This biography of Sardar Vallabhabhai Patel is a comprehensive and vivid narration of his unique contribution to Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for India’s freedom (1920-47). Without his supports, Mahatma Gandhi admitted, his satyagrahas wouldn’t have had the same success. It was he who built the party machine through imposition of strict discipline and by giving it a mass bade, and as party boss supervised and directed the functioning of the Congress ministries post-1937 provincial elections.
Patel’s post-1945 role concerned India’s freedom, and also marked the end of his being Gandhi’s blind follower. Disillusioned with his own party in the failure of the Cabinet mission parleys, he negotiated directly with Cripps and helped the Congress form the Interim Government. He wanted to keep Jinnah out in the cold and suffer in his isolation. The book discusses his failure, rather that of the party, with Wavell’s maneuvering in getting the Muslim League into the Cabinet as an equal with the Congress, With that Jinnah conducted his fight form within.
Realising that united India had becomes an impossibility and the country faced chaos and total disintegration, Patel rose above all considerations to save and consolidate what would be left of India after Partition. This he achieved through administrative unity by forming the IAS on an all-India basis, and the country’s unity through the integration of the princely States. This book returns to the earlier two decades to show the unity of Patel’s thinking and actions.
The history of the Gandhian ear cannot be complete and properly understood unless Patel is read and appreciated for what he did and achieved for India, This book is an attempt to fill that gap.
Balraj Krishna began his career in journalism with the Civil and Military Gazette, Lahore, Post-Partition in New Delhi, he served in the External Publicity Division and Press Information Bureau, Government of India, as also in the British Information Services. He was a Special Correspondent with The Hindustan Times in Srinagar.
He used to write for The Illustrated Weekly of India, The Times of India, The Economic Times, The Hindu and some other newspapers and journals, including Eastern world, London. He edited the house journals of Shipping Corporation of India, Mogul Line, Indo-Burmah Petroleum, Atlas Copco, Warner Hindustan, Parke-Davis and Wimco. He is the author of Indian Freedom Struggle: The Pathfinders form Surendranath Banerjea to Gandhi.
Common talk among the members of the Indian Civil Service post-Independence used to be: ‘If the dead body of the Sardar were stuffed and placed on a chair, he could still rule.” Vallabhbhaj Patel’s face commanded such obedience. Princes, politicians and administrators called upon him with certain trepidation, fearing the scorn of his eyes; much worse, the rap of his caustic tongue. Air Marshal Sir Thomas Elmhirst, India’s Air Chief, saw in his eyes the same ‘fierce, piercing look’ as of Kamal Ataturk or Winston Churchill.2 General Sir Roy Bucher, India’s Army Chief, was once a witness to his fear, and wrote: ‘I personally never saw him other than absolutely composed and determined to uphold law and order throughout India. Later I was to see him in a rage, and realized how his colleagues were dominated .‘ Patel’s hold over the party was absolute. He had been the builder of the party machine; he was, hence, the master of party affairs. None could challenge his authority, or do so at his cost. Eight months before his death, Lord Mountbatten pleaded with him for Nehru: ‘With your support Jawaharlal cannot fail...’
Patel judged people instantly. He had the courage to
reprimand the erring. He did so judiciously, though treating everyone with the same yardstick. There ‘ere two
exceptions: Gandhi and Nehru. He spared them with a difference. To Gandhi, he was respectful as his guru; to Nehru, considerate as his Prime Minister. In national matters he was ‘harder than steel’, but ‘softer than a flower in personal and private relations.’4
Patel never walked over a ‘fallen’ enemy. Post Independence when he wielded power, this was particularly so in the case of the Princes who had surrendered to him on losing their ‘battles’. They included such powerful ones as the Nawab of Bhopal who had intrigued on behalf of Jinnah to dismember India; the Nizam of Hyderabad who waged a war of ‘independence’ at Jinnah’s behest; and CF. Ramaswami Aiyar, Diwan of Travancore, who was the first to raise the banner of revolt by declaring that Travancore would be independent simultaneously with the lapse of Paramountcy. The Jamsaheb of Nawanagar had earlier played into the hands of Sir Conard Corfield, the powerful Secretary of the Political Department, in the latter’s proposed formation of an independent confederation of the Kathiawar States outside the proposed Indian Union. Many considered it a miracle when a single meeting with Patel turned him into an ardent supporter of the Sardar ‘s plan to unify these States as a unit of the Indian Republic.
There was a glaring contrast between the attitudes of Nehru and Patel towards the Princes. One instance in, particular may be mentioned. Nehru felt annoyed over the Jamsaheb’s membership of the Indian delegation to the UN General Assembly in 1949, and blurted, ‘I am damned if I send him on our delegation. He and his diamond buttons!’ Foreign Secretary K.P.S. Menon reported Nehru’s reaction to Patel who ‘kept quiet for a few seconds and said, “I hate given my nomination and I stick to it.” Panditji accepted the nomination without further ado.’5
Patel’s helping hand reached high and low alike. The Nawab of Bhopal’s son-in-law, the Nawab of Pataudi, along with his family, was trapped in communal rioting in his state capital. Patel responded to Bhopal’s appeal by sending an emissary in his car to get the news and render whatever help was needed. I too was a recipient of Patel’s large-heartedness.
