Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel was the first Deputy Prime Minister of India. He is one of the founding father of the Republic of India and ensured integration of princely states into a united, independent nation. He was one of the top Indian National Congress leaders and played a vital role in the country’s struggle for independence. As Home minister, he guided the Indian army during political integration of India and Indo-Pak War of 1947. He is also called the Unifier of India.
Early Life and Education
Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel, better known as Sardar Patel, was born on 31 October 1875. Sardar Patel had his schooling in Nadiad, Petlad, and Borsad. He passed matriculation at the relatively late age of 22. He wanted to become a lawyer and planned to travel to England to become a barrister. Patel spent years in self-study with books borrowed from other lawyers, and passed his examinations within two years. Patel set up his household in Godhra with his wife Jhaverba.
Patel practised law in Godhra, Borsad, and Anand. He earned a reputation as a fierce and skilled lawyer. The couple had a daughter and a son; Maniben and Dahyabhai. When Bubonic plague swept across Gujarat, Patel helped people while he himself came down with the disease. Patel saved enough for his trip to England, and the tickets were made in the name of “V. J. Patel”. His elder brother Vithalbhai, who also had the same initials, requested Patel and he allowed Vithalbhai to go in his place to England and become a barrister.
In 1909 Patel’s wife Jhaverba was hospitalised in Bombay and succumbed to her illness. The news came to Patel when he was in court. Despite hearing the sad news, Patel continued his duty of cross-examination of the witness and won the case. Patel did not re-marry again and raised his children with the help of his family.
When he was 36, he journeyed to England and enrolled at the Middle Temple Inn in London. He completed the 3 year course in 30 months, finishing at the top of his class, despite not having previous college background. After returning to India, Patel settled in Ahmedabad and became the most successful barrister.
Patel’s Contribution in the Freedom Struggle
In 1917, Patel won an election to become the sanitation commissioner of Ahmedabad. A meeting with Mahatma Gandhi, in October 1917 motivated him to join the Indian independence struggle demanding Swaraj – self-rule – from Britain. Gandhi made Patel the secretary of the Gujarat Sabha, which later became the Gujarati arm of the Indian National Congress. Gandhi also assigned Patel the task of supporting Kheda peasants’ plea for exemption from taxation due to famine and plague.
Patel toured villages in the Kheda district, and asked villagers for a state-wide revolt by refusing to pay taxes. Thousands of activists and farmers were arrested by the government, which evoked sympathy and admiration across India. The government agreed to the demands and Patel emerged as a hero.
In 1920, he was elected president of the newly formed Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee. Patel supported Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation movement, and organised bonfires of British goods in Ahmedabad, giving up his English-style clothes and switching over to khadi. He worked extensively against alcoholism, untouchability, caste discrimination, and for the empowerment of women.
Patel was elected Ahmedabad’s municipal president in 1922, 1924, and 1927. When Gandhi was in prison, Patel was asked by Members of Congress to lead the satyagraha in Nagpur in 1923. In April 1928, Bardoli suffered from a serious famine and a steep tax hike. It was during the Bardoli Satyagraha and after the victory that Patel was addressed by his followers as Sardar.
Patel’s Role in the Indian National Congress
During Gandhi’s Dandi Salt March, Patel was arrested in the village of Ras. After release, Patel served as interim Congress president, but was re-arrested while leading a procession in Mumbai. After the Gandhi–Irwin Pact was signed, Patel was elected president of Congress for its 1931 session in Karachi.
In January 1932, after the failure of the Round Table Conference in London, Gandhi and Patel were arrested and imprisoned in the Yeravda Central Jail. During this period Patel and Gandhi developed a close bond of affection and trust.
Patel’s rise to the highest level in the Congress was due to his role from 1934 elections to the Central Legislative Assembly in New Delhi and for the provincial elections of 1936. He became the Congress’s main fundraiser and chairman of its Central Parliamentary Board. Patel guided the Congress ministries that had won power across India.
