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Special Content

Volume-32, Dated 4-10 November, 2017


Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
an icon of Indian Unity

Naved Jamal

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, a determinant nationalist and a hero of 'National Freedom Struggle' is icon of Indian Unity. Whenever we talk about the integration of princely states and the unification of India after independence, we remember Sardar Patel. For his uncompromising commitment to the national integration he earned  the title of "Iron Man of India". The first Deputy Prime Minister of the country was also a leader of farmers who led peasants of Kheda, Borsad, and Bardoli in Gujarat for the cause of the nation. Due to his devotion to work for the farmers' rights and successful peasants' movement he got the name "Sardar". In agriculture he supported the rights of peasants against both the former landlords and the state. He also stood for the transformation of the country into an industrial power and he opined that it could be achieved by a centrally strong state. That is why, he favoured strong centre while discussing centre-state relation in Constituent Assembly. Patel was never against the governmental role in industrial development and agrarian transformation but, balanced in his thoughts, he did not support Marxism-influenced violence and assaults against private industrial and commercial enterprises. He was not in favour of copying any ideology without understanding Indian reality. Sardar Patel is also known for his contribution in establishing the modern all-India Civil services system. The Civil Services Day is celebrated every year on April 21 to mark Sardar Patel's address to the probationers at the All India Administrative Service Training School at Metcalfe House in Delhi on this day in 1947.
It is the time to remember his contribution and get inspiration for the united India on his birthday on 31st October. The grateful nation celebrates this occasion as "Rashtriya Ekta Diwas" or National Unity Day, but not before 2014. The great freedom fighter Sardar Patel was also honoured with the highest civilian award 'Bharat Ratna' posthumously but very late in 1991. Our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru received this award in 1955 and even his daughter and the third Prime Minister of the country Indira Gandhi was honoured with this award in 1971, just five year after assuming the office. Both Pandit Nehru and Mrs. Gandhi received the Bharat Ratna while they were serving as Prime Ministers.
Actually the country recognized the significance of Sardar Patel's work for the nation very late but it is good that now the present government, acknowledging his importance to boost the feeling of national unity, is celebrating his birthday at  large scale and organizing the events like "Run for Unity".
Early life of Sardar Patel -
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was born on 31st October, 1875 in Nadiad village of Gujarat. Starting his education in a Gujarati medium school, he later shifted to an English medium school. In 1897, he passed his high school and went to pursue a degree in law to England in 1910. He completed his law degree in 1913 from Inns of Court. Patel came back to India to start his law practice in Godhra, Gujarat. For his legal proficiency, he was offered many lucrative posts by the British Government but he rejected as he was opposed to the British government and its laws. Later, Patel shifted his practice to Ahmedabad. He became a member of the Gujarat Club where he attended a lecture by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi's words deeply affected him and he soon adopted Gandhian principles.
Sardar Patel's Contribution in Freedom Struggle -
In 1917, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was elected as the Secretary of the Gujarat wing of the Indian National Congress- Gujarat Sabha. In 1918, he led a 'No Tax Campaign' that urged the farmers not to pay taxes after the British insisted on tax after the floods in Kaira. The peaceful movement forced the British authorities to return the land taken away from the farmers. His efforts to bring together the farmers of his area brought him the title of 'Sardar'. He actively supported the non-cooperation Movement launched by Gandhi. Patel left no stone unturned to boost the feeling of nationalism as he recruited three lakh members and collect over fifteen lakh rupees.
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 continued 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.
In 1930, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was among the leaders imprisoned for participating in the Salt Satyagraha movement initiated by Mahatma Gandhi. His inspiring speeches during the "Salt Movement" transformed the outlook of numerous people, who later played a major role in making the movement successful. He led the Satyagraha movement across Gujarat when Gandhi was under imprisonment, upon request from the Congress members. Sardar Patel was freed in 1931, following an agreement signed between Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Irwin which was considered as the Viceroy of Indian leaders by many experts and historians. The same year, Patel was elected as the President of Indian National Congress in its Karachi session where the party deliberated its future path. Congress committed itself towards defence of fundamental and human rights. It was in this session that the dream of a secular nation was conceived.
During the legislative elections of 1934, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel campaigned for the Indian National Congress. Though he did not contest, Sardar Patel helped his fellow party members during the election.
In the 1942 Quit India Movement, Patel continued his unwavering support to Gandhi when several contemporary leaders criticized the latter's decision. He continued travelling throughout the country propagating the agenda of the movement. He was arrested again in 1942 and was imprisoned in the Ahmednagar fort till 1945 along with other Congress leaders.
