To question the enduring relevance of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to India today is like questioning relevance of sun to the solar system. In fact, he is the most relevant of the TRIO of Indian polity (Gandhi, Nehru and Patel) till today and he will continue to dominate in the mind of all Indians whoever study Indian polity.
The British transferred power to Indians with a malicious intention of breaking it into pieces under the Indian Independence Act, 1947. A minute study of the Act reveals many contradictory points in itself. It, not only divided India into two dominions, India and Pakistan but also attempted to create states within states or empires within empires. It was a conspiracy to destroy India and to keep South Asia in an endless conflict.
The 552 princely states, 9 governors provinces, 6 Chief Commissioners provinces were to be brought in the Indian Union. The princely states were given right to remain independent by the Act and many of them fully prepared to remain independent. Immediately after independence there were demands from different regions for re-organization of states on linguistic basis. Hardly when India settled for drafting its constitution, Pakistan backed tribal invaded Kashmir on 22nd September, 1947. India sent its army after Kashmir merged to India under Instrument of Accession on 26th October, 1947. On the other side, the militia of Nizam of Hyderabad had to be crushed by using force and was merged to Indian Union. The Raja of Junagarh fled to Pakistan after the result of the referendum of its subjects in favor of joining Indian Union. The Sikh demanded creation of Khalistan. Even the smallest of the minority, the Parsis were urging for communal electoral system for their representation. The Nagas, with arm movement gaining ground for an independent Naga nation. The bi-polar world that immerged immediately after World War-II, look India with suspicion from both poles and always tried to delve in the troubled water prevalent then in India.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Iron Man and the Bismarck of India took the gigantic task of integrating India not only territorially but also emotionally. He, as Home Minister had maneuvered the nation building of India tirelessly even on the hospital bed. He had shown exemplary patriotism both before and after independence. After he became a widower at the age of thirty-three, the only love in his life was his motherland to which he was passionately devoted.
He had three great ambitions. First, consolidation of India as in the five thousand years of its history, India the Bharat, the Hindustan was never united. This sub-continent was divided into different principalities. The people of the sub-continent shared commoness particularly religion and culture and believed oneness in the spirit of Bharatiya. There were no political and geographical barriers between people of one region and another. There were times the sub-continent was almost ruled by a single king or dynasty depending upon the might of the rulers. Patel wanted to bring into existence a united and homogeneous modern state. While launching PEPSU (Patiala East Punjab State Union) at Patiala, Patel said “This is the first time in history, after centuries, that India can call itself an integrated whole in the real sense of the term……we must work with unity. If we falter or fail, we shall consign ourselves to eternal shame and disgrace.”
His second ambition was to ensure survival of united country through the instrument of a strong civil service. He preferred Indian Administrative Service (IAS) to Indian Civil service (ICS) and it was he who conceived of Indian Police Service (IPS). Both these services are very much extant today and have enabled India to survive as a democratic state, while the fortunes of political parties keep changing.
His third ambition was to make India economically strong, vibrant, prosperous and progressive. This ambition was not fulfilled. After his death on December 15, 1950, the government under Jawaharlal Nehru influenced by the socialist economy consciously discarded the economic policies of the sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and adopted a barren form of socialism which shackled the economic development of the resourceful country like India till the new policy of liberalization in 1990. It was one of the greatest tragedies of India.
If Patel had not lived, India would not have been what it is today. He brought all the princely states into Indian union with mutual affection and respect with its former rulers. When Russian leader Khrushchev visited India in 1956, immediately landing in India, he expressed his surprise that India had managed to liquidate the princely states without liquidating the princes.
As chairman of the Minorities Sub-Committee of the Constituent Assembly, he sought to forge communal integration. He made different communities give up their claim for separate electorate. The Muslims, the Christians, the Sikhs and even microscopic minority like Parsis demanded communal electorate in the model of the Government of India Act, 1909. In a powerful speech he made at Patiala in October 1947 he said that we should not involve ourselves in endless disputes and that we could not afford to follow the mirage of ‘stans’ like Khalistan, Sikhistan or Jatistan. He pointed out that such separatism could only turn India into Pagalistan, land of lunatics. Vallabhbhai was not against anybody except fanatic. If you were fanatic, he was against you, whether you are a Hindu or a Muslim or a Sikh.
In 1947 when people were jubilant on the attainment of Swaraj, Patel’s response was memorable “what we have is not Swaraj but only freedom from foreign rule. The people have still to win internal Swaraj, abolish distinctions of caste or creed, banish untouchability, improve the lot of hungry masses, and live as one joint family-in short, to create a new way of life and bring about a change of outlook.”
President Rajendra Prasad wrote in 1959 “That there is today an India to think and talk about, is very largely due to Sardar Patel’s statesmanship and firm administration……. Yet we are apt to ignore him. Our greatest tragedy is that the lesson taught by this outstanding Indian patriot and statesman who unquestionably ranks in the world class, are so little remembered today.
The author is Associate Professor, N.G. College, Imphal. He can be reached at email@example.com