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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 46 New Delhi November 5, 2016

Tribute to Sardar Patel

Monday 7 November 2016

by Satya Narayana Sahu

For the first time in the history of our independent India the Union Government took a momentous decision to celebrate October 31, the birthday Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, as the National Unity Day. He was one of the towering figures of our freedom struggle and along with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru he played an epoch-making role in fighting for our independence, unifying our country and, above all, setting an example of a leader who was acclaimed for probity, integrity and administrative ability. It was Mahatma Gandhi who could foresee the capability of Sardar Patel to merge the princely states with India. As early as in 1938 Gandhiji wrote a letter to him stating: “The problem of the states is so difficult that you alone can solve it.” Sardar Patel did solve the problem which otherwise would have caused division of India into three parts: Hindustan, Pakistan and, what Churchill called, Princesstan. If today we have India as one country without getting balkanised, the entire credit should go to Sardar Patel.

While he was incessantly busy in integrating the princely states with the Indian Union, the communal forces were striking at the very root of India’s unity. Therefore, after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi he took measures to put a check on communal outfits which created a poisonous atmosphere that resulted in the tragic assassination of Gandhiji. He banned those organisations for the cause of social harmony and national unity.

It is because of Sardar Patel that we have today in our Constitution special safeguards for the minorities. He was the Chairman of the Committee of the Constituent Assembly which had the mandate to look into the rights of minorities. He authored that report of the Committee which recommended the special safeguards for the minorities of India and those special safeguards were accepted by the Constituent Assembly and eventually incorporated in the Constitution of India.

India was partitioned and very unfairly the Muslims of our country were and are being blamed for it. I was educated from one of Sardar’s letters to G.D. Birla in which he wrote that the petrol situation in the world played a role in the partition of India. We have created a myth that Muslims were responsible for the partition of India. That letter is there in a book entitled Immortal Icons which contains correspondence of G.D. Birla with leaders of our freedom struggle. Late Shri K.R. Narayanan as the President of India wrote an illuminating foreword to it.

In 1999 the London Archives released classified papers concerning the partition of India. Those papers revealed the real purpose behind the division of our country. It was found in those papers that India was divided to ensure unhindered access of the Western powers to the oil resources in the Gulf region. The Western powers wanted to create a country by dividing India and that too just next to Afghanistan so that it could be used to checkmate the erstwhile Soviet Union which had a strategy to occupy Afghanistan and use it as a base to extend its influence to the Gulf region and stop oil supply to the Western powers whose economies were critically depen-dent on the Gulf oil. That strategy of the Soviet Union was part and parcel of the grand ideological worldview of that country to defeat the capitalist block. So what was revealed by the classified papers released by the London Archives in 1999 was known to Patel in the 1940s.

On one occasion during the freedom struggle he was the Chairman of a Municipality in Gujarat. He wrote to Mahatma Gandhi that he intended to allocate some money of the Municipality to a temple for its repair. Gandhiji wrote back by stating that if he wanted to allocate some money to a temple then he should also allocate some amount to repair a dilapidated mosque. Sardar abandoned the plan. Later after independence when the Sardar wanted that State money should be used to rebuild the sacred Somnath temple in Gujarat, Mahatma Gandhi advised him not to do so and asked him to create a Trust and request people to contribute money for restoring and reconstructing the revered shrine. Sardar Patel paid heed to the Mahatma’s advice and established a Trust which got contributions from people across the country. This point is part of the narrative of the light and sound show programme organised and conducted every evening in the Somnath Temple complex to outline the genesis of the temple from mythology to the modern period. I had the privilege of witnessing the light and sound programme in the Somnath Temple complex in January this year and found it educative. That the general public attending the programme are being educated about the Sardar’s vision of separating the state from religion is of special significance.

It is unfortunate that there are many organisations in this country which often talk of Hindu Rashtra and invoke it to repudiate the secular character of our society and body politic. It is instructive to note that Sardar Patel himself disapproved of defining the nature of Indian state in terms of the religion being professed and practised by the majority community of our country. When there was massive communal violence in some parts of our country after independence and following the partition of India, Sardar Patel as the Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister categorically stood against the idea of Hindu Rashtra. While addressing a vast gathering in Calcutta on January 3, 1948 he asserted: “There could be no serious talk of a Hindu state.” In the formative period of our independence such exemplary outlook of Sardar Patel immensely contributed to fashion the secular state of India. When secularism, described as the basic feature of the Constitution by the Supreme Court, has come under pressure and is facing severe challenges from diabolical forces representing communalism and divisive outlook, our country requires the leadership and statesmanship of Sardar Patel. Instead of squabbling over a settled matter of his enduring legacy, it is of categorical imperative for the twentyfirst century India to remain tuned to his secular credentials.

