Ths Fifteenth of December 1950 was the darkest day for India because on that day the nation lost Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, one of her foremostarchitects. This heavy blow coming so close on the heels of the greattragedy of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi has laid the nationprostrate. The feeling of confidence and security which this Iron Manof Action inspired in the country had become almost a habit of ournational mind for many years. The magnitude of the national loss will continue to unfold itself at every step when things get stuck up forwant of his clear-cut directive and decisive action.
Born w- farmer parents of sturdy stock on 31st October 1875Vallabhbhai had inherited in his temperament and action the qualitiestypical of rural life. It was against the background of these qualities that his early youth was built up. Even in the days of his greatesttriumphs, he never ceased taking pride in the circumstance that he wasa farmer and would always remain one. No single man has servedtheir cause as much as he has done. Sarojini Naidu in her usualirrepressible, humorous vein once said that the great Sardar understoodagriculture better than any other culture. Sardar was essentially a bornleader of peasants whatever else he might have been in later life. He had his education in an unorthodox fashion. He passed the Pleader’sExamination; and started practice early in life. His unfailing tact anduncanny judgment of men—the qualities that made him so great anddependable in later life—were assets for his legal practice too. At a comparatively late age when he was 35, he went to England and qualifiedhimself for the Bar. He had a farmer’s single-minded devotion to thejob in hand and this never failed to produce the expected results. Returning to India then as a Barrister-at-Law, he easily established asizable legal practice in Ahmedabad where he did not take long to .assume the social leadership. By his rustic humor, outspokenness andbiting sarcasm he soon became a figure to be reckoned with in the City’s
The year 1917 brought about a revolutionary change in Vallabhbhai’slife—a change -that pushed him into public life and made him the most popular national leader that he was. This was the year when* the Guruand the Disciple met. The Guru was Mahatma Gandhi and the Disciple was Vallabhbhai Patel. The relation between the two had somethingof a divine touch in it. On more than one occasion Gandhiji himself inhis characteristic humor described what a pompous man Sardar wasbefore he met him ml. what a simple man he became after they had met.The relationship j -,’tween these two great leaders was the greatest singlefactor for the success of our political struggle. Never did Sardar doanything thereafter which had not the complete approval and blessing; of the Gum. On many an occasion, he brushed aside his personalconvictions to fall in line with the advice of his Guru. He had a soldier’sdiscipline where obedience was concerned.
Gandhiji ‘s assassination was the severest blow to Sardar. He neverrecovered from this blow. Very often he used to say “What is the funin life when the saint of Sabarmati is no more”. Although completelyparalyzed by this blow Sardar made a superhuman effort during thelast two years to suppress his personal emotions and deliver himself to the task which the nation had entrusted to his care. The effort wasso much of a strain on his frail body with its numerous handicaps.
Those of this country and outside who had the good fortune ofwatching the glorious achievements of Sardar during recent years, and’ particularly after the attainment of freedom, used to be reminded of some of his earlier achievements which, though comparatively smallerand definitely less spectacular, nonetheless laid the foundation of hisunassailable position in our public and political life. His sense of publicservice rivaled with his indomitable spirit in the fight for his country’sfreedom. To him, both were complementary propositions.
The City of Ahmedabad was afflicted by the epidemic of plague in the year 1917. Many had fled the City for self-protection. Vallabhbhairefused to leave the City. He organized an anti-plague campaign andgave succor to those who stood in need of it. The high spirit of social service which he exhibited on that occasion won for him the blessingsof the poor of Ahmedabad. In subsequent tragedies to which his nativeprovince, Gujerat, was a prey, people looked to him with confidence to organize the relief measures. No single man in our big country organisedI and with unfailing success as many and as extensive rebel” measures in natural calamities as he had done. He fought for the abolition offorced labor which was then in vogue and got it removed. He organized large-scale relief measures ill the influenza epidemic of 1918.
Organization of famine relief was his special subject. No matter what part of the country was ravaged by famine, «Sardar’s great organizing ability was promptly in operation and with spectacular results. He organized famine relief in 1918 and added laurels to his crown. His resistance to evil had all the mark of his brave and ‘fearless spirit.
