Freedom Fighters: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
India's Man of Steel. He used to earn thousands of rupees every month as a lawyer.
But he gave up his practice inorder to fight for the freedom of the country. As a
leader of the farmers he forced the mighty British Government to accept defeat. He
was sent to prison. As the Deputy Prime Minister of free India, he brought about the
merger of hundreds of princely states with the Indian Union, and became the
architect of the integrity of India. Honest in word and deed, he was a hero among
heroes, a lion among men.
Author - Shivaramu
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was known in India as the 'Man of Steel'.
A Family of Heroes
Vallabhbhai was born in Nadiad. It was a small village in Gujarat. His father was
Jhaverbhai Patel, and his mother Ladbai. Jhaverbhai was a poor farmer. He was a
strong and sturdy man. His country and freedom were as dear to him as his own life.
In 1857 the people of India fought for their freedom. Jhaverbhai, who was then a
young man, fought bravely at that time. Vithalbhai, Vallabhbhai's elder brother, was
also a well-known patriot. He was the Chairman of the Indian Legislative Council.
Once, when he was a small boy, Vallahbhai suffered from a boil in the armpit. There
was a man in the village who used to cure boils by touching them with hot iron. The
boy went to him. The man heated the iron rod till it grew red. But he hesitated,
seeing at the boy's tender years.
"What are you waiting for? The iron will grow cold. Hurry up, brand the boil," said the
The man was even more frightened. The boy picked up the glowing rod and burnt the
boil. Those who watched him were shocked and screamed. But there was not even a
trace of pain in the boy's face.
The Courageous Student
This amazing boy was born on the 31st of October 1875. (This is the date generally
accepted.) The elders were filled with pride and joy at the fearlessness of the little
boy; the younger ones loved and admired him. No companion of his ever disobeyed
him. By nature he rebelled against injustice. He showed a genuine interest in the
welfare of his companions, constantly Enquirer about their needs and problems
helped them as best he could, and promoted friendship and unity.
Vallabhbhai's early education was in Karamsad. Then he joined a school in Petlad.
After two years he joined a high school in a town called Nadiad. A teacher of this
school used to sell the books, which the pupils needed. He used to force all the pupils
to buy books only from him. If any boy bought books from others, the teacher used
to tease him.Vallabhbhai thought that this was wrong. He spoke to his companions,
and saw to it that not a single pupil attended the classes. For a whole week the
school could not work. The teacher had to correct himself.
When he was in Petlad he used to cook for himself. Every week he used to carry
provisions from home, walking the entire distance. He could have gone by train, but
he did not have the money to buy a ticket.
During his school days, one day a teacher made a mistake in working a sum.
Vallabhbhai pointed out the error. The teacher was very angry and said, "All right,
you be the teacher." The boy replied, "Very well, sir." He worked the sum correctly,
and sat down in the teacher's chair!
Vallabhbhai first chose Sanskrit. Then he changed to Gujarati. Sanskrit was dearer to
the teacher who taught Gujarati than his own subject. When Vallabhbhai entered his
class, the teacher wanted to taunt him, and said, "Welcome, great man!" Poor man,
he did not know that the boy would one day become a very great man.
He asked the boy, in anger, "Why did you give up Sanskrit and choose Gujarati?"
Vallabhbhai answered, "If every one chooses Sanskrit, you will have no work."
The teacher was in a rage. He complained to the headmaster. Vallabhbhai narrated to
the headmaster all that had happened. The headmaster said, "I have not seen such a
bold pupil." This made the teacher even more bitter. Vallabhbhai, too, did not wish to
remain in that school. He went back. He studied at home and passed the
Vallabhbhai's cherished ambition was to become a barrister. But in order to realize
this ambition, he had to continue his studies in England. But his family was in utter
poverty. He did not have enough money evens to join a college in India.
In those days a candidate could study in private and sit for an examinat ion in Law.
Vallabhbhai's brother, Vithalbhai, also was a lawyer. He attended coaching classes
before entering himself for the exami- nation. But Vallabhbhai did not even attend
coaching classes. He borrowed books from the lawer of his acquaintance and studied
their judgements.Occasionally he attended courts of law. He studied their judgments.
He listened attentively to the arguments of lawyers. He observed keenly lawyers of
all types - the timid ones, the dashing ones and the skillful ones. He listened to them
Vallabhbhai passed the examination.
