“There is no doubt that by far the most important achievement of the present Government is unification of the States into the Dominion of India. Had you failed in this, the results would have been disastrous. But since you succeeded, no one can see the disastrous consequences that you avoided. Nothing has added to the prestige of the present Government more than the brilliant policy you have followed with the States.”
“Birth equals all men, but it is death that reveals the eminent”, said great English novelist George Bernard Shaw known for his ‘wit with wisdom’; perhaps unmindful of an ‘eminent’ man like ‘Sardar’ Patel whose actions throughout his life since the cradle of his birth willfully ‘revealed’ not just his eminence but preeminence! Anniversaries, be it birth or death; except perhaps marriage anniversaries are the only occasions where ‘unedited panegyrics’ are only allowed to be either written or spoken; well in tune with our great Vedic traditions where expressing ill against any newly born or dead person is strictly forbidden. “If men could see the epitaphs their friends write they would believe they had gotten into the wrong grave!”, as a great American proverb goes.
But a careful analysis of Sardar Patel’s saga of life dedicated at the altar of Mother India itself will show that even his worst critics (except a few ‘incorrigible liars’ like AG Nooranis) can’t help but to write or speak only good or ‘unedited panegyrics’ on him. Such is the legacy that this great son of Mother India has bequeathed to “WE, the People of India” without which the very ‘Idea of India’ would have been impossible to ideate as ‘Union of India’ with territorial unity as one single geographical contiguous entity symbolized by ‘Indian State’. His untiring efforts, though less celebrated or unsung; saved this newly independent nation born out of a bloody communal partition from both doomsday and its ‘prophets of doom’.
National Day of Unity
It is a joyous occasion for every nationalist citizen of India as Government of India headed by PM Narendra Modi has decided to celebrate ‘Sardar’ Patel’s birth anniversary on 31st October as the ‘National Day of Unity’ from this year onwards till posterity. It was a long awaited demand ignored in the past but implemented by the ‘Modi Sarkar’ as a humble tribute by a grateful nation to the ‘Iron Man’ who unified India i.e. Bharat.
Shri Jagmohan, former Governor of J&K and Union Minister, who is credited to save the state for India from the brink of a possible secession backed by Pak’s ‘proxy war’ so aptly said in his autobiography “My Turbulent Days in Kashmir” that there is no one in modern India who has achieved so much in so many directions and in such a short time as ‘Sardar’ Vallabhbhai Patel.
Be it integration of about 565 princely states (i.e. one-third of India), deft handling (sans Nehru’s uncalled interference as nuisance) of the issue of ‘accession of J&K’, getting Nizam’s Hyderabad merged with rest of India, re-organization of civil services, developing a new model of civic governance, protection of rights of religious and linguistic minorities as a benchmark of true Indian secularism, practitioner of highest standard of probity in public life and last but not the least, progenitor of the most realistic assessment of the aggrandizing nature of a ‘Communist’ China. Shri Jagmohan very rightly said while borrowing Patel’s ideas, “We, as a nation, do not realize that great questions of the day are not settled by speeches and slogans but by sound and solid action. Ideas are important. But it is the constructive work alone that can “inject meaning into the veins of history and civilization.”
Let’s, therefore, analyze the extraordinary feats achieved by Patel with his ordinary means blended with a judicious mixture of persuasion and force, nay one might rightly call it as ‘rudimentary means’ if gauged by today’s standards in comparison with that of a newly independent Indian state of August 15, 1947 inheriting seemingly insurmountable odds. Patel’s greatness lies in the fact that he steered clear the greatest among those odds/challenges – unifying “all apples (i.e. over 560 princely states) in one single basket” (i.e. India), without which instead of a ‘one, united India’, we would have witnessed to balkanized versions of ‘too many Indias’; certainly not present shape of ‘One India’ as single contiguous geographical territory.
While VP Menon, the legendary ICS officer who worked closely with Patel assisting him in the task of integration of all the princely states compared the ‘Iron Man’ with that of Chancellor Bismarck of Germany in uniting Germany (then known as Prussia) in his book “Story of India’s Integration”; Patel’s task was far more gigantic than that of Bismarck. While Bismarck was tasked with uniting just a dozen of states/provinces with rest of Germany, Patel’s task was enormous since he had to deftly deal with unification of not a dozen but a mammoth number of over 560 princely states. “Patel’s approach to the highly complex issues of integration of a wide variety of princely states was marked by an inspired vision, tact, magnanimity, inflexible will and ‘resolute practicability”, as Shri Jagmohan further observed.
