Architect of Swaraj - 1

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel 

Vallabhbhai Patel's was a many-sided genius. He was a mass leader, administrator and an astute diplomat. Above all he was an ardent nationalist and patriot. He devoted all his time and attention first to securing freedom for his motherland and then, when freedom had been secured, to the work of integrating the 560 odd States into the Union.

What was remarkable about the integration of States by Patel is that the princes whom he had deprived of their thrones .and power co-operated with him. In fact the integration of States went off so well that few could realize what a big historical event it was.

Patel has generally been called a man of iron-ruthless, rough and stern. Very few know that he was indeed intensely humane and fair-minded. Differences of opinions would not prejudice him. He had a sense of humour which brought the ghost of a smile to his lips and a twinkle to his eyes.

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was born on 31st October, 1875, to Jhaverbhai Patel and Ladbai at Nadiad in the Kaira district of Gujarat. Vallabhbhai was a relatively short man, 5 feet 5½ inches in height, dour and homely in appearance especially as he aged, whose demeanour 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. His father belonged to Karamsad an agricultural caste known as the Lewa Patidar a class which is said to have come to Gujarat from the Punjab. The Lewa Patidars were famous as a militant community and had played a notable part in the first war of India's independence. Ladbai, Vallabh's mother, belonged to Nadiad. She was a simple, religious-minded and noble lady.

Vallabh received his early school education at Karamsad­ (today known as SARDAR SMRITI SHALA) in his ancestral village. After finishing his education at Karamsad he persuaded six other students to go with him to Petlad, a village 7 miles away, which had a school which taught English -up to the fifth standard. These seven boys hired a room in Petlad, visited Karamsad every Sunday to carry rations, and cooked their food by turns.

Vallabh was married at the age of 18 to Zaverba daughter of Desaibhai Punjabhai Patel, from the nearby village of Ghana, in 1893. His wife was a docile and gentle lady who served her husband all her life, with great devotion. 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.

Vallabh passed his Matriculation at the age of 22 and accepted a job with a lawyer of Nadiad and studied for the District Pleader's Examination, borrowing books from his employer. In three years he passed the examination and became a District Pleader.

In 1900, he raised a loan and set up a small office at Godhra where his elder brother Vithalbhai had been practising. When Vithalbhai shifted to Borsad, he invited his younger brother to join him at Borsad but Vallabhbhai preferred to start on his own.

Vallabhbhai specialized in criminal law and had "a beginner's luck".

After about two years Patel shifted from Godhra to Borsad. There were two reasons for this : First, Godhra was too small a place for a man of his calibre. Secondly, his brother Vithal­bhai had laid certain charges against a magistrate of Borsad and a "Commission of Inquiry" had been set up to look into the charges. It was a blow to the bureaucracy and they were conspiring against Vithalbhai. So Vallabhbhai thought it his duty to be nearer his brother to foil the designs of the officialdom of Borsad.

At Borsad his practice flourished. Patel had been anxious to go to England and study for the bar. At Borsad Patel saved enough money and quietly wrote to Thomas Cook and Son to arrange for his passage. The firm addressed their reply to V. J. Patel and as chance would have it. the letter fell into the hands of his brother, also V. J. Patel. He himself had been thinking of going to U.K., but had not saved even a penny. So he appealed to the younger brother saying, "I am the elder of the two. So let me go first. You will get an opportunity to go after I return while I shall not be able to go after you return''. Vallabhbhai in his magnanimity not only accepted his brother's request but agreed to support his family in his absence.

Vithalbhai Patel returned from England in 1908 but soon after Vallabhbhai's wife fell ill and died. So Vallabhbhai Patel could leave for England only in August 1910 and returned as full-fledged barrister in February 1913. 

On_ Patel's return to India, the then Chief Justice of Bombay, Sir Basil Scott offered him the post of a judge. But Vallabhbhai declined the offer saying that he intended to start his practice in Ahmedabad. As before Patel continued to specialize in criminal cases. Soon he was having a roaring practice. He was known to be the best dressed man and his office was furnished in the most modern style. He was fearless and would not tolerate any discourtesy from the judge. He was quick to retort if a judge misbehaved or showed partiality to his opponent. Here is a description of Barrister Patel in the words of one of his close friends, G. V. Mavalankar, who became the first Speaker of the LokSabha in 1947. "A smart young man, dressed in well-cut clothes, with a felt hat worn rightly at an angle, stern and reserved, his eyes piercing and bright, not given to many words, receiving. the visitors with just a simple greeting but not entering into any conversation, and of a firm and pensive expression, almost as if he looked down upon the world with a sort of superiority complex, talking with an air of confidence and superiority whenever he opened his lips. Such was the new barrister, who had come to Ahmedabad for practice.'' 

Patel had not become a slave to his briefs. He had made it a point to visit the Gujarat Club every evening for a game of bridge. There lie attracted people by his casual but caustic comments. The beauty was that even his most biting sarcasm was without any malice. He was also an expert bridge player And the story goes that one Mr. Wadia, who was too proud of his game, challenged Patel for a game of bridge. Patel accepted the challenge but wanted the stakes to be five pounds a hundred in place of a penny a point. Wadia agreed. On the first day Wadia, the veteran player lost £20 and on the second day 30 more. Mrs. Wadia appeared on the scene and requested Patel to stop the play which he promptly did.

Barrister Patel had now reached the peak of his professional glory and was earning a fortune. But he gave up his practice in, 1919 when he was drawn to public work. 

It was in 1919 that Patel came in contact with Gandhi when the latter had shot into limelight due to his Champaran Satyagraha. It was about this time that Gandhi was elected President of the Gujarat Sabha. Its first political conference was held at Godhra in 1917. Vallabhbhai Patel was elected its Secretary. It was the Gujarat Sabha that brought together the two later became famous as the "Father of the Nation" and the "Builder of the Nation." Patel was so much impressed by Gandhi that he became his devoted disciple. As S.K. Patil has put it "The year 1917 brought a revolutionary change in Vallabhbhai's life-a change that pushed him into public life and made him the most popular leader that he was. This was the year when the Guru and the disciple met. The Guru was Mahatma Gandhi and the disciple was Vallabhbhai Patel. The relation between the two had something of a divine touch in it." 



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