Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel
Speech of the General Secretary of ELINEPA Mr. Anthony Papadopoulos at the special event organized on October 31, 2017 at the Embassy of India in Athens to commemorate the birth anniversary of Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel, the man who united modern India.
Today India celebrates the anniversary of the birth of a great man, a true patriot and a man who worked hard during his lifetime for the universal values of equality, freedom and human rights.
It’s a great honor for me today to deliver a short speech on the occasion of the date of his birth to honor this man.
Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel (31 October 1875 – 15 December 1950), popularly known as Sardar Patel, was the first Deputy Prime Minister of India. He was an Indian barrister and statesman, a leader of the Indian National Congress and a founding father of the Republic of India who played a leading role in the country’s struggle for independence and guided its integration into a united, independent nation. In India and elsewhere, he was often addressed as Sardar, which means Chief in Hindi, Urdu, and Persian. He acted as de facto Supreme Commander-in-chief of Indian army during Political integration of India and Indo-Pakistani War of 1947.
Patel was born in the town of Nadiad, Gujarat, some time between October 1875 and May 1876, the arbitrary date of 31 October 1875 being the officially accepted one. Fourth of six children of Jhaverbhai, a 10 acre farmer of Patidar caste, and his wife, Ladba, of Karamsad village, Kaira district, Gujarat, Vallabhbhai spent his youth in the village with his four brothers and a sister. As he was a middle child, his elder brothers were favoured over him both in family matters and in such life opportunities as early schooling. Although Vallabhbhai accepted his secondary position in the family and later in political life out of a sense of propriety and duty, initially to family then to his country, he also developed self-reliance, determination, toughness of spirit and character, mental balance, and a sardonic sense of humour that became his hallmark in life. He married Jhaverba, daughter of Desaibhai Punjabhai Patel, from the nearby village of Gana, in 1893 when he was seventeen or eighteen and she twelve or thirteen. Jhaverba died in January 1909, having borne two children, Manibehn and Dahyabhai, after which Vallabhbhai, thirty-three years of age at the time of his wife’s death, never married nor had any known or suspected liaison with another woman.
Vallabhbhai was a relatively short man, 5 feet 5½ inches in height, dour and homely in appearance especially as he aged, whose demeanor exuded far more strength than his height and whose eyes emitted a penetrating glance which gave pause to all who did not know him well. Although he sometimes sacrificed his personal interests to those of his family, particularly his elder brother, and fulfilled his formal parental duties after his wife’s death, there is little evidence in his family relations with wife, children, or siblings of displays of affection, very little of personal attention, and some indication of neglect of his children. His daughter, Manibehn, who never married, nevertheless remained devoted to him, became his personal secretary, and looked after him in later life until his death. Vallabhbhai’s close personal relations and effective ties were with a very small number of friends and supporters from the business community, with his closest comrades in the nationalist movement, and most of all with Mahatma Gandhi in his years of maturity and political struggle.
Education and early career
Vallabhbhai Patel was a self-made man in all respects, including his education. He began his elementary schooling at the age of seven or eight, entered an English-medium school in his village at the age of fourteen, transferred to another English-medium school in the town of Petlad at the age of seventeen, and finally passed his matriculation exam in Nadiad in 1897, by which time he was already twenty-two years old. He then studied on his own for three years to pass the pleaders’ examination, in which he succeeded at the age of twenty-five and after which he set up a practice in criminal law first in the town of Godhra, then in Borsad town. Prospering in his practice, he had saved enough money by 1905 to go to England to train as a barrister. However, at his elder brother Vithalbhai’s request, he gave place to him to go in his stead and postponed his own departure for England for five years until 1910, when he entered the Middle Temple. He completed his training within two years, passing his examinations in the first class. During his two years in England he did little but grind, winning the respect of his teachers, but developing no lifelong friendships or new interests.