When Nikita Khrushchev, supreme leader of CPSU of erstwhile Soviet Russia visited India in 1956, he made a great observation: “You Indians are a remarkable people. You have liquidated the princely states without liquidating the princes.” It was, by implications, a great tribute to the remarkable work of Patel which any top Indian leader of that time across political parties didn’t even considered as worth of paying tribute. Having said that, ‘exceptions’ might be there but they were so few that it must be considered as mere ‘aberrations’, not as the ‘rule’.
The second biggest challenge confronting the ‘undefeatable will’ of ‘Sardar’ Patel was integrating two of the biggest erstwhile princely states of India i.e. Kashmir and Hyderabad. While Kashmir was ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh, Hyderabad was ruled by Nizam of ‘Jung Dynasty’. While Patel was successful in uniting Hyderabad via “Operation Polo”, his task vis-à-vis that of Kashmir was terribly messed or upset up by ‘childish naïve interferences’ of PM Nehru who was more likened to as a ‘unpractical idealist’ and never as a ‘hard realist’ like Patel. Criticizing PM Nehru blinded by his ‘myopic vision’, Shri Jagmohan writes in his autobiography, “Patel had correctly sized up Sheikh Abdullah and sensed his proclivity to bully. His practical sense forbade him to believe that all Indian eggs could be safely placed in the Sheikh’s basket. He bemoaned India’s reference of the Kashmir case to the United Nations. He tried his best to secure deletion of the words, “plebiscite under the UN auspices”, from Jawaharlal Nehru’s radio broadcast on October 28, 1947.”
Shri Jagmohan, thus, rightly concluded, “If Patel alone had handled Jammu & Kashmir, the subsequent confusion and contradictions would have been avoided and we would not have found ourselves in the bloody and brutal mess of the present day. Left to himself, he would have struck a proper balance between the requirements of the Union and the State and also harmonized, within a sound and truly secular and democratic framework, the aspirations of Sheikh Abdullah, Maharaja Hari Singh and those of the people of three main regions — Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh”
Like a ‘Neo-Cornwallis’, ‘Sardar’ Patel achieved the great feat of ‘reorganizing’ Indian Civil Services (ICS) – “Steel frame of India”, whom PM Nehru instead of trying to reorganize berated it as “neither Indian nor civil nor service”. But Patel’s approach was that of a very practical man as he warned his fellow Congressmen and the opposition leaders saying, “….only a bad workman quarrels with his instruments…” with which he has no option but to work with! He was dead against substituting ICS which for all practical purposes was impossibility for a vivisected independent India. Instead, he advocated the retention of ICS and Indian Police (IP) and proposed the constitution of two new All-India Services – the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS). Thus, ‘Sardar’ Patel boosted the morale of the officers/bureaucrats serving under ICS and IP who saw him as the ‘protector of their legitimate interests’. With the enthusiastic support of the officers (VP Menon was one of them), not only Patel completed the integration of the then princely states bedeviled with worst critical phases (Sankraman Kaalkhand), but also put the entire Indian administration on a solid secure foundation.
Patel also initiated various civic reforms in the working of the Indian municipalities beginning with that of then Bombay Municipality (now Brihan Mumbai Corporation or BMC) – the biggest and richest municipal corporation of India today. Also today, Modi Government’s laudable mission “Swachh Bharat” could find an echo in these words of Patel whom the civic body honoured in 1948. When he was asked what he considered to be the ‘finest hour’ of his illustrious career. None there expected him to say what he said then. Inviting attention to his works first as “Chairman of the Sanitary Committee (1917-22)” and then as “President of the Municipal Board (1924-28)”; Patel observed which was greeted with thunderous applause, “To cleanse the dirt of the city is quite different from cleansing the dirt of politics. From the former you get a good night’s rest, while the latter keeps you worried and you lose your sleep.” For Patel, “Cleanliness was Godliness”, never “only the next” to IT. Setting highest standard for probity (Suchita) in public life, Patel left behind an unmatched legacy of Suchita when it was found that the only property he left at the time of his untimely death comprised a few dhotis and kurtas and a suitcase.
