Birth, Parentage and Early Influences
Karamsad, a village in Gujarat, the golden land of the peasants,claims the honor of having given birth to Vallabhbhai Patel on October31, 1875. The Patidars of Nadiad to whom Vallabhbhai belonged hadplayed a notable part in the first war for India’s independence and hisfather Jhaverbhai too played no mean role. His forefathers were a virile and militant lot, and the Sardar was true to the stock from which hesprang.
There was a raging spirit of patriotism in his family even at hisbirth. His parents were noted for their tenacity of purpose and courage and these strongly influenced young Vallabhbhai. Purity of personallife and service to fellow-men were their guiding religious tenets.
Right from his childhood Vallabhbhai could brook no indiscipline or injustice. Several pleasant anecdotes current about his early school days at Nadiad, bear testimony to this. Once he found a teacher makingblack-market profits in the sale of text-books and pencils. His warningsto the latter to give up such profiteering being of no avail, he piloted a six-day strike in the school. The vile practices of the teacher were fullyexposed and there was an end of it. The Sardar had won his first satyagrahic victory in the schoolroom.
While he yielded to none in the captaincy of mischief or of slyattempts to hoodwink his elders, it was almost always in a good cause. He took to studies as he took to play cheerfully. He had no patiencewith an indifferent or lazy teacher. His maxim during his school dayswas: “If there is something to be done, why wait for others? Whynot I?”
Vallabhbhai’s character was a steady build from infancy to old age.He grew with all the zest in life a village child is endowed with. Hissturdiness and determination grew out of the healthy atmosphere of dare-devilry, juvenile buoyancy and impish pranks and mirth whichchildren in the villages alone are capable of. The native impulsivenessof his people he sublimated into supreme strength.
Education and Professional Career
After milling through the high school, Vallabhbhai passed theDistrict Pleaders’ Examination and followed his brother to the bar.Starting his practice at Godhra the two brothers joined together atBorsad and became a formidable pair in the law courts. They becamethe acknowledged leaders of the local bar and soon Borsad became toosmall a place for them.
The two brothers secretly formulated plans, each without theknowledge of the other, for proceeding to England. Without anybodyknowing about it the Sardar arranged for a passport in the name of V. J. Patel. When the elder brother came to know of this he argued out hisclaim to proceed first. A quarrel between the two was unthinkable. And Vithalbhai went abroad first making use of Vallabhbhai’s passport, whoalso followed him later.
Work has always been worship to Vallabhbhai and laughter life. This has been a great secret of his success in every sphere. At London,he used to work 16 hours a day and small wonder obtained a first-classand topped the list of all the successful candidates.
Barrister Vallabhbhai found that the British Law in India was an ass and so he decided to be the ass-rider. He was a terror to the judiciary. He took a monstrous delight in wrestling with the intricacies of Criminal Law and duelled with the judges. To escape his hammeringblows the Resident Magistrate’s Court was once shifted from Borsad to Anand. When Vallabhbhai too moved to Anand the court was shifted back to Borsad Sir Basil Scott the then Chief Justice of Bombayunderstanding the dynamic nature of the young lawyer even tried to win him over by offering him the professorship of the Government Law. College. But the Sardar, more anxious to fight the British law thanteach it, declined the offer.
Vallabhbhai did not practice law to make a fortune. A life of, comfort was not his ideal. Born of the poor, he loved to serve the poor. He was in no haste to follow a political guru or a slogan. With a lawyer’smind he was critical of everything. While Gandhiji pitched the centre’ of his activities at Ahmedabad the Sardar kept aloof from him for twoyears.
The Barrister first got on, then got the honour and then got honest.He went beyond honesty and took to National service. Even as a lawyerhe had a deep vein of patriotism in him. In his professional capacity, he won several victories against British Imperialists. It was customary. in those days for all people attending courts to remove their shoes in thepresence of judges and there were several other inhuman anddisgraceful practices to humiliate the Indians. Patel fought againstthese in a unionist spirit, and got them abolished in the lower courts.
An interesting story is told of a judge who used to frighten criminalsby compelling them to face a mirror while speaking in court. Patelopposed this practice when his own clients were involved and got thejudge concerned warned for this pernicious practice.
As a lawyer he excelled in cross-examination and thorough study ofthe facts. He took a lively interest in the opponent’s case. Though hestarted his legal career by giving costly legal service for a petty price,he did not stay long in the field to give petty legal advice for a costly sum.
Entry into Public Life
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.
Architect of Free India
The foundations for the future constitution of free India were laidby the Sardar when he was elected President of the Karachi session ofthe Congress in 1931, held under gloomy shadows. His Presidentialaddress was. short and business-like. His interest lay in helping theclown-trodden to rise in level with the tallest in the land. He showedthat mass satyagraha was no longer the idle dream of a visionary buta concrete idea rich in potentialities.
Sardar Patel, though not a Marxist, was not a lover of landlordismeither. The Karachi Congress resolution on Fundamental Rights and the economic program was a combination of Jawaharlal’s idealism andSardar’s practicalism. Vallabhbhai was prepared to go the extremestlength for the unity of India and therefore called upon the Hindus to make the greatest sacrifices to win over the minorities.
He identified India with the peasantry, who form 80 percent ofthe population of the country. He firmly believed that what was notfor the peasants was really not “worth the candlelight.” A made-in England constitution for India was only worth the candle-fire.