Back in India in 1913 Patel set up practice in Ahmadabad, Gujarat’s principal city, where he soon had enough income to take care of all his family obligations and live the comfortable life of an outwardly Anglicized upper-class Indian, wearing English clothes, playing bridge, and spending his evenings at the Gujarat Club. Respect for his achievements and personal character also earned him a place in the developing political life of Ahmadabad, where he was elected unopposed to the municipal board in 1917, became chairman of its sanitary committee, in which capacity he displayed extraordinary devotion to duty and personal courage in fighting an outbreak of plague, and led a successful agitation for the removal of an unpopular British municipal commissioner. At first cynical towards, and holding aloof from, Mahatma Gandhi, who had recently returned from South Africa, he soon became impressed by the latter’s defiance of British authority and began to play a more active part in the political life of the province: addressing political meetings in support of Gandhi’s demand for swaraj (freedom, independence), intervening along with Gandhi on behalf of textile mill laborers in Ahmadabad, organizing with him a no-tax campaign in Kaira district, and helping Gandhi’s recruitment drive on behalf of the British Indian army’s participation in the First World War. For his part, Gandhi began to place responsibilities on Patel, appointing him in 1917 secretary of the executive committee of the Gujarat Sabha (association), the precursor of the Gujarat Provincial Congress Committee. In 1921 Patel became the first president of the latter body, a position which he retained until 1946.
Vallabhbhai’s participation with Gandhi in the Kaira no-tax campaign was the decisive moment in his life, a turning point after which nothing remained the same. From this point on, in January 1918, Vallabhbhai devoted virtually all his time and energies to political activities and nationalist agitation in which, strong man though he was, he subordinated himself to the authority of Gandhi for the next thirty years to such an extent that he was sometimes described as the latter’s ‘blind follower’, accepting with faith rather than reason his every twist and turn of policy and tactics. Like other nationalist leaders and followers of Gandhi, he abandoned Western clothes in favor of Indian dress, and took up spinning in his moments of relaxation.
Even so, Patel also made a name for himself separate from that of Gandhi. He continued until 1928 to play a dominant role, from 1924 to 1928 as president, in the Ahmadabad municipality. He also acquired a reputation as a man who could be counted upon to organize people and money in times of crisis, as when he took the leadership in famine relief in 1918 and flood and famine relief in 1927–8 in Ahmadabad district.
In 1923 Patel acquired country-wide recognition for his leadership of the flag satyagraha in Nagpur, in the Central Provinces, where he led a prolonged agitation against the prohibition by the British district commissioner there of the flying of the Congress-designed national flag of India. At the end of the same year, he also led in his home locality of rural Borsad a successful satyagraha campaign demanding the removal of a government-imposed tax upon all the residents of the Borsad taluka (administrative subdivision of a district) for their alleged complicity with local dacoits (criminal gangs). Vallabhbhai’s most famous campaign was in Bardoli in 1928 when he led a long, hotly contested, but ultimately mostly successful campaign against an increase in the land revenue paid by the peasants in this area of Surat district. It was after this campaign that Vallabhbhai was given the popular title Sardar (chief).
Although he adopted with great skill and success Gandhi’s methods of non-violent resistance to unjust authority, his organizing abilities and his personal style were his own. In the latter respect, especially, his manner was different from that of Gandhi, for he was as apt to threaten and intimidate his opponents as to persuade them through gentle reason and self-sacrifice. He was known especially in his mature years for his ‘iron will’, ‘nerves of steel’, fearlessness, personal courage, bluntness of speech, and ‘fighting capacity’. No doubt was ever cast, even by his enemies and political opponents, on his personal integrity, devotion to his country, and his ideals, especially for the independence, self-sufficiency, and unity of India.
After the Bardoli campaign, Sardar Patel, as Vallabhbai was also known, remained one of the best known and respected Congress leaders of the country, but most of his activities from then on until the transfer of power were either as Gandhi’s chief lieutenant in national campaigns against British rule or as the principal party and electoral organizer and fund-raiser for the Indian National Congress. Throughout the remainder of his political career, though he was considered one of the four or five topmost Congress leaders of the country, he remained subordinate first to Gandhi and, after Gandhi’s death, to Nehru as prime minister. Although he was proposed for president of the Indian National Congress after the Bardoli satyagraha, he gave place in 1929 to Jawaharlal Nehru, and did not receive this high honour until 1931. During the nationalist movement, beginning with his first arrest during Gandhi’s salt satyagraha of 1930, Patel spent many years in jail. The longest periods were for sixteen months, which he spent with Gandhi, in 1932–4; nine months in 1940–41; and nearly three years from 1942 to 1945.
