Dr. Rafiq Zakaria, one of India’s leading intellectuals, with considerable experience of politics at the highest level, deals in this publication with the charge against Sardar Patel of being anti-Muslim. Before the partition, as Dr. Zakaria explains, Patel was, in fact one of the first lieutenants of Gandhiji to propagate and carry forward the mission of Hindu-Muslim unity. Patel gave unreserved support to the Khilafat movement, brought Hindus and Muslims together during the Bardoli and Salt Satyagraha, and gave a blank cheque to minorities as President at the Karachi session of the Congress in 1931. The change in his attitude came about when Jinnah took over the League leadership in 1937; his diatribes against Hindus and the Congress upset him considerably. The two-nation theory shook his faith in communal harmony. Dr. Zakaria surveys the political scene of those turbulent years with depth and insight. He analyses with care and objectivity, Patel’s utterances, policies and actions as India’s deputy prime minister. Blunt and ruthless, Patel appeared to be anti-Muslim, though he repeatedly denied this. Many in the Congress, including Nehru, Azad, and J.P., felt that he was drifting towards it. Even Gandhiji was unhappy at his “intolerance.”C.R. too, wrote that this was “the prevalent impression.” Patel had become, no doubt, pro-Hindu, having been moved by the plight of Hindu refugees; but was he, therefore, unfair and unjust to the Muslims, who opted or continued to remain in India? Dr. Zakaria scrutinises every word and deed of the Sardar and draws conclusions which should set at rest this controversy.
Dr. Rafiq Zakaria has had a distinguished career in fields as varied as law, education, journalism, politics and Islamic studies. He is the Chancellor’s gold medallist of the Bombay University and obtained a Ph.D. with distinction from the London University. He was called to the Bar from the Lincoln’s Inn. From his student days, he was active in the freedom struggle, both at home and abroad. After a successful legal career he was elected to the State Legislature of Maharashtra. From 1962 he served as a cabinet minister in the State Government for fifteen years. In 1978 he was elected to Parliament and became Deputy Leader of the ruling Congress party in Parliament when Mrs. Indira Gandhi was its leader. He was given various important assignments including that of Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to the Muslim world in 1984. He has thrice represented India at the United Nations, in 1965, 1990 and 1996.
Dr. Zakaria is an eminent scholar of international repute. He is the author of a dozen books, including A Study of Nehru. His rejoinder to Salman Rushdie, entitled Muhammad and the Quran, published by Penguin International, has become a world classic. He has also been associated with various social and educational organisations and has founded more than a dozen educational institutions of higher learning in Bombay and Aurangabad. He has been passionately involved in the promotion of Hindu-Muslim unity and has delivered some important memorial lectures on its different aspects. Dr. Zakaria is Chancellor of the Urdu University in Aligarh. He lives in Bombay with his journalist wife, Fatma.
It is a cruel twist of fate that in the fiftieth year of india’s independence, the country should be bereft of political figures with the vision, foresight and determination to lead us to a safe and prosperous future according to the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi who led us to freedom and who was totally committed to the majesty of the Moral Law. Today the nation is dripping with corruption, criminalization, communalism and casteism; and our public life has touched the lowest level of degradation.
It is in these times of turmoil that this great nation, with an amazing unbroken continuity of culture and civilisation of over five thousand years and more, needs to recall and draw inspiration from some of our most outstanding leaders who gave of their time and their lives and who made selfless sacrifices to achieve India’s freedom from foreign rule. Those were the leaders who made the people feel that they had a great destiny to fulfil.
One such stalwart of sterling worth of the days gone by was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The relevance of Sardar Patel to modern India is of lasting importance. If he had not lived, India would not be what it is today.
Dr. Rajendra Prasad noted in his diary on May 13, 1959: “That there is today an India to think and talk about is very largely due to Sardar Patel’s statesmanship and firm administration”. He prophetically added: “Yet, we are apt to ignore him”. This we continue to do.
The Sardar’s fanatical devotion to the unity and integrity of India and to Hindu-Muslim brotherhood was exemplary. His patriotism was beyond doubt and his nationalism was equally beyond dispute. Yet, the pseudo-secularists openly accused this implacable foe of the “assassins of nationalism”, of communalism and pro-Hindu bias. Even some of his own colleagues, like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Jayaprakash Narayan did so. Nonetheless, they both had the large-heartedness later to confess to their wrong judgment.