He successfully fought against the iniquitous tax in Borsad and chronic(hefts in railway wagons. His relief campaign in Borsad plague wonuniversal praise from all parts of the country. His unmatchedorganization of relief measures in Quetta and Bihar Earthquakesbrought relief to millions in distress. His ability to collect large fundsfor worthy causes had become almost a byword in our country.Donors of funds had complete confidence in his judgment and integrityalike. That cannot be said of many men in public life. Even the woesof his countrymen in far-off places like East Africa o?d not fail to move his kind heart. The Clove Boycott in 1937 is a case in point.
Carlyle’s definition of a hero was exemplified in Sardar Patel to an amazing degree. He was, indeed, a hero at all points. Whether it was serving the cause of agriculturists or organizing relief measuresin disasters or fighting the wrongs of British Imperialism or runningthe institutions of local self-government or carrying on the responsibilitiesof the country’s administration, he evinced the same earnestness andmasterly grasp of details. In 1924 he was elected President of theAhmedabad Municipality and remained so for a continuous period of•five years until 1928. With his usual thoroughness and sense of service, he lifted the tone of the local self-government administration. Hisregime as the President brought him encomiums both from friends andcritics ‘ alike, The City of Ahmedabad had not in those days anyreputation for sanitation and good administration. The City had to becleaned up and for that many revolutionary measures had immediatelyto be taken in hand. The views of orthodoxy were a stumbling block*in the way of progress. As was his nature Vallabhbhai reckoned noobstacle or handicap too big for his efforts. He immediately set himselfto the task and accomplished it to a large extent before he laid downthe reigns of office.
Ever since his interest in the institution of local self-governmentcontinued unabated. His last public act before he breathed his last was the inspiring message to the Local Self Government Conference in Delhi which he signed on 13th December 1950. He could sign no morepapers after that. This fact will remain a great tribute to the local self-government itself.
Vallabhbhai had many triumphs to his credit but, in my view, thegreatest and the most significant was the heroic struggle of Bardoli in 1928. The no-tax movement of Bardoli known as the Bardoli Satyagraha is now an epic in the struggle of our political freedom. It was herethat the foundation of the later successes of our Satyagraha Movements was well and truly laid. It is a singular phenomenon of our politicalstruggle that unlike in other countries the peasants in India were at the forefront of all campaigns of our movement. They discoveredthemselves as’ ‘it were in the great Bardoli Movement. The ‘Bardoli spirit’ as it came to be recognized sustained us in all our later trials.It was as the General of the Bardoli Campaign that Vallabhbhai cameto be known as ‘Sardar’. Gandhiji in a public meeting once describedhim as the Sardar of Bardoli and the people of India took up the cue. Ever since he was the beloved Sardar not only of the peasants ofBardoli but the whole; of India. The spirit of non-violent resistancewhich was the dream of Gandhiji was fulfilled by Sardar in the BardoliSatyagraha. The uneducated and unsophisticated peasantry of BardoliTaluka reacted to Sardar’s lead in a manner and in a measure whichwas, indeed, a marvel.The struggle ended in complete triumph for Sardar and the peasants of Bardoli. The Bombay Government of thosedays, however, would not easily swallow the defeat they had .sustainedin Bardoli for many years thereafter. The §ardar became their enemyNo. 1. The confiscated and auctioned lands were not restored to theoriginal owners until the Congress Government came into power tenyears thereafter. Sardar neither forgave the Government nor forgot the cause of the peasants which was so dear to his heart. It was mainlydue to his sheer persistence that the Bardoli chapter was finally closedin 193S with laurels going to the peasants.
After Bardoli it was a foregone conclusion that Sardar wouldbecome the President of the Indian National Congress, the highesthonor in the gift of the nation. So did he become in 1901 when theCongress Session was held in Karachi. It was in this Session thatSardar, for the first time, spoke to the nation. It was a brief messagebut very dynamic in its contents and more so in the action that followed,Sardar had a reputation of being more eloquent in action thanin words. This reputation he continued to enjoy throughout his life. In the years that followed the country had to go through many trials and tribulations. As the executive head of the Second Civil DisobedienceMovement of 1932 Sardar had to bear the brunt of that struggle.Repeated incarcerations and the rigors of jail life broke his health butnot his spirit. It was a wonder to those who knew him well how bravelyand tenaciously he battled against his physical handicaps. .It was verilya triumph of spirit over the body. Many close friends of Sardar who knewhim in his private life had numerous occasions to notice that his bodywould wonderfully react to the state of his mind. His physical ailmentswould remain under control it, he could be in a happy state of mind.The moment the peace of mind was disturbed the physical disabilitieswould show themselves up. This phenomenon, perhaps explainable in medical theory, was known to his doctors. Normally he was a man of strong will but the situations were not wanting when his peace of mindand his usual happy mood would be seriously affected.