There was in the grip of communal holocaust. My younger brother, Yuvraj Krishan, was to sit for the first competitive examination of the newly-formed I A S replacing the ICS, being held in July 1947. In May I had forewarned the British Chairman of the Federal Public Service Commission (later UPSC), of the grave communal situation prevailing in Lahore. I got a shock in early June when communication reaching us stated that the centre for the candidates would be the Islamia College, which was located in an area under 72-hour curfew. What could be done at that late stage? I wondered. All the leaders were neck-deep in the transfer of power. My instinct forced me to write to Patel, even when I was uncertain if he could spare a few minutes. I had a most pleasant surprise on the third or fourth day, when a telegram from Patel’s office informed me of the change of the centre to a safer locality. Further, each candidate was asked telegraphically whether he would take the examination at Lahore or Simla.
I was instantly won over. I said to myself: Here’s a man of action, caring as much for the common folk as for others. Pre-Independence, we, the young in Lahore and elsewhere, did not pay much attention to Patel. The charisma of Gandhi, Nehru and Subhas cast a spell on us. We revered Gandhi as a Mahatma; we admired Subhas Chandra Bose as a radical; but we loved Nehru as our ‘uncrowned king’. We even sought identification with Nehru by donning the Jawahar jacket in a spirit of national pride. Patel’s one act considerably enhanced my esteem for him. He gained such esteem from the people in the Punjab and the NWFP during the months which followed Partition. He was one man who saved the lives of millions stranded in West Pakistan by arranging their expeditious pull-out.
Post-Independence, Patel’s two historic achievements won him universal praise: the country’s administrative unity through the l A S, replacing the ICS; and the integration of the Princely States. Both at lightning speed, which made a hard core Communist M.N. Roy say that had Kashmir remained with Patel, the solution would have been reached soon after Partition. Similarly, India might
have been spared the humiliation at the hands of the Chinese in 1962 had Nehru pursued .Patel’s advice given prior to his death.
Some of the British administrators ruling over India thought very highly of Patel. A special mention needs to be made of Sir Hugh Garrett (ICS). He was 88 in 1968 when he wrote me a short but sweet letter from the UK on reading my letter to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph. It reads: ‘I, who knew him very well, always called him. Vallabhbhai... He was a pillar of the Congress party, but that in no way caused ill-feeling on my side, nor, I hope, did he feel any against me... (once) he came to see me and related how a fakir had built a tomb in the middle of a road in the city’s outskirts. He said the fakir had threatened him with a sword. He asked if I would deal with the situation. He did not want a police or magisterial case. I accordingly got my car and went to the place and found it as stated. I spoke to the fakir and ordered removal of everything within two hours. I went back and found all done. Later, of course, I had much to do with him, but I had faith in him. He was honest and frank... Of all the Indians I ever met, I place him as the greatest.’6
A no less worthy tribute is paid by another member of the ‘Steel Frame’, Philip Mason, in the Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford): ‘Patel has been compared to Bismarck, but the parallel cannot be carried far. Patel was courageous, honest and realistic, but far from cynical.’ And on his demise, the Manchester Guardian (now the Guardian) wrote:‘... He was the organizer, the disciplinarian, the party boss. In the Congress he was what the Americans call the “hatchet man” of the party. This is not a gracious role, but a revolutionary party cannot be effective without a determined and rather prosaic chief of staff. Without Patel, Gandhi’s ideas would have had less practical influence and Nehru’s idealism less scope. Patel was not only the organizer of the fight for freedom, but also the architect of the new State when the fight was over. The same man is seldom successful both as rebel and statesman. Patel was the exception.
Pate! was a tower of strength and hope to Gandhi and Congress. He was his Deputy Commander in the Kaira satyagraha
(1917), Hero of Bardoli whom the British called
(1928), ‘John the Baptist’ to Gandhi in the Salt (1930); the Party Boss who directed and supervised functioning of the Congress Governments’ post-1937 Provincial elections. And even defeated Subhas Bose in the challenge he posed to Gandhi.
Prior to the transfer of power on August 15th, Patel herded into his pen almost all the Princes, with the notable exception of Kashmir and Hyderabad - the latter’s ration was a brilliant achievement recorded inside. Accession prior to August 15th prevented the States from becoming independent with the lapse of Paramountcy. Such independence would have led to a far greater and a far more serious confrontation with the States than with Pakistan.
Vinoba Bhave called Patel ‘the accurate bowman of Gandhi’s struggle, his disciple and his GOC. He knew no retreat...’ For over three decades he was to the Indians what Churchill was to war-time British. Such a man was called the master-builder’ by M.N. Roy, who even speculated: ‘What will happen to India when the master-builder will go, sooner or later, the way of all mortals?’8
During the Cabinet Mission parleys in 1946 in New Delhi, a Jam Churchill visited Patel After lavish praise, he ventured to suggest: ‘Sardar Saheb, you must write India’s history.’ Pate! had a hearty laugh, and said, ‘We do not write history. We make history.’ And Patel did make history, which I have recorded as faithfully as I could.
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