In reality, there was no place for narrow parochialism or partiality for any caste or creed in the Sardar’s heart. As Gandhiji said of him “It would be a travesty of truth to describe the Sardar as being anti-Muslim.” The Sardar’s heart was so expansive that it could accommodate all.
During the freedom struggle, the Sardar emphasised that “Hindu-Muslim unity is like a tender, plant. We have to nurture it extremely carefully over a long period, for our hearts are not as yet clean as they should be.”
In fact, Dr. K.M. Munshi, a key member of the Constitution Drafting Committee, and Rajarishi Purushottamdas Tandon, a former President of the Congress, both closest to the Sardar, argued vehemently against the incorporation of the word “propagate” in the Fundamental Rights enshrined in our Constitution. But despite stiff opposition, Vallabhbhai used all his prestige and influence to ensure that the word “propagate” was incorporated in Article 25 of the Constitution as a part of the Fundamental Rights of all religions in India. He was also the Chairman of the Minorities Committee of the Constituent Assembly, where he championed the cause of Sarva Dharma Maitri: Inter-Faith Harmony.
All his life, the Sardar continuously worked to save the prospect of a united India. He could not get over the fact that partition was fundamentally wrong. He felt that it would destroy the reality that we were one and indivisible: “You cannot divide the sea or the waters of the river. As for Muslims, they have their roots, their sacred places and their centres here. I do not know what they can possibly do in Pakistan.”
Even after partition, the Sardar himself said :
‘I recall how, after years of struggle and suffering, India has won independence and shaken off the foreign yoke. All of us who took part in this struggle did so with the idea that when independence was achieved, there would be good government in India. When we accepted partition, it was with the sincere desire that we should thereby be enabled to work out our own salvation, unhampered by the factors which rendered progress impossible. At the same time, we wished Pakistan well and hoped that under settled conditions, when they realized that we are really brothers and not two nations of different faiths and ideologies, they would come back to us.”
Mahayogi Sri Aurobindo, the far-seeing patriot-sage, shared this deep yearning of the Sardar and other noble architects and builders of Free India. He believed that eventually the separated parts would return to the motherland to form a united India that all cherished.
In a message on the dawn of India’s independence given at the request of the All-India Radio and broadcast on the night of August 14, 1947, the Mahayogi said: “India today is free but she has not achieved unity”...
The old communal division into Hindu and Muslims seems now to have hardened into a permanent political division of the country It is to he hoped that this settled fact will not be accepted as settled forever...
“Let its hope that this may come about naturally, by an increasing recognition of the necessity not only of peace and concord but ... by the practice of common action and the creation of means for that purpose...”
The Mahayogi then hoped that divided India would once again be united “under whatever form — the exact form may be a pragmatic one” but, that, as Sri Aurobindo explained, was not of “fundamental importance.” He declared that “by whatever means, in whatever way, the division must go; unity must and will be achieved for it is necessary for the greatness of India’s future.”
Partition was a heart-rending decision to all the stalwarts of India’s Pilgrimage to Freedom under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. When ultimately it was agreed to and decided upon, Sri Aurobindo had confided his foreboding to Dr. K.M. Munshi, who was his pupil in the Baroda College and a life-long devotee. He told him that “Pakistan would break up within twenty-five years of its creation.” And it did happen with the emergence of Bangladesh in December 1971, the 25th year of the birth of Pakistan.
Swami Vivekananda, the foremost disciple of Paramahamsa Sri Ramakrishna, declared in his address on September 11, 1893, in the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago that “we accept all religions to be true”.
Ultimately, religion is basic and essential to all human beings, and purged of bigotry and fanaticism, it is the most civilising influence and the perennial spring of ethics, morality, charity, goodness and social economic justice.
There was constant pressure on Vallabhbhai to declare India a Hindu state specially as Pakistan had become a Muslim state. He resisted it unto the last. S. Gopal has rightly observed, “Pate! is usually depicted as a supporter of Hindu chauvinism but actually his major concern was national unity”.
Unfortunately, India has almost forgotten Sardar Patel. V/hen other nations of the world strive to preserve and protect their heritage and history at all costs, we Indians have a gift for obliterating every trace of our great past — illustrious personalities and their sacrifices and services to the country are all but forgotten. Buildings and monuments to commemorate the memories of our leaders run to seed; and changing names of cities and streets has become a national obsession. We mistake all change for progress.