It was more as an obligation to the nation than by choice that,Sardar was persuaded to join the Central Cabinet and became its first Home Member and Deputy Prime Minister after the freedom of the country was achieved. He had joined the Congress-League Cabinet a Jew months earlier perhaps due to the same considerations. What partthe mature statesmanship and practical wisdom of Sardar played in shaping the destinies of this great land and advancing its freedom, veryfew people know. Some of these facts may become records of historyand yet there will be some more which, due to their delicate nature,may never see the light of the day. As a minister in charge of Homeand States Ministries, he gave abundant proof of his wonderful graspcX administration. Sardar of Bardoli peasants now became the Sardarof India’s administrators. His handling of the intricate administrativeproblems was masterly and showed that he was a born adrnfiJistiT for. Many an enemy and doubtful friends thought and even hoped that Indiawould no£ be able to maintain law and order and her national disciplinewould collapse in the very first trial. Indeed, we were on the brink of a precipice. -Undaunted by the dangers inherent in the situation, Sardaracted with ruthless precision and accurate foresight. The saner elements in the country rallied around him and eventually, he was able to produce results that must have staggered the imagination both of hisfriends and critics. He showed that he richly deserved the epithet—India’s Iron Man of Action.
The problem of five hundred and odd States with a variety ofadministrations and traditions not very helpful to the unification ofthe country would have baffled anybody with a less stout heart. It was,however, customary with Sardar that deeper the dangers the greater were the despatch with which he worked and more often than not hewould emerge triumphantly. So was the case of this problem of States. He liquidated the problem in as many months as years that theadministration would have given him for the job. Bismarck of Germanygrappled with a lesser problem and that too with the threat of invinciblePrussian armies in the background. Sardar accomplished a decidedlygreater feat and yet did it without rancor and bad blood. The PrincelyOrder of India, even after its total eclipse, remained loyal to him andto the Republic and on his part, he remained a loyal and sincere friendof the Princes. This one single achievement of his would entitle himto the highest place of honor in the history of our nation. His swiftaction in Hyderabad and his loyal support to the Prime Minister on theKashmir issue are eloquent testimony to his far-sighted statesmanship.
What was really the secret of Sardar’s phenomenal success in administrative efficiency? This question must have occurred to many.The answers are bound to vary. In my view, this success is largelyattributable to his capacity to choose the right man for the job andthen to implicitly trust him. This has yielded very rich dividends.Sardar had an uncanny instinct in placing people in their proper niches.He loved his lieutenants with the tenderness of a father and would standby them in all circumstances. His lieutenants in their turn served hire. with steadfast loyalty and deep devotion.
If Sardar was great in his mighty achievements for the nation, he was greater still in his human qualities. His rough and stern exteriorcovered a very tender and sensitive heart. He had an exhaustless fundof wit and humor and would enjoy a joke as He would like to crackone. He was kind to his lieutenants and followers almost to a*’ fault. He would look after (hem, he would enquire of their well-being and dideverything which kind father does to his son. I have come across very few political leaders who have shown as much consideration to their humble followers as this great man has done. Once he trusted a man. he never doubted him. Trust begets trust and this was thesecret of the relationship between Sardar and those who followed him.The void that he has left in our public life is impossible to be filled. The nation has to get itself accustomed to that void. It is,( perhaps, once in several generations that such a man is born. It was India’sgreatest good fortune that people like Gandhiji, Sardar ar.d Jawaharlalbelonged to the same generation which was responsible for liberatingthis country. Many people have come and gone but we shall never see the like of Sardar again.
It is impossible to ignore the part played by Maniben.the faithful daughter of the Sardar. She followed Sardar as the shadow follows substance. She had no existence of her own apart fromher father’s. She has inherited many good qualities. her father.It is no exaggeration if I say that by her careful nursing and tenderlove she must have added at least ten years to his life. This is hercontribution to the nation. Her selfless devotion and complete self- effacement in the service of her father make a poem of human virtue.