While some ‘incorrigible liars’ in India still vilify ‘Sardar’ Patel as “communal” and rightly so by their ‘highly prejudicial’ and divisive definition of “secularism” ridden with ‘minority vs. majority’ or vice-versa worldview, they deliberately ‘censored’, thus less reported fact that Patel was the Chairman of the Minorities Sub-Committee and Committee on Fundamental Rights of the Constituent Assembly. The liberal provisions which our Constitution contains for the protection of linguistic and cultural rights of the minorities owed it only to Patel and not Nehru or any other Congress leader. That Patel was truly secular (unlike today’s ‘sickulars’) has again been vindicated by a letter to him by Bapu during his famous 21-day fast for Hindu-Muslim unity. Writing on behalf of Bapu, his then personal secretary Mahadev Desai wrote to a letter to Patel dated October 24, 1924 and this ‘incorrigible liars’/‘sickulars’ like AG Nooranis et al must note: “Whatever may happen on Hindu-Muslim front in Gujarat, as long as you are there, Bapu is at peace. If a storm occurs despite your presence, Bapu will assume that it was not possible to prevent it.” With this clear proof by none other than the “Father of the Nation” putting all so-called “doubts” to rest himself certifying Patel’s faith in true/genuine secularism of “let’s swim or sink together” [in contrast with ‘sickularism’ of ‘minority’ (read Muslim) appeasement as advocated by the ‘sickulars’], does he needs or do we at all care for any other testimonials by ‘incorrigible liars’ like Nooranis & Co? Let them bark, but the elephant must go on undisturbed.
And last but not the least, none but ‘Sardar’ Patel was proved right in his assessment of the aggressive and territorial aggrandizing nature of a ‘Communist’ (read undemocratic) China when it invaded then NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) in 1962 taking a slumbering India by surprise. But being a great visionary that Patel was, he could foresee through Communist China’s evil designs. He was also an ardent votary of protection of human rights of Tibetans securing Tibet as an independent Nation-State. In a letter written to him on November 7, 1950; Patel warned PM Nehru about it, thus: “The final action of the Chinese is little short of perfidy. The tragedy of it is that the Tibetan put faith in us, and we have been unable to get them out the meshes of Chinese malevolence. Chinese irredentism and Communist imperialism are different from the expansionism or imperialism of the Western Powers. The former has a cloak of ideology which makes it 10-times more dangerous.” Patel’s warning proved prophetic as an independent India suffered humiliating defeat at the hands of Communist China in the ’62 War.
Paying glowing tributes to ‘Sardar’ Patel at the time of his death by the Manchester Guardian (infamous for its regular expressions of ‘anti-Indian’ prejudices during India’s freedom struggle) published from London, wrote: “Without Patel, Gandhi’s idea would have less practical influence and Nehru’s idealism less scope. He 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. Sardar Patel was an exception.”
To conclude, ‘Sardar’ Patel was like a ‘silent worker’ and truest believer of the maxim “actions speak the loudest”. It is an irony, rather great shame that generations since 1947 till now made to believe via ‘Sarkari indoctrination’ perpetuated via text-books in educational institutionalized hierarchy across India that this great Nation of ours owes its very existence as one, united India; its greatness ONLY to Bapu as the ‘Godly icon’ and the ‘Nehru-Gandhi Family’ with colloquial “birth-right” to rule Her as the Dynasty’s personal fiefdom. Neither the size nor the history of this Nation is so small or shallow that Her greatness or unity can be attributed ONLY to a handful few. There are many, no less iconic than Bapu or Nehru but less unsung, who gave their entire life at the altar of Mother India rendering great services one possibly can’t count, be it Bhagat Singh, Bismil, Ashfaqullah, Azad, Netaji, Kanaklata, Kushal Konwar, Veer Kunwar Singh etc. etc. – endless list!
It’s time now to remember and acknowledge the feats of each and every ‘Unsung Heroes’ – great sons and daughters of Mother India who sacrificed their lives while working ceaselessly ONLY for Her so that “WE, the People of India” today can proudly stand as an ‘Independent Democratic Nation’ enjoying our hard-earned freedom. Each of Us, Indians, owe our very existence to THEM – the ‘Unsung Herores’ ONLY.
‘Sardar’ Patel is also one such great but less celebrated ‘Unsung Heroes’ of modern India. It’s the bounden duty of not just the present Government but all of us Indian citizens to educate each one constituting “WE, the People of India” about the greatness of ‘Sardar’ Vallabhbhai Patel – the ‘Unifier Statesman Extraordinary’ by dedicating ourselves in commemorating his birth anniversary on October 31st each year as ‘National Day of Unity’ being solemnized from this year onwards till posterity. Better late, as they said, than never!
By Sourabh Jyoti Sharma, The writer is a Political Commentator cum Geo-strategic Analyst and teaches Political Science & International Relations (IR) at NEICSE, Assam.