supported by  Congress volunteers. They sought the support of  the villagers for a statewide revolt by refusing to pay taxes and received enthusiastic response from virtually every village. As the government cracked the whip on the revolt, seizing property and confiscating animals, Patel organised counter-action. He used a group of volunteers to help villagers hide their valuables and protect themselves against raids. After widespread arrests, the government agreed to negotiate with Patel. The payment of taxes was suspended for a year and the rate was scaling back.

The Gujarati community began to look upon Patel as a hero. In 1920 he was elected as the president of the newly formed Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee and served as its president until 1945. He went on to become the president of Congress at its 1931 session in Karachi. Under his presidentship the Congress ratified the Gandhi-Irvin pact and committed itself to standing up for fundamental rights and civil liberties. It advocated the establishment of a secular nation with a minimum wage and the abolition of untouchability and serfdom. Patel used his position as Congress president to organise the return of confiscated land to farmers in Gujarat.

Patel was also seen as the lead fundraiser of the Congress party. Whenever Gandhi was about to start a movement, he directed Patel to mobilise funds for party activities.

Patel's engagement as a key fundraiser for the party and its ace election manager began from 1934 when the party changed its stand on electoral boycott. From his Mumbai-based apartment he toiled to raise funds for the party's political activities in 1934 elections to the Central Legislative Assembly in New Delhi and for provincial elections of 1936. As the chairman of the Congress's Central Parliamentary Board, he also played the lead role in selecting candidates and determining the party's stance on a galaxy of issues.

As Administrator

His first step into electoral politics came with being elected the municipal coun-cilor. He later also became the chairman of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. His administrative abilities were at display during this time when he managed the municipal affairs meticulously focusing on sanitation, electrification and education. His experience in managing the municipal affairs came handy when he took over as the first home minister of the country.

Patel also established the modern all-India services system. For this he is remembered as the "patron saint of India's civil servants".

As Home Minister

It is often pointed out that Patel's appointment as the home minister came only after hectic bargaining by Nehru for the post of Prime Minister. Patel was the first and far more popular claimant of the job.

As per the records, Nehru lobbied during the 1946 election for Congress presidency. The nominations for the post were to be made by 15 state/regional Congress committees. None of the Congress Committees proposed Nehru's name despite the fact that he had Gandhi's backing. As many as 12 out of the 15 committees put forward Patel's name and the move was overwehlmingly in his favour. However, Gandhi intervened for Nehru and put Acharya J B Kriplani on the task of getting some members from the Congress Working Committeee (CWC) to propose Nehru's name. This was done despite the fact that only Pradesh Congress Committees were authorized to nominate the president. Nehru, however, continued to be defiant. Gandhi thus turned to Patel to break the deadlock and the Iron Man stepped down in favour of Nehru. 


In December 1946 and January 1947, Patel worked with VP Menon on the proposal for a separate dominion of Pakistan created out of Muslim-majority provinces. As Bengal and Punjab broke into communal clashes Patel was convinced that Partition was the only way out. He fiercely resisted Jinnah's demand to club Hindu-majority areas of Punjab and Bengal in a Muslim state and pushed through the partition of those provinces.

In the wake of the wide spread violence and the massive human displacement due to Partition, Patel took the lead in organising relief and emergency supplies, establishing refugee camps, and visiting the border areas with Pakistani leaders to encourage peace. He continued this work as the first home minister and deputy prime minister of India and ensured that the refugees were assimilated into the new born country.

In Constituent Assembly

Patel made several significant contributions to the Constituent Assembly as the chairman of the committees responsible for minorities, tribal and excluded areas, fundamental rights, and provincial constitutions. He worked with Muslim leaders to end demand for separate electorates and reservation of seats. He was responsible for the measure that allows the president to appoint Anglo-Indians to Parliament. He was also responsible for putting in place safeguards for civil servants from political involvement.


Over the years, with Nehru tightening his grip on Congress, his legacy far outlived that of Patel. Though, Gandhi had famously remarked that a free India needed both Patel and Nehru. Patel was fiercely loyal to Gandhi as well as a nationalist who kept the country's interest before personal ambition. It is because of these factors that he allowed Nehru to take on Prime Ministership and even offered to quit when the things between them came to a head in 1948. However, he stayed in the government at the behest of Gandhi and was the last person to have had a private talk with him.

Patel considered the demolition of Somnath Temple as a symbol of slavery and pledged the reconstruction of the ancient but dilapidated Somnath Temple in Gujarat. After Independence, he oversaw the restoration work and the creation of a public trust, and wowed to dedicate the temple upon the completion of work. The work was completed after his death and the temple was inaugurated by the first President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad.

In the contemporary India he has come to symbolize political acumen, ability to take difficult decisions and importance of the idea of nation. He was posthumously conferred the highest civilian honour of the nation, Bharat Ratna, in 1991.

Sardar Patel died on December 15, 1950. His  immense contribution to building a united India will always be remembered and his grand statue will serve as a testimony to his vision of a unified India.

(The author teaches Political Science at Satyawati College, University of Delhi, Email: swadesh171@gmail.com) Views expressed are personal