Vallabhbhai had absolutely no facilities to begin practice of law. He borrowed some
money from his friends and hired a room in a town called Godhra. He furnished it
with a couple of chairs, and also mats for those who wished to squat on the floor.
Before long clients were attracted to this enthusiastic young man. If he took up a
subject, Vallabhbhai made a thorough study of it.
In a short time Vallabhbhai made a name as a very eminent lawyer. By then he was
married. Two children were born - a daughter, Manibehn, and a son, Dhayabhai.
Vallabhbhai's wife fell ill, and he sent her to Bombay for treatment.
Plenty of Money
As Vallabhbhai wished to become a barrister, he was saving money and making
preparations to go to England. He wrote a letter to a travel agency about his trip to
England. By chance it fell into the hands of Vithalbhai. He told Vallabhbhai, "I shall go
to England first; you can go later."
Without the slightest hesitation Vallabhbhai agreed. "Take it that my money and my
ticket are yours. Make use of them gladly. And if you need money in England write to
me. I shall send you the money," he told his brother.
Vithalbhai's wife was not a woman who would easily adopt herself to circumstances.
She 'was worded; what was she to do if her husband went abroad? Who would look
after her? Vallabhbhai said, "Come and stay with us till my brother returns. Think of
my house as yours."
Three years passed, and the elder brother returned from England.
One day Vallabhbhai had to appear in a very important case. He was arguing before
the judge with the almost concentration. He was still on his feet when an urgent
telegram was handed to him. He glanced at the contents and folded and put the
paper in his pocket, and went on with the argument. It was only after he concluded
his speech and sat down that even those near him learnt the contents of the
telegram - his wife was dead!
Vallabhbhai had read the news -and had gone on with his arguments as if nothing
had happened. Such was his sense of duty. All through his life, troubles never
discouraged him. With a will of iron he completed whatever task he had under taken.
Patel was only thirty-three years old when his wife died. He did not wish to marry
After his brother's return, Vallabhbhai went to England. He studied with single-
minded devotion. The glitter and luxury of fashionable life did not tempt him. The
library was at a distance of eleven miles from his lodging. Every morning he walked
to the library, and walked back in the evening. He stood first in the Barrister-at-Law
As soon as he returned to India, Vallabhbhai set up practice as a barrister at
Ahmedabad. Day by day his fame and his influence grew. The elder brother,
Vithalbhai, said, "You look after the family; I shall work, for the country."
"Yes," said Vallabhbhai. At the time he was earning eight to ten thousand rupees a
month. He spent his leisure hour’s playing cards in a local club. He dressed like the
English. He was not at all interested in politics. He sometimes laughed at Satyagraha
(nonviolent non-cooperation) and service to the country as dreams of crazy fellows.
Then Came Gandhiji
Gradually the spell of Gandhiji spread all over Gujarat. It changed Vallabhbhai's life,
too. Gandhiji attended the Political Conference at Godhra. He and Vallabhbhai met at
that time, and soon became friends.
Patel was very fond of children, but he was never given to an exhibition of his
affection. When Manibehn shyly asked him, "How are you, father?" he made a brief
answer: "I am all right."
Dhayabhai sometimes tried to engage his father in conversation; but Vallabhbhai
Gandhiji entered Patel's home, too. He was like a father to the two children.
The training and refinement she received inculcated several good qualities in
Manibehn. Love of simple life and good habits developed in her. When public life
imposed a severe strain on her father she devoted herself to his service. She became
his private secretary, took care of his health, and found joy and fulfillment in serving
him. She was convinced that she could best serve the country by sharing his burden
to the best of her ability.
A Friend of the Peasants
In 1918 heavy rains destroyed the crops in Gujarat. The farmers in Kaira District
were particularly in distress. The Government demanded the payment of the revenue
taxes to the last pie. The farmers turned to Gandhiji as their refuge.
Gandhiji said, "I need some one who will assume the entire responsibility for this
"I shall be responsible," said Vallabhbhai Patel, and assumed the leadership of the
struggle. He infused the peasants with courage, saying, "Why are you afraid of the
English? If the people are united no government can do anything." He gave up his
western clothes, and began to dress like the poor and humble peasants. He walked
from village to village along rough tracks full of stones and thorns and brought about
unity among the farmers. The farmers were filled with reverence and admiration for
this prominent barrister from Ahmedabad who toiled for them day and night. One
word from him, and they were ready to lay down their lives for him. So the
government had to yield finally. The taxes were remitted. The struggle led by Patel
was successful. In June 1918 the farmers celebrated their victory. They invited
Gandhiji and presented him with an address.