In 1936 session, Patel clashed with Nehru, opposing declarations of the adoption of socialism. In 1938 Patel opposed the attempts of then-Congress president Subhas Chandra Bose to move away from Gandhi’s principles of non-violent resistance.
On the outbreak of World War II, Patel supported Nehru’s decision to withdraw the Congress from central and provincial legislatures. He participated in Gandhi’s call for individual disobedience, and was arrested in 1940. He also opposed the proposals of the Cripps’ mission in 1942. Due to Gandhi’s insistence the All India Congress Committee approved the campaign on 7 August 1942.
During the Quit India movement, Patel exhorted Indians to refuse to pay taxes and to participate in mass protests. Patel was arrested on 9 August and was imprisoned with the entire Congress Working Committee from 1942 to 1945 at the fort in Ahmednagar. In prison he provided emotional support to his colleagues while awaiting news and developments of the outside. Patel was released on 15 June 1945.
Patel’s Efforts in Integration of India
The British mission proposed two plans for transfer of power, both of which were opposed by the Congress. Patel lobbied the Congress Working Committee hard to give its assent to the 16 May proposal while engaging with the British envoys Sir Stafford Cripps and Lord Pethick-Lawrence. The viceroy Lord Wavell invited the Congress to form the government. Nehru became the “Vice President of the Viceroy’s Executive Council” and Patel took charge of the departments of home affairs and information and broadcasting.
When Lord Louis Mountbatten formally proposed the plan on 3 June 1947, Patel gave his approval and lobbied Nehru and other Congress leaders to accept the proposal. During partition, the death toll is estimated at between 500,000 and 1 million people. Patel persuaded the 565 princely states for their merger. All but three of the states willingly merged into the Indian union; and Sardar Patel used his diplomacy with Jammu and Kashmir, Junagadh, and Hyderabad to join India.
When the Pakistani invasion of Kashmir began in September 1947, Patel waited until Kashmir’s monarch had acceded to India. Patel then oversaw India’s military operations. Patel also ordered reconstruction of the famed Somnath temple in 1948. Patel was also a mentor of the lrgest milk co-operative that is known now as the Amul Co-operative of Gujarat.
Patel was awarded honorary doctorates by Nagpur University, the University of Allahabad, Banaras Hindu University, Osmania University and Punjab University.
Death of the Iron Man
Patel’s health deteriorated after 1950. Patel was aware of his impending death and faced it bravely, often making jokes about it. He was taken to Mumbai for further treatment on 12 December 1950. Three days later, he suffered a massive heart attack and died at 9:37 a.m. on 15 December 1950 at Birla House. His cremation in Sonapur, now Marine Lines in Mumbai was attended by a crowd of one million including Prime Minister Nehru, Rajagopalachari, and President Rajendra Prasad.
Inspirational Quotes of Sardar Patel
“Every citizen of India must remember that he is an Indian and he has every right in this country but with certain duties.”
“It is the prime responsibility of every citizen to feel that his country is free and to defend its freedom is his duty.”
“Even if we lose the wealth of thousands, and our life is sacrificed, we should keep smiling and be cheerful keeping our faith in God and Truth.”
“Manpower without Unity is not a strength unless it is harmonized and united properly, then it becomes a spiritual power.”
“My only desire is that India should be a good producer and no one should be hungry, shedding tears for food in the country.”
“There is something unique in this soil, which despite many obstacles has always remained the abode of great souls.”
Sardar Patel was honoured posthumously with the Bharat Ratna award, the highest civilian award of India, in 1991. Every year his birthday, 31 October, is commemorated as the Rashtriya Ekta Diwas (National Unity Day). Several institutions and monuments have been named after him, which includes the National Police academy at Hyderabad, International airport and cricket stadiums at Ahmedabad, Sardar Sarovar Dam, and many more. The Statue of Unity, dedicated to Sardar Patel, is under construction near Vadodara in Gujarat. The 182 meter tall statue will be the world’s tallest, when completed.
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah