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Editorial Articles


Issue no 31, 29 October - 4 November 2022

Remembering Sardar Patel Unifier-Administrator of India

S. B. Singh

Since 2014, Sardar Patel's birth anniversary on 31st October is celebrated as National Unity Day (Rashtriya Ekta Diwas) in India. On this day, a pledge is taken in the government offices; "I solemnly pledge that I dedicate myself to preserve the unity, integrity and security of the nation and also strive hard to spread this message among my fellow countrymen. I take this pledge in the spirit of unification of my country which was made possible by the vision and action of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. I also solemnly resolve to make my own contribution to ensure the internal security of my country." This pledge has been further extended to the school and college students also by the Education Ministry. The huge Statue of Unity built recently in Gujarat is yet another reminder of Patel, the unifier-administrator and a true patriot of India. We remember our great reformers, builders by various epithets. Raja Ram Mohan Roy is called the "Father of Modern India", Gandhi is called the "Father of the Nation", Nehru is called the “Builder of "Modern Temples of India", i.e. heavy industries, science and research, dams etc. Sardar Patel stands equally tall because, if he had not prevented Balkanisation of India by giving it geographical integrity and contiguity, the other tasks of nation building would have remained unaccomplished. Patel represents a rare generation of patriots who not only immensely contributed to the freedom struggle under Gandhi's mentorship, but also laid the foundation of a strong independent India by resolving the most intricate problem of weaving a united India out of the existing disparate states. Lord Mountbatten, while calling the task of integration of princely states in a united India the most stupendous one, praised Patel as the man of the hour who rose to the challenge with grit and determination to accomplish this task. Today, we often use the terms “unity” and “integrity” of India which is written in the Preamble. These words assume true meaning when Patel's endeavours are realized. Patel as the Unifier of India: Churchill once called India merely a 'geographical expression'. He said that "India is no more a single country than the equator." Though Churchill's description of India smacks of his antiIndia bias, a fair assessment of the ground reality of preindependent India leads to the same observation. That India was disunited due to its division into two compartments, viz; British India, ruled directly by the colonial masters and, Princely States, ruled by autocratic princes, was a fact of life. The British established their rule only in sixty percent of the Indian geography, rest forty percent remained under local rulers and was called princely states. Not that the British did not evolve a policy of dominance over the princely states , and left them free in every sense. Through Lord Wellesley's system of Subsidiary Alliance, the independence of the princely states was compromised as they became dependent on the British in their external and defence relations, even in internal policies of the princely states, the British Agent used to interfere frequently. Post-1857, the British policy towards the princely states underwent a significant change. For their loyalty to the British during the Revolt of 1857, the princely states were allowed to exist without fear of annexation into British India, provided they accepted what came to be called "British Paramountcy" under which the princes had to accept the British as the paramount or supreme power in India and without consultation with the government, they could not make any alterations in their status. Under the Indian Independence Act, 1947, the British Paramountcy over the princely states lapsed and they were now free to choose their own destiny from among three choices: remain independent, or merge with Pakistan, or merge with India. Most of the princely states, persuaded by Patel to join India in their own benefit, toed his line and agreed to merge with India by signing two legal instruments, one, the Instrument of Accession and two, a Standstill agreement. He explained to the rulers of the princely states that they could no longer continue their separate existence. According to Patel, the transfer of power to the people in the princely states had become irreversible in the wake of independence and the transition should be peaceful. He offered the princes “Privy Purses” and protection of their personal properties as assurance of a secure future for them. Patel dealt with the rulers with grit and determination. He had great persuasive skills mixed with an iron resolve to succeed in his objectives. This is why he has been compared with Bismarck of Germany and Kautilya of India. But the merger of the princely states was not going to be a smooth run. There were princes nurturing anti-India feeling or their ambition to stay independent. Patel would have none of it. He applied his "iron hand" to deal with these recalcitrant princely states. The states of Junagarh, Dholpur, Indore, Travancore, Jodhpur, Hyderabad, Nashik, and Jammu and Kashmir resisted Patel's plan of integration. Of these, except Junagarh, Hyderbad and Jammu and Kashmir, all others got persuaded subsequently to become part of independent India.