Said Gandhiji, "The credit of this victory should go to Vallabhbhai Patel. You are
fortunate to be led, by such a great hero."
Patel said with modesty, "The people of Kaira District have fought with courage and
endurance. Theirs is the honor of this triumph."
'We Shall Not Pay'
Vallabhbhai lived up to his ideals. In 1920 the Congress Party passed a resolution on
non-cooperation; it resolved not to cooperate with the foreign government in any
way. Patel gave up his practice as a barrister, which used to bring him thousands of
rupees every month. He asked people not to send their children to schools run by the
government. He founded the Gujarat Vidyapeetha to educate the children to grow up
to be patriots. He collected lakes of rupees for this institution and built it up.
In 1923 the government ordered that no one should carry the tricolored flag in any
road in Nagpur where government officers lived. Who could object to the display of
our flag in our country? The people decided to disobey this offensive order. They
invited Vallabhbhai Patel to guide them. As soon as he arrived the struggle grew
more spirited. Satyagrahis began to pour in from other parts of the country. The
agitation went on for three and a half months. Finally the government withdrew the
order, and the satyagraha ended in a victory for the people.
The people of Borsad Taluk were subjected to great suffering at that time. A dacoit,
Babar by name, and his gang began to indulge in murder and looting. A police force
arrived to put him down. But the police became as much a menace as the robbers.
They frightened the people and took away money, jewels and grains. In the
meanwhile the government imposed a new tax on the people to meet the expenses
of the police force. (This kind of tax is called punitive tax'.) This was adding insult to
injury. The people grounded under the burden.
In this hour of distress Vallabhbhai raced to the rescue of the people. He formed a
team of young volunteers from the neighboring villages for protection from the
bandits. As soon as these young men swung into action the dacoit disappeared.
Patel told the Government: "We do not want your police force here; and we are not
going to pay the new tax." The officers of the government tried to frighten the people
in a number of ways. But their tricks were of no use. The government had to
withdraw its order tamely. Vallabhbhai's fame spread to every nook and corner of
The Servant of the People
That year the rains played havoc in Gujarat. There were floods everywhere. The
roads were under water. Thousands of houses were washed away. Lakes of people
lost everything. Vallabhbhai came to their rescue. His efforts brought 2,000
volunteers together. They supplied food and clothes to those that had suffered
vowing to the floods and looked after them.
But their services were still needed. Hardly had the floodss subsided when a terrible
famine broke out. The farmers had no oxen, and no seeds; how were they to till the
land? People were in utter despair. Patel drew the attention of the government to the
sufferings of the people. He argued that the government collected taxes from the
people, and therefore, it was the duty of the government to help them in their
distress. So forceful was his demand that finally the government had to spend fifteen
million rupees to help those in the famine stricken areas. Patel organized the relief
works very efficiently so that the money was used properly. The world realized that
he was not only a great fighter but also a superb organizer.
The Hero of Bardoli
Bardoli is a Taluk in Gujarat. The people of this Taluk were in sheer distress, having
suffered because of the floods and the famine. But, in this hour of distress, the
foreign government raised the revenue taxes by thirty percent. The people did not
know what to do. They went to Patel and said, "You are our only hope."
Said Patel, "If you oppose the government your sufferings will multiply. You will lose
your lands and houses, The Government will do its best to crush you. You will not
have a grain of rice or a drop of milk, and the women and the children will suffer
sheer misery. Consider well. If you are confident that you have the grit to face all
this, let us fight."
"We are ready. We will die rather than bow to injustice," said the farmers.
First of all, Patel wrote to the Governor, and appealed to him to reduce the taxes. But
he turned a deaf ear to Patel. The Government even announced the date of the
collection of the taxes.
"No one shall pay a pie as tax," Patel instructed the farmers. The bugles of war
Patel divided Bardoli District into several zones. Each zone had a center, and a leader
and some volunteers manned each center. There were messengers to carry
messages from one center to another. Patel also appointed spies to report on the
movements of Government officials.
"We shall use all our powers and crush the agitation," declared the Governor of
Bombay. The Government sent ruffians to frighten the villagers.
The ruffians would enter villages and beat up the villagers. They used to force their
way into houses and carry away grain, goods and money. They insulted the women.
But the farmers refused to yield. They did not pay a single pie.
