The year 1916 was a landmark in the history of the Congress anda turning point in the career of Sardar Patel. He placed his services atthe disposal of the Mahatma and soon became one of his trustedlieutenants. He entered the Ahmedabad Municipality, the first step to hispublic career. It took him little time to make his mark. The thoroughness of his work as the Chairman of the Sanitary Committee won himuniversal applause. His duties were heavy but he stood at his post underall trying conditions.
He showed his mettle when the plague broke out in the city in October1917; he moved with the Municipal staff for taking effective preventive measures under his personal care. This was a new departure in theoutlook and method of service of city fathers.
Vallabhbhai and Gandhiji came into close contact when the latteraccepted the Presidentship of the Gujarat Sabha in 1917. The successof the Champ’aran campaign where the technique of non-violence wastried out for the first time electrified the members of the Club. TheSardar who for long had sat apart sneering at the new spiritual forcein Indian politics began to accept the Gandhian creed.
It was a red-letter day for the Bombay Provincial. CongressCommittee when it elected him as its President in 1921. The same yearhe was chosen as the Chairman of the Reception Committee of the 36th ‘ session of the Indian National Congress. With his inimitable drive, the Sardar collected a crore of rupees to conduct the historic strugglelaunched by Gandhiji at this time.
His example fired the imagination of many prominent lawyers whorenounced their huge incomes and dedicated themselves to the serviceof the nation. Boys and girls emptied schools and colleges. Womenflocked in thousands and poured their jewelry into Gandhiji’s beggingbowl. Such was the enthusiasm that had been generated for the causeof national liberty by the peasant leader of Gujarat.
The first success of Gandhiji’s technique of non-violence at theBardoli campaign was due to the erstwhile sceptic lawyer who had become the most devout follower of the Mahatma, the perfectinstrument, the vehicle supreme, of the Master. Before the Governmentknew what was happening 80,000 people had been ( organised into one compact unit which the Raj tried with desperate tricks to break up.But all in vain. From that day, the Sardar stands for’ efficiency of the organisation, thoroughness in handling ‘a situation and mastery in management of big things.
The British rulers stooped as low as they could at the Bardoli campaign —17,000 men and 40,000 buffaloes were locked up in a smallinsanitary house for over three months. Stench and disease ate intotheir vitals. Yet the call of the Iron Man strengthened their resolve to hold on. He had undermined British fortifications. He ran daggers into the heart of bureaucracy while dealing sledge-hammer blows to fifth columnists. The Government was forced to come to peace with the Congress. The Governor offered terms to Sardar Patel who spurnedthem. But Gandhiji accepted the proposals and the Sardar had no waybut to acquiesce. He was a great disciplinarian; he knew not only how to command but obey as well. His name stands for ‘Discipline’ not onlyin the Congress but in the whole theatre of Indian politics.
The technique adopted by Sardar Patel at Bardoli set the model for future campaigns and undermined the Imperial citadel. When the Congress organisation was banned, he made every home a Congress office and every soul a Congress organisation. He turned every village into an armed camp and made the people cast off their fear. He taught them to be self-reliant, resourceful and patient. The art of managing men he knew very well. His sardonic humour goaded his listeners into action.
“In the historic ‘ Dandi March” launched by Gandhiji in March 1930, Sardar Patel was the Grand Commander. He delivered fiery speeches to the villagers all along his route and stirred up the masses to action.His arrest only electrified the atmosphere; the people of Ahmedabad tooka solemn pledge to follow their leader to the dark cell. A mightyinvolution swept over India. But the people declared that despite severe provocation to violence their salvation lay in Truth and non-violence.
Sardar Patel was released to relieve the situation but was againre-arrested along with his daughter Maniben. Gandhiji and Patel wereimprisoned together, and the master, on his release, spoke of the gloriousattributes of his disciple. The Sardar’s motherly qualities became as much known as his bravery during his incarceration.