Patel’s importance in the highest councils of the Indian National Congress derived principally from the critical role he played from 1934 onward within the party organization. Adopting his son’s flat in Bombay as his home base from this time forward, he was the principal fund-raiser and played the critical role in the selection of Congress candidates to contest the 1934 elections for the central legislative assembly; again, as chairman of the central parliamentary board, in the selection and financing of candidates for the 1936 provincial elections; and in the constituent assembly elections of 1946 as well, where he came into frequent conflict with the then Congress president, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, over the selection of Congress candidates. His responsibilities as party/election organizer also included exercising supervision and imposing discipline over the Congress members of provincial legislatures, including their selection of legislative party leaders and consequently the premiers in Congress-controlled provinces. Although his will did not always prevail, he firmly established the principle that the provincial party organizations and the legislative assemblies were subject to the ultimate authority of the national organization and leadership of the Indian National Congress.
By the time of independence Patel was supreme in the party organization in the country, though he was second to Nehru in the government. Although Nehru was the more popular figure in the country and Gandhi’s choice for prime minister, Patel demonstrated his ability to checkmate Nehru in the party on several occasions after independence, the most notable being the selection of Rajendra Prasad as India’s first president and the victory of his candidate for president of the Indian National Congress in 1950, Purushottam Das Tandon—in both cases against the wishes of Nehru. Nehru was not able, in fact, to assert his primacy over the party organization as well as the government until after Patel’s death.
Patel’s influence was not, however, by any means confined to the party organization. He was a critical figure as well in the final negotiations with the British concerning the transfer of power, in the deliberations of the constituent assembly, and in the first government of independent India.
On the executive council
Patel became home member of the executive council on 3 September 1946. In this capacity he shared authority with Nehru and the Congress president, Azad, in formulating strategy for dealing with the Muslim League demands for Pakistan and with the viceroy in attempting to control the developing violence which surrounded the decision finally to partition India. Although hostile to Jinnah and the Muslim League’s demands, Patel was among the earliest of the Congress leaders to accept the impossibility of Congress–League co-operation in an independent India and hence to accept the inevitability of partition. As the violence and mass transfer of populations began between India and Pakistan, Patel pressed Wavell, Colville, and Mountbatten in succession for sterner measures to be taken to control the violence, including the imposition of martial law. However, neither the British rulers nor Patel as home minister after independence proved able to act effectively to stem the violence, which reached terrible proportions during and after the transfer of power. He failed even to bring under control massive rioting in Delhi before extensive violence and murder had taken place. He was blamed also for failing to prevent the murder of Gandhi in Delhi, though he was prevented by Gandhi himself from imposing stricter security measures to protect his life.
Patel also left his imprint upon the constitution of India through his participation as chairman on important committees. His most important interventions involved support for measures to strengthen the central government in relation to the states and governmental authority in relation to society, protect private property against government expropriation without adequate compensation, and promote the unity of the Indian peoples. He supported a clause in the constitution, article 356, empowering the central government to take over the administration of any state under certain circumstances, the right of dispossessed landlords to adequate compensation for their land, the payment of privy purses in perpetuity to the former Indian princes in compensation for the loss of their kingdoms, the maintenance of the status and importance in government of the elite British Indian Civil Service, renamed the Indian administrative service, and the abolition of the system of separate electorates for Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs.
Deputy prime minister
Although there were many occasions of sharp conflict between Patel and Nehru during the period from independence until the former’s death, including several when each offered to resign from government because of their differences, the two men nevertheless comprised a triumvirate in which Nehru relied heavily on Patel’s advice on many matters of state. As deputy prime minister Patel held three portfolios: home, information and broadcasting, and states. Patel also served as acting prime minister on four occasions. However, the balance in the relationship gradually shifted in favor of Nehru after the death of Gandhi in 1948 and Patel’s weakened condition after his first heart attack in March of the same year.