The government began to auction the houses and the lands. But not a single man
came forward to buy them. Vallabh- bhai had appointed volunteers in every village to
keep watch. As soon as he sighted the officials who were coming to auction the
property, the volunteer would sound his bugle. The farmers would leave the village
and hide in the jungles. The officials would find the entire village empty. They could
never find out who owned a particular house.
Patel was with the villagers all day and night, and infused courage in them.
"If you still have a shred of fear," he told them, "throw it to the bottom of the well. It
is the government which is now frightened, not we."
"I, too, am a farmer," said Patel. "I know the mind of the farmers. I want that the
farmers should be respected and am able to hold their heads erect. I can have peace
of mind only when that is achieved."
Patel learnt that some rich men were coming from cities to buy the lands of the
farmers, which were being auctioned. "I am the Sardar (chief) in Gujarat," declared
Patel; "let them come, I know what to do." There was total social boycott of those
who bought the lands. The rich men who had come from, outside c ould not get a
grain of rice or a drop of water, and were glad to escape alive.
Several members of the Bombay Legislative Assembly opposed the unjust policies of
the government and resigned. Government, too, lost heart. The people's agitation
triumphed. Vallabhbhai came to be known as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The farmers
of Bardoli presented him with an address and praised his greatness and leadership.
In reply Patel said: "It was Mahatma Gandhi who gave me the herb of Satyagraha.
All that I did was to administer the medicine. And you strictly followed that doctor's
instructions. So all that you have said in praise of me in your address should belong
to him and to you; all that remains for me is the blank sheet of paper. The prosperity
of the country is in the hands of the youth. Do not forget - in every country it is the
young who have won and consolidated freedom, and passed it on to later
All India now knew Patel as the Sardar.
The Lion in the Cage
Sardar's fiery words provoked the British Government. It sent him to prison twice in
1930. But this only increased his influence. Sardar Patel was elected President of the
Karachi Session of the National Congress, which met in 1931. In his speech Patel
declared in unmistakable words, "Swaraj (independence) is our goal. There cannot be
the slightest modification of that goal." The government was even more infuriated,
and sent him to prison again. He was freed only in 1934.
The Sardar's experiences in the prison make interesting reading. He was treated as
an ordinary prisoner. There was only one lavatory in the prison. Every morning the
prisoners had to queue up for their turn. And they had to wait in another queue for
water. There was no secluded place where they could pass urine. The food served in
the prison was rotten. But nothing could dishearten the Sardar.
The officials of the prison loved to give the prisoners pinpricks. Some friends gave
the Sardar as presents a few articles for his use in the prison. Among them was a
razor. The officials would not let Patel have it. Finally Patel protested.
Patel said, "Why not give me the razor and let me shave all the prisoners? That will
give me some work to do, and I can spend sometime."
Everyone including the clerks who heard him burst into laughter.
Patel's faith in God and in religion was not obvious to outward view, But when he was
in prison he got copies of the Bhagavad-Gita and the Ramayana through the
authorities of the prison. He studied and pondered on them every day.
Plain in Speech and Action
Elections to the Legislatures of Provinces were held in 1937. The Sardar was the
Chairman of the Congress Parliamentary Board. Under his stewardship the Congress
secured a majority of seats in eight provinces and formed ministries. The reins of all
of them were in the hands of the Sardar. He unhesitatingly took to task any minister
who did wrong.
In 1942 the Congress called on the British to quit India. It started what came to be
known as the 'Quit India Movement' or the 'Chalejav Movement'. The government
jailed all the important leaders of the Congress, including Sardar Patel. Patel fell ill in
the prison. The government would not allow his doctor to examine him in the prison.
All the leaders were released after three years. At the time the Muslim League went
on creating complications, and made the achievement of freedom more difficult. Patel
declared, "We shall fight all those who come in the way of India's freedom."
Free India's Good Fortune
Freedom dawned on the 15th of August 1947. Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru became the
first Prime Minister of independent India. Sardar Patel became the Deputy Prime
Minister. He was in charge of Home Affairs, Information and Broadcasting and the
Ministry of States.
The Architect of Integrity
There were more than 600 states in India at that time. Except a few they were small
states. Some of the Maharajas and Nawabs who ruled over these were sensible and
patriotic. But most of them were drunk with wealth and power. They were dreaming
of becoming independent rulers once the British quit India. They argued that the
government of free India should treat them as equals. Some of them went to the
extent of planning to send their representatives to the United Nations Organization.
If these states had not become a part of free India there would have been many
problems. India would have had to take their permission for trains to pass through
their states. If inter-state rivers flowed through these states, India would have had to
seek their permission to use the waters. Their permission would have been needed to
build dams. And, in the event of a war between India and any other country, how
would these 600 states behave? Whom would they support? It was impossible to tell.
These 600 states would have been 600 sores in the body of India. The question of
one of them, Kashmir, was not settled immediately; even now Pakistan occupies a
part of that state. This is still a headache to India. If the problem of the states had
not been solved quickly, there would have been several problems like that of
"if we unite, we can soon make this country prosperous. Come and join us.
Cooperate with us," so Sardar invited the rulers even before Independence Day. He
also warned them: "If you do not join us before the 15th of August, thereafter the
position will be different.
You may not then get the consideration and the concessions you now get." Patel also
met a number of rulers and held discussions with them. As a result, a number of
patriotic rulers joined the Indian Union.
The Man of Steel
But the rulers of Junagadh and Hyderabad were plotting secretly to Join Pakistan.
Patel sent an army under Brigadier Gurudayalsimha to the border of Junagadh to
deal with Pakistan. The people of the state who wished to join India rebelled against
the ruler and set up a People's Government. The Nawab, who had tried to betray the
people, ran away. Patel reached Junagadh on the 12th of November 1947. In the
course of a speech there, hewarned that the Nizam of Hyderabad would share the
fate of the Nawab of Junagadh if he did not behave sensibly.
But the Nizam was slow to learn thelesson. He sent millions of rupees to
Pakistan.One of his men, Kasim Razvi by name, began to harass the Hindus. His
gang was called the Razakars. They tried to drive the Hindus out of Hyderabad. There
was no limit to their crimes. They tried to get arms and ammunition from outside.
Finally Sardar Patel sent some forces under General Chowdury to undertake 'Police
Action'. Within five days the Nizam was forced to surrender. Kasim Razvi ran away to
Pakistan. The atrocities of the Razakars came to an end and peace returned to
Hyderabad. The firm policy of Sardar Patel, the Man of Steel, crushed all the plots
A similar problem arose in Kashmir. The Maharaja and the Legislative Assembly
decided that the state should join India. But the Pakistan army forcibly occupied two-
fifths of Kashmir. The Ministry was handling the Kashmir question for Foreign Affairs
and there was nothing Patel could do.
Sardar Patel was a man of remarkable foresight. In 1962 China sent her army across
the border and India reeled under the blow. This is the saddest episode in the history
of Free India. But as long back as on the 7th of November 1950, Patel wrote a letter
to Jawaharlal Nehru and declared that China was not to be trusted. He wrote: 'The
Government of China speaks of its desire for peace and is trying to mislead us.
Hereafter, in planning the defense of our country,we must remember the intentions
of Communist, China.'
Five weeks later Patel passed away. About twelve years after his death China
'I Must Speak the Truth’
Many people misunderstood Patel. There was false propaganda that he did not like
Muslims. On the 6th of January 1948, speaking in Lucknow, he said, "There is a cry
that I am against Muslims. But I am their true friend. I cannot beat about the bush. I
cannot dissemble. Let no one try to have his two feet in two different boats. Let
every one choose one boat. Let us all, who belong to India, swim or sink together."
The Sardar's plain words made some people angry. They complained to Gandhiji.
What Sardar Patel said at that time shows the superbself-confidence of this mighty
"I cannot speak anything but the truth. I cannot turn back on my duty, just to please
The 30th of January 1948, was a dark day in the history of India. An evil man killed
Gandhiji on that day. Gandhiji was like an elder brother and a Guru to Patel. They
had been put in the same jail several times.
Gandhiji has said of their days in prison, "Vallabhbhai's affection for me reminded me
of my mother. Before that time I had not realized that such a tender, affectionate
heart was hidden in him."
Sardar Patel undertook several measures to uphold the greatness of India. The sight
of the great Somanatha Temple practically in ruins because of the repeated attacks
of foreigners was most painful to him. He undertook the renovation of that temple.
He made it the symbol of the power and the victory of resurgent India who had
shaken off the slavery of centuries and felt a new energy throbbing in her veins. It
was from him that Kania Lal Munshi got the inspiration to found the Bharatiya Vidya
Bhavan in Bombay.
Patel's Example Lives
Once the engine of the airplane in which he was travelling failed, and the vehicle had
to make a forced landing on the bank of a river at a distance of about thirty miles
from Jaipur. The Delhi Airport had lost all contact with the airplane. For about four
hours Delhi did not know what had happened. But luckily the Sardar was safe.