In the struggle for power, region, religion, castes and sub-castes are exploited to create vote banks; but has the nation gained in the process? There is lip service to the Constitution but its fundamentals are torn to pieces by the very persons who claim to uphold them. I humbly suggest that the only honest, sincere and meaningful observance of the Golden Jubilee of our attainment of freedom should be to go back to the precepts and practices of our founding fathers. Let our religious heads and political leaders, whatever be their respective labels, come together and work for India first, India last and India always. The more they will divide the people on religious or casteist ground, the more the nation will suffer. They must think in the larger national interest and rise above narrow sectional and communal considerations on one side and party political gains on the other. If they love India, they must give their best to India and not take away the best from India. I am convinced that religious or casteist reservations will do immense harm to our polity; it will destroy merit; it will downgrade the functioning of our institutions; it will leave us behind others in all fields of activity. Politically some may temporarily gain; but the country as a whole will have to pay a heavy price in the long run.
In my Bhai Parmanand Memorial Lecture, delivered in New Delhi, on November 27, 1979, I had expressed my fears about the future of India. Since then, the situation has become unfortunately much worse. I may quote a para from it, as it is no less relevant today:
“The moral crisis is writ large on the entire political scene. In the fifties we had many eminent men in public life who were every inch a gentleman. In the sixties we had many public figures who were every alternate inch a gentleman. Unfortunately, in the seventies we have an unacceptably large number of politicians who are no inch a gentleman. The noble processes of our Constitution have been trivialized by the power-holders, the power-seekers and the power-brokers in our capital cities. Elections have been reduced to a horse race by the contesting politicians — the difference being that the horse is highly trained.”
I congratulate Dr. Rafiq Zakaria on his most timely decision to revive the memory of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in this well-researched and well-written book based on his Sardar Patel Memorial Lectures, 1996, sponsored by the Government of India. He authentically demolishes the myth built up by vested interests that the Sardar was anti-Muslim.
It is appropriate that he has chosen the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, of which Sardar Patel was a Founder Member and a pillar of strength, in publishing this book.
This book should serve to bring Indians, irrespective of caste or creed, together to fulfil the dream of the Father of the Nation, who wanted to wipe the tear from every Indian’s eye, irrespective of his religious affiliation. Hence in India all talk of a Hindu Raj is a mad idea. Sardar Patel assured our people that India would never subscribe to it. In his memorable words, “it would kill the soul of India.”
I hope and trust the youth of India to whom the future belongs, will savour the ceaseless labour of Sardar Patel who left an indelible imprint not only on Free India which he helped to build and consolidate, but also on the world at large.
This book deserves the widest circulation among all those in the country and abroad interested in a strong, united and prosperous India. I am glad that translations of this book in Urdu, Hindi and other Indian languages are planned to be published by the Bhavan.
After Gandhi and Nehru, Patel strides the Indian political arena; but while the two have themselves written much and much has been written about them by others, the Sardar has not received the literary attention that he deserves. Some good biographies of him have been published; the best, according to me is Rajmohan Gandhi’s Patel, published by the Navjivan Press. It is a researched work, written in a racy style, with the literary flourishes for which the author is well-known. The two-volume biography by Narhari D. Parikh Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (Navjivan) is incomplete; it does not cover even events just before or after partition. But a great deal of information about Patel’s early life can be obtained from it. There are also other books: B. Krishna’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: India’s Iron Man (Harper Collins), P.N. Chopra’s The Sardar of India (Allied) and D.V. Tahmankar’s Sardar Patel (George Allen). All these are of high standard. There are also the two reminiscences written by V. Shankar and K.L. Punjabi, who worked with Patel. Some years ago, Durga Das edited and brought out ten volumes of Patel’s collected writings; these were commissioned by Navjivan Press, they give an insight into the Sardar’s thinking on men and matters. There are many more works, but they are not as rich in material as the subject warrants; some of them are repetitive, some too laudatory and some plain rubbish. Apart from Rajmohan Gandhi’s Patel, the critical element is absent in most of these works.
For this lacuna, Patel himself is partly responsible. He had no time for words, oral or written. It was action that interested him. He was reticent by nature; he spoke little; he listened more. It is to his daughter, Maniben, that we owe most of the information about the varied aspects of his life. Though rather late, she started keeping records, notes of meetings, correspondence and reports of his activities. Seeing her busy, writing about all the happenings and collecting material, the Sardar one day jokingly remarked, “Why waste all this time in writing? Is it not better that we create history?”