Sardar Patel's journey often saw a number of confrontations with other important leaders of the Congress. He voiced his annoyance at Jawaharlal Nehru openly when he adopted socialism in 1936 criticizing it that it did not support the Indian requirement. He was also wary of Subhash Chandra Bose. But Patel's criticism was only centred around the nation's interest beyond any personal conflict with any of his colleagues. Actually Gandhi had profound effect on Patel's politics and thoughts. He pledged unwavering support to the Mahatma and stood by his principles all through his life. While leaders including Jawaharlal Nehru, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and Maulana Azad criticized Mahatma Gandhi's idea that the civil disobedience movement would compel the British to leave the nation, Patel extended his support to Gandhi. Despite the unwillingness of the Congress High Command, Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel strongly forced the All India Congress Committee to ratify the civil disobedience movement and launched it without delaying further. Upon Gandhi's request he gave up his candidacy for the post of the Prime Minister of India. It was really a great sacrifice for his mentor's will and respect.
Sardar Patel's vision and efforts in Uniting India -
The separatist movement led by Muslim League leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah led to a series of violent Hindu-Muslim riots across the country just before the independence. In Sardar Patel's opinion, the open communal conflicts incited by the riots had the potential to establish a weak Government at the centre post-independence which would be disastrous for consolidating a democratic nation. Patel went on to work on a solution with V.P. Menon, a civil servant during December 1946 and accepted his suggestion of creating a separate dominion based on religious inclination of states. He represented India in the Partition Council.
After India achieved Independence, Patel became the first Home Minister and also the Deputy Prime Minister. He also assumed charges of three other portfolios- home, information and broadcasting, and states. He played a very crucial role in post-Independence India by successfully integrating around 562 princely states under the Indian Dominion. The British Government had presented these rulers with two alternatives - they could join India or Pakistan; or they could stay independent. It was a vision, acumen and statesmanship of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, that in record time in a congenial cordial environment and terms, the country could secure integration of princely states which then comprised a large territory of India. This was the single act of democratic unification, India emerged as a civilisational identity having cohesiveness as a nation and a largest democracy in the comity of nations.
The intimidating task to Sardar Patel who started lobbying for integration on August 6, 1947. He was successful in integrating all of them barring Jammu and Kashmir, Junagarh and Hyderabad. He eventually dealt with the situation with his sharp political acumen and secured their accession. India that we see today was a result of the efforts put in by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
Patel was a leading member of the Constituent Assembly of India and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was appointed on his recommendation. He was the key force in establishing the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service. He took personal interest in initiating a restoration endeavour of the Somnath Temple in Saurashtra, Gujarat. Patel dealt ruthlessly with the Pakistan's efforts to invade Kashmir in September 1947. He oversaw immediate expansion of the army and marked improvement of other infrastructural aspects. He often disagreed with Nehru's policies, especially about his dealings with Pakistan regarding the refugee issues. He organised multiple refugee camps in Punjab and Delhi, and later in West Bengal.
Mountbatten, Governor General at that time, acknowledged him by saying that thanks to that farsighted statesman Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Member in charge of States Department, a scheme, produced which appeared Mountbatten to be equally in the interests of the States as of the Dominion of India. The overwhelming majority of States is geographically linked with India, and therefore this Dominion had by far the bigger stake in the solution of this problem. It is a great triumph for the realism and sense of responsibility of the Rulers and the Governments of the States, as well as for the Government of India, that it was possible to produce an Instrument of accession which was equally acceptable to both sides; and one, moreover, so simple and so straight forward that within less than three weeks practically all the States concerned had signed the Instrument of Accession and the Standstill Agreement. There is thus established a unified political structure covering over 30 crore people and the major part of this great sub-continent.
Sardar Patel in his letter to Princely states in 1947 said that Indians were at a momentous stage in the history of the country. By common endeavour, Indians could raise the country to new greatness, while lack of unity would expose us to unexpected calamities. Patel hoped that the Indian states would realize fully that if Indians would not cooperate and work together in the general interest, anarchy and chaos would overwhelm us all, great and small, and lead us to total ruin. The historic and diplomatic role along with skilful persuasion led the rulers of princely states to honour the wishes and aspirations of the people of these princely states and this way Sardar Patel united the today's India.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's health started declining in 1950. On 2nd November 1950, his health deteriorated further and he was confined to bed. After suffering a massive heart attack, on 15 December 1950, the great soul left the world. Patel always lived simply in modest accommodation in Ahmedabad and Bombay, and left no substantial property to his descendants.
Today, in such a time when separatist forces are active in the various parts of the country with the help of outside forces and the reactionists are rising in different areas and communities in the country, Sardar Patel's approach and vision become more significant. The Iron Man who united India will keep inspiring the people of the country for its unity forever. 
(The author is a Senior Assistant Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)
Views expressed are personal.
Image: Courtesy Google