Two days later the Sardar entered the Lok Sabha. Forgetting all rules the members
greeted him with cries of 'Sardar Patel Jindabad'.
The Speaker congratulated the Sardar who was unhurt and said, "The misery and the
anxiety of the entire nation until news came that he was safe show what a place he
has won in the hearts of the people."
Eight days later the members of Parliament got up a function to felicitate him.
Even in his old age the Sardar was so busy that he did not have a moment's rest. He
had to tour extensively all over the country this affected his health. He passed away
in Bombay on the morning of the 15th of December 1950. The General of Bardoli, the
Lion of Gujarat, India's Man of Steel, the Sardar of the country's fight for freedom,
the Mighty Architect of the integrity of India, the Vallabhbhai Patel of rock-like will
power, was no more.
He was then seventy-five.
Prime Minister Nehru said, "His name will live for ever in history. He is the Architect
of Modern India. He was a wise counselor in the hour of trial, a trustworthy friend
and a mine of courage and inspiration."
Patel was known as the Man of Steel. But tenderness was very much alive in the
steel of his nature. He looked after not only Gandhiji but also other friends like Kania
Lal Munshi with the affection of a mother, when they were all in prison. He did not
believe in making speeches. He was a man of very few words. He accepted with a
calm mind whatever life brought him- happiness or sorrow. Pain and sorrow could not
alter a single line of his face. When necessary he could be dominating; but by nature
he was very courteous. After the Bardoli Satyagraha he became famous all over
India. When he went to attend the Congress Session he forgot to take his pass with
him. The volunteers stopped him. He went back. Next day the volunteers understood
who he was, and were ashamed. But Patel was not at all displeased.
Let us remember him with reverence and bow to him. Let us emulate his admirable
home contact us
The history of India would have been different had Sardar Patel not been the Deputy Prime
Minister when India became independent in 1947. The triumvirate- Gandhiji, Nehru and
Sardar Patel were responsible for giving direction to the destiny of the country. Sardar Patel
consolidated the country into one united whole in a unique manner.
Born on October 31, 1875 at Nadiad, in the Kaira district of Gujarat, Vallabh Bhai Patel
was the son of Zaverbhai Galabhai Patel , a Leva Patidar. This class of cultivators was known
for their simple character, industrious habits and straightforward dealings. Vallabh Bhai
possessed an ingenous mind as a school boy. He was a rebel whose exceptional
organisational abilities were recognised by his schoolmates and teachers. Patel passed the
matriculation examination from the Nadiad High School in 1897.
Patel had two ambitions to fulfil , first to become a pleader and later a barrister. During
those days a matriculate could become a lawyer by taking the pleaders examination. He
became a pleader in 1900, and started practising in Godhra. In 1902 he shifted to Balsad, a
taluka headquarter, where he practised as a criminal lawyer for nearly eight years, during
which period he had built a name for himself as a most successful criminal lawyer. In 1910,
he left for London and joined the Middle Temple, where he took an examination in Roman
Law and stood first. He returned to India in 1913 and started practising as a barrister in
Ahmedabad , fulfilling his second ambition.
The impact of Gandhiji's personality on Vallabhbhai was tremendous. It gave him a new
mission in life. The Champaran struggle waged by Gandhiji had a sweeping effect on Patel's
mind. In Gandhiji's Champaran victory Patel saw the beginning of a new agrarian revolution.
His interest in politics had been kindled, as became abunduntly clear in the Provincial
Political Conference organised by the Gujarat Sabha and presided by Gandhiji at Godhara.
The conference appointed a permanent committee with Gandhiji as the President and Patel as
one of the secretaries. He became a staunch follower of Gandhiji. From then on there was no
looking back. Blessed with rare qualities of fortitude, integrity and an iron determination,
Patel played an important role in the freedom movement.
It was due to his sterling leadership and practical vision that the peasant movement in
Gujarat became a success. It was in this struggle that the organisational capacity for which
Sardar Patel was famous in the whole country became visible. He took over as the nascent
nation's Home Minister at a very crucial juncture in history and devoted himself whole
heartedly to ensure that the country which was already partitioned, remained intact and
Building a Union
On the eve of their departure, the British government announced that its paramountcy
would lapse not only over the British territory but even over the native States . This meant
that as many as 625 small and big native States would become independent like India and
Pakistan. Consequently, the country would be divided into a number of small and big units.
