Today, 31 October is the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel, India’s Iron Man and the death anniversary of Indira Gandhi, India’s only ever Iron Woman. Here’s why we remember these two leaders as the Iron Man and the Iron Woman of India

Iron Man Iron Lady of India Anniversaries of the Iron Man and the Iron Woman of India

  1. Today, 31 October is the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s Iron Man or Loha Purush and the 30th death anniversary of Indira Gandhi, the only woman who has ever qualified for the epithet of India’s Iron Woman. While the PM flags off a Run for Unity and the Congress cribs about its leader being sidelined today, we look at some of the reasons why history remembers both leaders.
  2. Sardar Patel is known for more than just the important role he played in the independence struggle; his contributions to the Satyagraha Movement and the Quit India movement being well documented. As India’s first ever Home Minster, his role in the integration of various regions into the Indian union was perhaps the most significant; particularly his efforts for the integration of the former princely states of Junagadh and Hyderabad.
  3. He was also instrumental in securing the Kashmir valley and recovering lost territory militarily, following the voluntary accession of the state to the union of India. In a famous interview of Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw, Sardar Patel was quoted as becoming angry with Nehru and asking him – ‘Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir, or do you want to give it away’. He (Nehru) said,’ Of course, I want Kashmir (emphasis in original). Then he (Patel) said ‘Please give your orders’. And before he could say anything Sardar Patel turned to me and said, ‘You have got your orders’. (Source – Rediff)
  4. While Jawaharlal Nehru enjoyed great popularity among the people it was Sardar Patel who commanded the implicit loyalty of the rank and file of the Congress Party. His contribution to the formation of our Constitution is also widely acknowledged as being very significant.
  5. Sardar Patel is sometimes criticised for what some have termed as an anti Muslim stance and many such as Maulana Azad had criticsed him for agreeing too readily to the partition of India. However there is evidence of his efforts preventing attacks upon Muslim refugees during partition and sheltering the minority community during the time of communal violence.
  6. During her reign as the longest serving woman Prime Minster in the world, Indira Gandhi was seen as tough, powerful and charismatic. She was famously referred to as the only man in her cabinet. Opinion polls till date hail her as one of the most desirable leaders for the country. She is largely credited with winning the 1971 war against Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh.
  7. During her reign, the Kashmir conflict had remained peacefully frozen. She was able to suppress internal uprisings of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Insurgency in Nagaland was ruthlessly suppressed by her orders; insurgents later surrendered and signed the Shillong Accord in 1975. India’s nuclear programme reached a culmination of sorts during her rule, when Dr Raja Ramanna reportedly declared India’s ability to test the nation’s first nuclear weapon and India’s first nuclear test – Smiling Buddha – took place in 1974 at Pokhran.
  8. However Indira Gandhi is inevitably remembered for several actions pernicious to India and some negative personality traits. She is thought to have initiated the coterie culture in her party, ruthlessly clamping down on divergent views. Her most reprehensible act was the imposition of the Emergency from 1975 to 1977. She is also criticised for nationalising India’s banks and airlines. The forced sterilisation programme was another socking reality that occurred under her rule and with her connivance if not active participation.
  9. While she was routed in the general elections of 1977, it is a testament to her leadership qualities and remarkable popularity among the masses that she was reelected with thumping majority in 1980. Her last speech, made in Orissa one day before her assassination by her own security men, was prophetic – “I am alive today, I may not be there tomorrow…I shall continue to serve until my last breath and when I die, I can say, that every drop of my blood will invigorate India and strengthen it” (Source)
  10. So let’s take a moment today on the respective anniversaries of India’s Iron leaders and contemplate how they have shaped our nation’s destiny, how they have left their indelible imprints on the history of our nation – given that the prism of our own personal politics may cause us to look upon them and their actions in either a negative or positive light.

Images courtesy – 1 & 2

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