Junagarh: Due to its contiguity with the newly formed Pakistan, it posed a great strategic danger as its Nawab, influenced by his Diwan, Shah Nawaz Bhutto, signed an accession to merge with Pakistan. It would be a great security risk if Junagarh went to Pakistan. Patel applied military force to secure Junagarh and thwarted the devious designs of the Nawab of Junagarh and Pakistan.

Hyderabad: The Nizam of Hyderabad strongly offered resistance to the merger of his state to India and was hobnobbing with Pakistan to merge, or alternatively, he nursed dreams of remaining independent. He refused to sign the Instrument of Accession .The militia force of the Razakars, a communal force that stoked violence on religious lines, came to the support of the Nizam and oppose Hyderbad's integration with India. On the importance of Hyderabad for India, Patel said, "Hyderabad is situated in India's belly. How can the belly breathe if it is cut off from the main body." When the law and order situation deteriorated in Hyderbad , Patel ordered Police action and liberated it from the Nizam. Jammu and Kashmir: Raja Hari Singh, the Dogra ruler was very indecisive about merger with India and wanted to protract his independence as long as possible. However, he lost this choice when the tribal invasion of Kashmir, led by the regular Pakistani army threatened his very existence. V P Menon, who was assisting Patel in the States Department responsible for merger of princely states, negotiated with the Maharaja and India offered him help if he signed the Instrument of Accession. Maharaja Hari Singh, faced with a Hobson's choice, readily signed the document which allowed India to act in Kashmir. Soon the invaders were expelled and Kashmir was taken in control. However, Nehru, took away Kashmir's affairs from Patel's hands and dealt with it himself. But even so, Patel showed the same commitment to the Kashmir issue that he had shown in respect of other states. Thus, before his demise, Patel delivered what he had set out to achieve - a single united India and not a fragmented geographical expression. What no one in history could achieve, Patel had achieved. V P Menon, in his book, “The Story of the Integration of the Indian States”, has rightly observed, “The masterly handling of the princes by Patel was the foremost factor in the success of the accession policy.”

Patel as Administrator: For Patel, just unifying India was not a complete solution to the problems of the country. He wanted to give it an efficient, effective administration also. Being a great administrator himself; he knew the importance of administration in a democratic India. The All India Services (AIS) was his brainchild. Though Nehru was not fascinated with Patel's idea of having a strong All India Service on the lines of the ICS because he felt that the ICS had become overbearing, unaccountable, and unresponsive to people's needs and no similar service is required in independent India. But Patel overruled him. He was fully convinced that only a merit based, non-partisan, All India Service can rise to the occasion to face challenges. It was on his insistence that Article. 311 and Article. 314 relating to the All India Services were incorporated in the constitution. Patel warned that without such a service, Indian unity cannot be preserved. During his address to the constituent assembly, Patel said that the role of the All India Services is not just confined to maintenance of law and order, but running the institutions that provide the binding cement to the society. The tradition to celebrate Civil Services Day on 31st April is based on Patel's address to the first batch of the IAS officers on this day at the Metcalfe House in Delhi. Referring to it as the "steel frame" of Indian administration, Patel advised the IAS officers to maintain utmost impartiality and incorruptibility of administration. A civil servant, he warned, should not take part in politics nor should he involve himself in communal wrangles. Thus, Patel laid the foundation of good governance by providing for an accountable, empathetic, and efficient civil service. When we celebrate the National Unity Day or the Civil Services Day, we should not only perform a ritual of remembering Patel, but we must also internalize the values that he imbibed. Those values are the values of patriotism, service to the nation, preservation of our unity and integrity, and good governance, i.e., 'Suraaj.'

(S.B. Singh is an academician and commentator. He can be reached on: sb_singh2003@yahoo.com)

Views expressed are personal.