He was the architect of our civil service in independent India. When some Members of the Constituent Assembly complained against civil servants and questioned their fairness and loyalty to the newly independent India, Sardar Patel defended the civil servants by stating: “Do not quarrel with the instruments with which you want to work. It is a bad workman who quarrels with the instrument. Nobody wants to put in work when he is criticised and ridiculed in public.”

On another occasion when Dr Gopi Chand Bhargava sought his advice to punish the civil servants who during British rule ill-treated our freedom fighters and subjected them to inhuman treatment, Sardar Patel advised him to bear in mind that the Indian independence movement was based on the principle of forget and forgive and, therefore, urged him not to prosecute the civil servants. It demonstrated his broadmindedness free from any vindictive approach.

Sardar Patel was one such leader in our freedom movement who stressed on social change and transformation. He once famously stated that “social change is more valuable and difficult than fighting the government”. Guided by such a vision he, during the Bardoli Satyagraha, had mobilised a large number of women and consulted with them to prepare the strategy of the Satyagraha. It was primarily due to his effort that such large scale participation of women could be achieved in the said Satyagraha. Yet again his commitment to gender equality was demonstrated in ample measure when he got a letter from Dr Rajendra Prasad, the President of the Constituent Assembly, advising him not to rush through the Hindu Code Bill in the Constituent Assembly. Dr Prasad urged that the Constituent Assembly was elected to frame the Constitution and not to pass the Hindu Code Bill. It would be pertinent to recall that the central feature of the Hindu Code Bill was gender equality and women’s empowerment. When Sardar Patel got that letter from Dr Prasad he advised him not to influence the mind of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to stall the Hindu Code Bill. Sardar Patel’s support to the Hindu Code Bill brought out his commitment to the rights of women and their empowerment.

On one occasion in 1922 when Sardar Patel came to attend a session of the Indian National Congress, he found a separate enclosure for the Dalits where they would sit. He, instead of occupying a seat earmarked for him in the main enclosure, straightway proceeded to the enclosure meant for Dalits and sat there and delivered his speech from that enclosure. This point was prominently mentioned in the speech of President K.R. Narayanan when he unveiled the statute of Sardar Patel in front of the Central Hall of Parliament.

In one of his last speeches in 1950 he intensely and painfully reflected on the increasing levels of corruption and cautioned against the gathering crisis caused by the scourge which had assumed ominous proportions at the formative stage of our nation-building.

Sardar Patel had great and profound connection with Odisha which was created in 1936. It is not well known that the process of integration of the princely states of Odisha with the Odisha province commenced in 1938, two years after the creation of Odisha. It was done under the leadership of Dr Harekrushna Mahatab and under the supervision of Sardar Patel. Later Dr Mahatab wrote a book on the merging of princely states of Odisha and requested Sardar Patel to contribute a foreword. The Sardar was gracious enough to write a foreword on November 11, 1949 that brought out the historic role played by Odisha in setting the trend in the whole of India for the merger of the princely states with the Indian Union. He complimented Odisha for its pioneering role and wrote:

“....I had the privilege of initiating the twin process of integration(of princely states) and democratisation, which for its small beginnings in distant Orissa, has gradually swept over the whole of the subcontinent. Centuries ago, it was the proud privilege of Kalinga to arouse the awakening in a great monarch who became in the course of time not only a great and wise sovereign and Suzerain, but also a great guide, friend and philosopher of his people. Few had dreamt and none had imagined that it would be from the same land that will start a revolutionary change which would achieve for India the same measure of unity and strength and security which India had attained under that distinguished Ruler Ashoka.”

How many of us know that the integration of the princely states with the Indian Union began under the leadership of Sardar Patel in Odisha? In fact there is a sentence in the foreword which reads as follows:

“I am happier... that it was that backward province, as they call it, which led the way for the rest of India to follow.”

What a great legacy Odisha inherited and what a wonderful compliment to the State and its people from none other than Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Bismark of India!

In all the above-mentioned points we find a constructive vision for the unity of India and for treating all citizens equally irrespective of their faith, caste and social and economic status. I salute Vallabhbhai Patel, the Sardar of India.

The author is a Joint Secretary in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat. The views expressed in the article are personal and have nothing to do with the Rajya Sabha Secretariat.