Before embarking on this mammoth task, Sardar sought to ensure the stability of
administration by forging a bridge of faith and confidence with the"Steel Frame". Most of the
I.C.S. officers suspected that the Congress leaders, particularly Sardar in view of his past
experiences with them, would have no faith in the I.C.S. But Sardar rose to the occasion and
reposed total trust in their capability to serve the nation. He was, thus, able to win their
unstinted support in the endeavour of nation building.
Attempts were afoot for finalising the standstill agreement with the States. It provided that
the Central Government will be vested with powers of defence, foreign policy and
communications even over the States. Travancore, Hyderabad and some other States declared
themselves sovereign States and created hurdles in the agreement. On the other end, Jinnah
with a view to tempt Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and other border States made them an unconditional
offer to align with Pakistan on their terms.
To find an amicable solution to this complicated situation, Sardar issued a statement to the
princes wherein he appealed to their sense of patriotism and reiterated that the new States
department in no way, desire to have supremacy over them. "If at all, any sense of supremacy
is required, it would be with common understanding and for common good. We are at a
momentous stage in the history of India. By common endeavour, we can raise the country to
new greatness, while lack of unity will expose us to unexpected calamities. I hope the Indian
States will realise fully that if we do not cooperate and work together in the general interest,
anarchy and chaos will overwhelm us all great and small, and lead us to total ruin". The
statement which amply reflected his statesmanship and political sagacity, removed whatever
doubts lurked in the minds of the princes.
There was a popular agitation in Travancore and the State acceded to India. The Nawab of
Bhopal could not take all this but when he realised that there was no alternative, he sent the
instrument of accession duly signed to Sardar.
A man of iron will and absolute fearlessness, Sardar Patel tackled the question of 550 and
odd State territories and principalities in such a strategic manner which left even his wildest
critics in complete amazement. Almost within a year he redrew the map of India with every
princely State joining the Indian union and thus, forming part of the political stream of life
that was endowed with cultural unity and harmony.
The intricacy of the situation can perhaps be gauged by the fact that there were 26 small
States in Orissa and 15 in the Chattisgarh area of present Madhya Pradesh. It required skilful
diplomacy on the part of Sardar Patel to persuade them to merge into bigger, more viable
units. Even more ticklish was the case of Saurashtra where there were 14 big States, 119
small States and other units under different administrations totalling 860.
The herculean task of merging all of them into the Saurashtra union was also accomplished
by Sardar Patel. Soon, State after State started acceding to the Indian Union. One after the
other, Gwalior, Indore, Dhar, Dewas all accepted the advice of Sardar. Rajputana States
followed the same. The Sikhs of Punjab also cooperated with the merger.
Even by August 15, Hyderabad kept aloof. Hence, Lord Mountbatten himself started
negotiations. At one stage, it appeared that there was a settlement but Nizam found himself
helpless against the pressures of Razakars. The Razakars started harassing the local public.
Thus, when the situation went out of control, Sardar with the consent of the Governor
General initiated police action. In 108 hours, the Nizam surrendered and Hyderabad acceded
and merged with India. The Nawab of Junagadh accepted an accession with Pakistan. Sardar
solved this complex problem in his own inimitable way and the Nawab and his Diwan left
Junagadh for Pakistan.
Thus, the 'Yagna' for establishment of a united India undertaken by Sardar was completed
with the merger of Hyderabad. Politically, India became one and united. In the history of
India stretched over ages, India became one and united for the first time and that too without
shedding a drop of blood. That was the marvel of the personality of Sardar. The sterling
qualities of leadership he had shown as leader of Satyagraha, flowered in greater way in the
administration of the country, maintenance of law and order and ensuring stability of the
country and making it invulnerable.
* 123rd Birth Anniversary of Sardar Patel is being observed on October 31, 1998
The Mahatma was the most respected, Jawaharlal Nehru the most loved and Subhas Bose the
most longed-for. But in terms of the iron control he exercised over the largest political
apparatus in the country and the grip he had on political currents and cross-currents in
virtually every province in India, the power wielded by the Patidar from Karamsad, Gujarat,
had no match. No near-match, either. Not by far.
Gandhi loved Jawaharlal, trusted Prasad, admired Rajaji, esteemed Azad. But Patel, he leaned
on and laughed with. Patel regarded Gandhi as his mentor, his leader.
And yet he 'owned' an equation with the Mahatma that was special. Everyone laughs
differently with different people. What Gandhi and Patel planned together, worked-at
together, history has recorded. What they laughed over, only they knew. And Gandhi's
secretary, Mahadev Desai.
