Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhal Patel occupies a prominent place among those heroic men and women who worked for india's freedom and helped not only-to win it but also to consolidate it. Although he came to public life only in his early forties, his thirty-three years of work in the cause of the nation is full of many - splendoured achievements. Along with Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru and some other leaders, he dominated the politics of the country during the crucial thirty years from 1920 to 1950. He was not only a great leader of the masses but also a far-seeing statesman and an able administrator who handled with consummate mastery and finesse the complex problems facing the new Government. In the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, "History will record many things about him in its pages and call him the builder and consolidator of new India ... "
Vallabhbhai Patel was born on October 31, 1875 at Nadiad in Kheda district of Gujarat. His parents Jhaverbhai Patel and Ladbai came from peasant background. It is said that his father had in early life enrolled himself in the army of Rani of Jhansi and fought against the British. Vallabhbhai was the fourth son in a family of five brothers and a sister.
He received his early education at Karamsad and then at Petlad, a small town about eleven kilometres away, in a school where English was taught up to the fifth standard. He matriculated from the Nadiad High SchooL His family could not finance his college education and, therefore, he prepared for the District Pleaders' examination for which he had to borrow most of the books. He passed the examination and took up law practice at Godhra, later shifting to Borsad, where he became quite proficient in handling criminal cases.
Like the illustrious American President Abraham Lincoln, Vallabhbhai Patel was a self-made man who had worked with his father in the fields till he was seventeen. In 1893, when only 18, he married Jhaverbai. In 1909 at the age of 34, his wife died after an operation in a Bombay hospital When the news reached him at Borsad, he was in court arguing in a murder case. Totally unruffled, he went on arguing the case. But the news had stunned him. He never married again.
Vallabhbhai was keen on going to England and studying for the Bar and saved money for the purpose. He wrote to a travel agency to arrange his passage. The firm addressed its reply to V.J. Patel and, as chance would have it, the letter was delivered to his elder brother Vithalbhai, who also wanted to go to England but had no money. Vallabhbhai not only let him go but also undertook to support his family during his absence. Vallabhbhai himself went to England later. He passed his final Bar-at- Law examination with first position and distinction for which he was awarded a cash prize of £50. He returned to India in February 1913 as a full-fledged barrister. On Vallabhbhai's arrival, Sir Basil Scott, the Chief Justice of Bombay, offered him an appointment in the Government Law School which Vallabhbhai declined. He did not want to serve the British Government. Patel specialised in criminal cases and soon had a flourishing practice. At this time, Patel's mode of living and dressing up was like that of a European. He was fond of playing bridge. Be decorated his office with up-to-date furniture which, according to Sheth Kasturbhai, a leading businessman of those days, was unique. He was a member of the Gujarat Club, rendezvous of Ahmedabad's fashionable society.
It was in 1917 that Patel first came in contact with Gandhiji, having been impressed by his leadership in the Champaran satyagraha. About this time, Gandhiji became the President of the Gujarat Sabha which held its first Political Conference at Godhra in November. Vallabhbhai was appointed as its Secretary. The same year, he was elected as a member of the Ahmedabad Municipal Board. Later, he became its President. He organised very successful relief operations during floods, drought and epidemics.
Vallabhbhai's political career had a modest beginning. The first campaign organised jointly by Gandhiji and Patel was the Kheda satyagraha from March to June, 1918, in which, though the victory was not decisive, the sturdy peasantry of Vallabhbhai's home district learnt the lesson of fearlessness. A year later, when Gandhiji was arrested in April 1919, the people of Nadiad and Kheda soon showed the Government that they were not as mild as they looked.
The non-cooperation movement which Gandhiji launched on August 1, 1920 was a novel experiment in human history. No wonder, opinion even in the nationalist ranks was not united in support of it. Vallabhbhai, however, gave his whole-hearted support to Gandhiji's programme and even before the special session of the Congress was held at Calcutta in September, he used his influence with the provincial leaders at the Gujarat Political Conference in August 1920 to persuade them to commit themselves to Gandhiji's programme and to recommend its adoption by the Congress. Though the movement failed in its political objective, Vallabhbhai's work had a deep impact by changing the climate of opinion in Gujarat, and eliminating from it the influence of old-style moderate politicians.
The non-cooperation movement was a watershed in India's long struggle to achieve freedom. For the first time after 1857, the British again felt their hold over India shaken. However, after the withdrawal of the movement following the Chauri Chaura incident in February 1922 and Gandhiji's arrest in March, the British Government seemed to be as firmly in control as ever.
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