On the Sardar’s passing away on December 15, 1950, All India Radio, which was then the only mass media of its kind — Doordarshan took two decades more to make its appearance — decided to institute the Sardar Patel Memorial Lectures, in memory of the first minister of information and broadcasting; it was inaugurated by C. Rajagopalachari, better known as Rajaji. He spoke on:
“The Good Administrator”, which Patel undoubtedly was. These lectures are held every year and are regarded by AIR as their most prestigious project. These have been delivered by eminent persons in different fields who have spoken not necessarily on Patel, but on any subject of their choice. For instance Zakir Husain spoke on “Education Reconstruction in India”, Verrier Elwin on “A Philosophy of Love”, M.C. Setalvad on “Secularism”, Romila Thapar on “The Past and Prejudice”, P.N. Haksar on “The Evaluation of Foreign Policy”, C. Subramaniam on “Centre-State Relations”, Swami Ranganathananda on “Our Cultural Heritage”, P.B. Gajendragadkar on “Kashmir”, K.N. Raj on “Crisis of Higher Education in India.” There have been others, equally renowned, who confined themselves to their specialised fields. Very few chose to speak on Patel and the different aspects of his towering personality. Some of the outstanding figures, whose lectures concentrated on the Sardar’s many-sided public career, include Moraji Desai, who dealt with the role of the Sardar in “The Integration and Consolidation of India”, Nani Palkhivala who talked on “The Enduring Relevance of Sardar Patel”, and Justice Ranganath Mishra, whose subject was “Why do we remember Sardar Patel today.”
This year, when All India Radio approached me to deliver these memorial lectures, I chose the subject: “Sardar Patel and Indian Muslims.” I divided it in two parts: the first, dealing with the Sardar’s attitude to Indian Muslims before partition and the second, his role after partition. My lectures were delivered in the auditorium of the National Museum in Delhi; the first, on October 29, and the second, on October 30, 1996. They were broadcast by AIR on October 31, and November 1. The Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, the dynamic C.M. Ibrahim, presided over the first lecture; each was of more than one hour’s duration; the audience among others, included C.K. Jaffer Sharif, T.N. Chaturvedi, Saifuddin Soz, Khaliq Anjum, Jagannath Azad, Uma Vasudev, Shahid Siddiqui and other distinguished people, apart from high officials of AIR and Doordarshan. On both days, there was a large gathering and I was encouraged by the spontaneous response I received.
The subject I chose was rather controversial; at first I was somewhat apprehensive about it. I had, both as a student of and a participant in Indian politics, enough knowledge about the life and times of Sardar Patel and his monumental achievements in different spheres. But like many of my co-religionists, I too was under the impression that he did not like Muslims; in fact, I thought he was unabashedly anti-Muslim. Should I, therefore, I wondered, venture on a theme in lectures organised in his memory, which may be critical of him? I consulted my friend S. Ramakrishnan, who knew the Sardar intimately; he also worked as his Personal Secretary after the Sardar’s release on June 15, 1945, from the Ahmednagar Fort Prison, during the historic Cabinet Mission parleys leading to the Transfer of Power and for a few months after the Sardar assumed the office of Deputy Prime Minister and settled down in Delhi. He was a valued colleague of KM. Munshi and has been mainly responsible, after the founder’s death, for consolidating and expanding Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan not only in India but also in many important places in different parts of the world. A poem in self-effacement, his life has been a saga of quiet and dedicated service to the cause of national integration. He prevailed upon me to take up this subject, because he felt that the truth must be told, whatever the consequences. He was confident that Patel would come out of it unscathed. He helped me by lending me a number of works on and by the Sardar from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan library; he also procured for me valuable books and material from Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, of which he is a trustee.
Armed with all this literary ammunition, I set down to my task to get at the bottom of the charge that Patel was anti-Muslim; even Rajaji had referred to it in his journal Swnrajja dated November 27, 1971: “A myth had grown about Patel that he would be harsh towards Muslims. This was a wrong notion but it was the prevailing prejudice.” The more I researched, the more I was convinced that the iron man had been misunderstood in many respects and there were cobwebs about his attitude towards Indian Muslims, which needed to be removed. I am glad I was able to do so to my satisfaction; those who heard me on AIR congratulated me on my effort. Fali Nariman, former Solicitor General of India, wrote to me that he enjoyed listening to the lectures; so did the Hon’ble Mr. Justice Chapalgaonkar of the Mumbai High Court. Many others also felt that I was able to present an objective analysis of Patel’s attitude to Indian Muslims, which was sorely needed in the present situation which is so vitiated by communal poison.