With the Karachi session, the Sardar gained prestige and popularity,which by his later arrests and imprisonments, enhanced. When theGandhi-Irwin Pact ended in 1932 Sardar and Gandhiji were arrestedand detained as State prisoners without trial. In the mass scalesatyagraha that followed all the top-leaders were spirited away.When the Sardar was released after 30 months in 1934, the Congress was a house out of order. Factions were showing their ugly heads.Though* seriously, ill, it fell to his lot to reorganize the Congress machine, which he did with ruthlessness and a remarkable swiftness. SardarPatel has been the General at every critical moment when the Rubiconhas been crossed and the boats burnt.
When the premier political party decided to fight the elections in 1937 it was again Sardar Patel who organized the campaign everywhere.No wonder the Congress swept the polls in seven out of eleven provinces?When the party came to power he sat majestically astride the saddle ofauthority on a charger of universal goodwill. As Chairman of theCongress Parliamentary Sub-Committee, he was pretty busy with the broom against nepotism and corruption. Graft and greed wherever he came across, he weeded out ruthlessly. Nariman in Bombay and Kharein Madhya Pradesh were sacked for abuse of power.
Leader by Merit
The Sardar has throughout been a leader by merit. He nevercraved for power for its own sake. It was always thrust into his hands.Until the last moment for the choice comes, he keeps himself in thebackground. But his is the last word before the battle of which he is made the General. His arguments go straight to the people and hemakes every struggle sharp and swift. The “Quit India” movementlaunched in 1942 showed the man of action that he wa*s. His fiery,speeches had a tremendous effect on men and women all over the country.Even the conservative British and American press were perturbed.
Ultimately the Government had to yield. Lord Wavell on assuming office as Viceroy in 1945 ordered the release of all leaders to start negotiations for a settlement. Some people thought that the Congresswould .show a changed attitude; but the Sardar’s voice rang loud andbold: “Not a word of the ‘Quit India’ resolution could be obliterated or altered. . . If anything is to come next, it will be ‘Quit Asia.’
What happened since is recent history. The Simla talks betweenthe British and the Congress wherein the Muslim Leaguers and the Akalis were also included, paved the way for independence. The Sardar, the Shrewd politician that he was, quickly recognized that freedom was within grasp and he wanted the people to take full advantage of the moo. | of the Britishers who wanted to pack and go away. He exhorted the Socialists not to delay by an hour the day of India’s attaining freedom especially when the ship had almost reached the shore.
When the Interim Government was formed in the Autumn of 1946 the Sardar was chosen as the Minister for Home Affairs, a portfolio he held until his death. He was in charge of law and order in the most critical days of the country. When India attained complete independence there were no two opinions he should be raised to the statusof Deputy Prime Minister. Apart from the Home Portfolio, he was to head the States Ministry where he solved super-human problems by recording the shape of “Princely India.”
Place in History
The ‘Nawab of Junagadh to be dispensed with, without firing asingle shot. He. held out the example of the Nizam who had become aslave of his own Frankenstein. The Orissa state chiefs were the nexttrouble-makers: The- Sardar was there again on the spot, to deal withthem in a manner he alone was capable of. He impressed on them in no uncertain terras that they could be rulers only if the people recognizedthem as such. The days of democracy had dawned in India and everyonehad to move with the times. He fostered mutual respect andunderstanding between the rulers and the people whom he exhorted to maintain and preserve the dignity of the institution of Princes, whichhad long traditions in India.
Death held no fear for Sardar Patel, In fact, he revels in risks. He is never-) so composed as immediately after one of these incidents” which give him the spice of life.” When the plane in which heproceeded to Jaipur to inaugurate the Rajasthan States Union crashlanded, he regarded it as “Just a variety entertainment.”
Sardar Patel nearly completed the consolidation of India. A terrorto his enemies and generous to his friends, he commanded universal love. He minced no words in counsel or controversy and enlivened politicswith humor. He had his finger on the pulse of the people as he hadhis grip on administrators. He spared none who crossed his path andwielded the Congress Party machine with a grind. Amidst the worstcrises, he wrought miracles. History will record there in many pagesand stamp him ‘as the foremost builder of new India, a tower of strengthwhich revitalizes wavering hearts.
Weary and worried, he battled against failing health and lurking death in performing the duties of State which always weighed heavily. on him. As a Minister, his anxiety was to leave behind an India unitedand strong. And to this end he dedicated every drop of his blood:- this no doubt wrecked his health irreparably.
Idol of Millions
It was a tragic hour for the whole nation when on the morning ofthe 15th December 1950 the life of the Iron Man of India was slowly ebbing away. The Birlas can rightly feel proud that both Gandhiji andSardar Patel spent their last moments in their houses, one in Delhi.
The other in Bombay. As Sardar’s body lay in state millions ofpeople swarmed Birla House. An ocean of human heads bowed in. sorrow bore testimony to the love and affection the people had for thedeparted leader.
The last journey was a mammoth procession; headed by a cross-section of the country’s leadership, a surging mass of humanity chantingGandhiji’s favorite hymn “Raghupati Raghava Rajaram” wended theirway to cremate the mortal remains of the unflinching freedom fighter andthe architect of united India. The story of a great life had ‘come to aclose. As the President observed at the cremation, only his body couldbe consumed by fire; his fame would remain immortal.
He created men out of straw and not only emancipated a country in fetters but re-built it on firm foundations. He has left his indelibleimprint in the country’s annals as the consolidator of the nation’shardwon freedom. He is the Bismarck. of India. To millions of Indiansbrought up on a feeling of helplessness and inferiority, he is the symbolof self-confident strength, the champion who could pick up a gauntletwith an astounding audacity and gling it in the face of the challenger. The whole of India is proud of him. He is the model to every aspirantto political fame, for strategy and tactics. An indomitable mi,n ofaction, a born leader of men, he has set such standards of courage,industry, honesty and above all, the capacity to undergo untold for suffering the cause one has espoused that we could do nothing beter than strive to live up to them.