Nevertheless, in his capacity as minister for states, Patel had virtually complete control over one of the most critical matters faced by the government of India during and after the transfer of power from Britain, namely, the integration into the Indian Union of the now formally independent princely states. With the able assistance of his principal secretary, V. P. Menon, Patel bargained with, cajoled, and threatened when necessary the 562 rajas and maharajas into giving up their rule and acceding to the Indian Union. When even threats failed, Patel did not shrink from the use of armed force, as in the case of both the tiny state of Junagarh, and the much larger state of Hyderabad. In the case of Kashmir, however, Patel played a strongly supportive, but secondary role to Nehru, who took the integration of that state into the Indian Union as his personal responsibility.
Assessment and death
Although Patel never developed a systematic set of ideas for India’s political development, economic policies, or foreign relations, he had strong views on many matters, which were expressed in his actions and statements. He stood for the transformation of India into a major industrial power, which he thought could be achieved only by a strong, centralized state. Although not averse to a governmental role in industrial development and agrarian transformation, he did not support assaults against private industrial and commercial enterprises. He was sharply critical of and opposed politically the communist and socialist parties and their leaders, whose ideas he considered unrealistic and irrelevant to Indian society and economy. In agriculture he supported the rights of peasant proprietors against both the former landlords and the state. He opposed the demands for the reorganization of the internal boundaries of the Indian states on linguistic grounds as a potential threat to Indian unity, and favored the adoption of Hindi as the official language of the country. As home minister he used his powers of arrest to stave off militant Sikh demands in Delhi for a special status for the Sikhs in Punjab. Although he declared his belief in the secular ideology of the Indian state, he adopted a patronizing attitude towards the Muslims who remained in India after partition, while on the other hand accepting as patriotic Indians the members of the militant Hindu organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He disputed the complicity of this organization in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi and urged an early removal of the ban imposed on it after Gandhi’s assassination. However, Patel took a much stronger stand against communists: he successfully piloted the Preventive Detention Act through parliament in February 1950; it was intended to strengthen the government’s ability to detain communists in jail for longer periods without trial than the courts were willing to allow.
In foreign relations Patel took such a strong stand in favor of sanctions against Pakistan after partition that he earned the displeasure of Gandhi. He took a position opposite to that of Nehru in relation to Tibet and China, adopting an attitude of distrust towards China in general, condemnation of the Chinese invasion of Tibet in particular, and a willingness to provide Indian diplomatic support to Tibet. He favored strong condemnation of North Korea’s aggression against South Korea in June 1950. Nor did he share the mistrust of Nehru and others on the left in Indian politics of the United States and their reluctance to accept US aid. Patel also supported strongly the maintenance of India’s membership in the Commonwealth.
Patel had his second heart attack on 15 November 1950 in New Delhi; it left him unable to function effectively. He returned to his flat in Bombay on 12 December and died there on 15 December. He was cremated the same day at the public cremation ground in Sonepur, Bombay. Although he had made money in his early career as a lawyer and had many friends among the industrial and commercial magnates of Ahmadabad and Bombay, Patel always lived simply in modest accommodation in Ahmadabad and Bombay, and left no substantial property to his descendants.
Patel is an inspiration to all nations of true patriotism , of a spirit of unity & collaboration of all the forces of a nation in order to achieve progress & development in all fields ,as is the case of India today, a prosperous and economically developed country in a world where dissipation & disruption in many other countries happens to take place.
- Gandhi, Patel: a life (1991) · D. Das, ed., Sardar Patel’s correspondence, 1945–50, 10 vols. (1971) · P. N. Chopra, ed., The collected works of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, 10 vols. (1990) · N. D. Parikh, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, 2 vols. (1953–6) · D. Hardiman, Peasant nationalists of Gujarat: Kheda district, 1917–1934 (1981) · R. D. Shankardass, Vallabhbhai Patel: power and organization in Indian politics (1988) · R. Kumar, ed., Life and work of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (1991) · V. P. Menon, The transfer of power in India (1957)