Here are two samples given by Desai in his diaries:
The year is 1932. They are all three prisoners, at Poona's Yeravada jail.
June 11, 1932.
Gandhi (in a sombre mood, contemplating death): Some day or other one must mount the
shoulders of the bearers.
Patel: Bring the ship to shore first and then go where you like.
November 24, 1932.
Gandhi (on reading a hate-letter from a person who says that he, the writer, is unfortunate to
be living in the same age as Gandhi): Tell me, what sort of reply should I send him?
Patel: Tell him to poison himself.
The Mahatma could not have guessed then that the man giving him this advice was the future
deputy prime minister of India and the Sardar could not have known that he, as deputy prime
minister and home minister, would have to answer difficult questions about the assassination
of his leader.
Prime Minister Nehru and home minister Patel had different perceptions on the role of the
RSS in the Gandhi assassination. But, as Rajmohan Gandhi tells us in his epic biography of
Patel, Nehru wrote to Patel on February 3, 1948: "I have been greatly distressed by the
persistence of whispers and rumours about you and me… We must put an end to this
Patel, addressing the Congress in the Constituent Assembly for the first time after Gandhi's
departure, called Nehru "my leader". The home minister had no doubt in his mind as to who
had conspired to kill Gandhi.
"It was the fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha", Patel wrote to Nehru, on February 27,
1948, "that (hatched) the conspiracy and saw it through". A ban followed.
The country's leading socialists targeted the home minister for his ministry's failure to protect
Gandhi and asked him to resign. They did not know that Patel had already sent in his
resignation to Nehru who had refused to countenance it.
Patel heard his critics patiently and then said he had had several arguments with the Mahatma
to let police be stationed in the house he was staying in, but Gandhi had turned the idea down
outright. And then Patel told his socialist critics not to "exploit the greatest misfortune and
calamity of the nation for party ends".
Patel's death stunned the nation, Nehru more than anyone else. He was now all in all but all
alone. The BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is reported to have alleged that
Nehru did not attend Patel's funeral.
Only the ignorant will believe this. Prime Minister Nehru went to Bombay to attend the last
rites of his comrade and before doing so, told Parliament "…he will be remembered as a great
captain of our forces in the struggle for freedom and as one who gave us sound advice in
times of trouble and in moments of victory, as a friend and a colleague on whom one could
invariably rely, as a tower of strength which revived wavering hearts".
With all their differences of style and temperament, Nehru and Patel would have given the
country a balance of leadership styles, Prasad and Rajaji helping to cement the duumvirate.
But the Fates willed otherwise.
Patel's death, Prasad's absorption into constitutional propriety and Rajaji's returning to
Madras left the Congress a one-tree hill. And despite Nehru's instinctively democratic
temper, a slow but steady mono-culturism took hold over the party which forgot, surprisingly
fast, its most powerful "captain".
Does the BJP have any right, political, moral or any other, to appropriate the legacy of Sardar
Vallabhbhai Patel? None. But it does have an excuse to do so.
The misuse of Patel is the result of the disuse of Patel, the counterfeiting of Patel is the result
of the forfeiting of Patel. The BJP would never have thought of gilding the Sardar's legacy if
it had not got dust-laden and cob-webbed in its own home.
Party politics in today's India is a child of political power practices from ancient and
medieval times. These, to over-simplify them, have traditionally spun around two cults.
First, the hero-worshipping of a figure who is thought to be half-man and half-lion or tiger.
This cult may be called lionism. The second, a sycophantic worshipping of descendants
thought to be indestructibly self-perpetuating. This cult may be called scionism.
Both cults operate within and across the main political divide of India, especially in the states
where the lion and tiger loom large as symbols, and where dynastic arrangements reign in
most parties. Lionism and scionism have sought to perpetuate themselves by propitiating
their icons. Both are in tragic error, both futile.
Patel would have told both cults off in no uncertain terms. We must not let the
misappropriation of Patel go unchallenged. But we must seek his re-appropriation nationally,
for we need his aura and Nehru's to work together again.
The hollow 'hunkar' of a lion's paper mask has tried to blow the dust off Patel's legacy. It has
coated it, in the process, with the out-breath of a poor joke.
But the dramatics have done us all an unintended favour. They have jogged our memories of
the tower of strength that we, in our troubled times, need so urgently to revive our wavering
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor
The views expressed by the author are personal