Mine has been an objective analysis, critical at times, but I have tried to be fair all through. This effort too is in continuance of my life-long mission of furthering Hindu-Muslim unity, without which I believe we cannot achieve national integration. I have been devoted to this cause since my student days; I have been a consistent opponent of the two-nation theory. I opposed it when I was in my teens and participated in the Quit India movement to counter it. I know that most Hindus adore Sardar Pate!; it is necessary, therefore, for Muslims to understand him and if possible to give up their aversion to him. I have, in my own humble way, tried to remove one more barrier in the way of what Sardar Patel himself used to describe as “the unity of hearts” between Hindus and Muslims.
This book is based on my Sardar Patel Memorial Lectures; but it contains a great deal more, which I added at the instance of S. Ramakrishnan to make the subject more comprehensive. I am grateful to Shashi Kant Kapoor, Director General and S. Krishnan, Deputy Director General of AIR, for the opportunity they gave me in presenting an in-depth study of the Sardar’s attitude to the most important religious minority of India numbering over 120 million; it constitutes almost 12 per cent of our total population. I have dealt at length on Hindu-Muslim relations from the time of the invasion of Mohamed-bin Qasim, in Sind in 711, to the present times in my latest book, The Widening Divide, published by Viking Penguin; the present book is in a way an elaboration of the same theme.
I had the privilege of meeting the Sardar only once; it happened some time after my return from London. having been away for almost five years (1944 to 1949). Those were turbulent days and, apart from my studies, I was actively involved in the India League of V.K. Krishna Menon and in the premier organisation of Indian students, known as the Federation of Indian Students’ Societies in Great Britain and Europe of which I was then the Chairman. One day I received a letter from Mr. V.Y. Tonpe, private secretary to the then Home Minister of Bombay, Morarji Desai informing me that India’s Deputy Prime Minister would be pleased to see me at Birla House, Bombay. The date was May 19, 1950 and the time 10 a.m. I was alone with the Sardar for more than an hour; he was lying in bed as he was not in the best of health. He discussed with me the Hindu-Muslim problem, in particular about the attitude of the younger Muslim generation. He listened patiently to my apprehensions and then asked me to impress upon my young co-religionists the need to get rid of the barriers that Jinnah and the Muslim League had built in dividing the two communities. He was much worried of the two-nation theory that had gripped them. His advice to me was to activitise them in a way that they would be inspired by the same spirit that prevailed during the Khilafat movement in the twenties; this spirit, unfortunately, had been replaced by “suspicion, ill-will and hostility.” He asked me to work for creating “mutual trust between Hindus and Muslims which alone could ensure them peace and prosperity.” The goodwill of the majority, he said, “was the best safeguard for a minority.” I expected that he would be aggressive and even angry against the Muslims for their part in partition but he was surprisingly calm and almost patronising. His words had a deep effect on me; I came back more hopeful about the future.
Nani Palkhivala’s illuminating Introduction is a liberal education on the currents and cross-currents of leadership. He and I were together at the Government Law College in Bombay; even in those days he was looked upon by all of us as a rising star; in subsequent years he has proved by his achievements in law, economics and finance that our expectations about him were not belied. India has not produced in recent times a greater jurist. He is, at the same time, a great humanist, whose heart bleeds at every wrong and yearns for what is right. He wears his enormous learning easily and is at home among the best intellectuals and the elite, in their drawing rooms as he is among the ordinary folk. To him also I offer my most grateful thanks.
In my literary, educational, even political and other endeavours, my wife, Fatma, herself a writer of repute, has been of tremendous help. She spent twenty-five years in writing lead articles and doing editing work in different capacities for both The Illustrated Weekly of India and The Times of India; without her critical pruning, my writing would have lacked whatever grace and distinction it possesses. I thank her from the bottom of my heart.
I am indebted to my Personal Assistant, MV. Raghavan, who has mastered the computer. So also the members of my staff, Netra Alwe, Sasi Kumar, and my two close associates, SI. Pasha and Prakash Mhatre, who did all the tiresome work of typing, coordinating, arranging and re-arranging the material. I am also grateful to Atiqur Rehman for helping me in my research work and to Savita Chandiramani for going through the proofs.
Last of all, I must express my gratitude to P.V. Sankarankutty, of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for the efficiency and meticulousness with which he has produced the book within a short span of a month to coincide with the Sardar’s death anniversary. It is a tribute to his managerial skills as well as to the hard work put in by his conscientious staff. I also thank the artist, CS. Borker, who has designed the eye-catching cover. S. Ramakrishnan can well be proud of his team, who seem to have imbibed within them, his spirit of dedication to work.
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