Vithalbhai Patel propagated Ayurveda and Unani

Vithalbhai Patel propagated Ayurveda and Unani

  • Efforts made to give equal status to the practitioners of indigenous Medicines
  • Unani in the Bill for the support of the Muslims: Vaids and Hakims no quacks
Barrister Vithalbhai Jhaverbhai Patel (27 September 1873 Nadiad- 22 October 1933 Geneva) is more known as the first Indian President of the Central (Imperial) Legislative Assembly or as one who signed a joint statement with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in May 1933 at Vienna attacking the Mahatma saying “as a political leader Mahatma Gandhi has failed”. And of course, most people know him as the elder brother of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, a loyalist of the Mahatma and the first Deputy Prime Minister of India. While Bose was ideologically opposed to the “rightist” Vallabhbhai Patel, he was personally and politically close to the latter's elder brother Vithalbhai Patel, a leader of the Swaraj party founded by Motilal Nehru and CR Das.

Vithalbhai and Bose had met in a sanatorium in Vienna where both were convalescing in 1933. When Gandhiji suspended the civil disobedience movement, they issued a strong worded joint statement, the Patel-Bose manifesto, calling for a new radical leadership of the Independence movement: “The time has therefore come for a radical reorganization of the Congress on a new principle and new method — noncooperation will have to be changed into a more militant one.”

Not many people would be aware of the other side of Barrister Vithalbhai. He was a Messiah of Ayurvedic and Unani, the indigenous systems of medicine! G.I.Patel, his close associate and biographer, presents Vithalbhai Patel, a Member of Bombay Legislative Council during 1917-18 as the Champion of Ayurvedic along with Unani medicine moving a Bill to amend the Bombay Medical Act, 1912.

In the case of Dr.Popat Prabhuram Vaidya, L.M. & S., the Hony. Principal of the Prabhuram Ayurvedic College, established in 1896 by Vaidyaraj Prabhuram Jivanram of Porbandar, the Medical Council took such a view which was to be “a serious blow to the ancient and renowned system of Ayurvedic and Yunani medicine so widely prevalent in India and ministering to the wants and sufferings of at least 90 per cent of the population.” There were heated arguments in the House. Even some of the pro-government Indian Members favoured the Western systems of medicine.

Vithalbhai himself had refrained from comparing the relative merits of the Western and indigenous systems of medicine. His goal was different. The supporters of his Bill quoted Lord Hardinge, the Viceroy and Governor - General of India, extensively who favoured the Ayurvedic and Yunani systems of medicine when he laid the foundation stone of a similar institution in Delhi on 29 March 1916. Vithalbhai was elected to the Imperial Legislative Council on 18 March 1918.

G.I.Patel records: “Vithalbhai’s Bill had three objects in view: (1) to secure an elective majority in the
constitution of the Medical Council; (2) to provide that person holding a Government diploma or certificate (as distinguished from a University Degree) shall be eligible for the membership of the Medical Council; and (3) the last- and the most important part of the Bill- to prevent the Medical Council from pronouncing such conduct as Dr. Popat’s as ‘infamous conduct in any professional respect’, and thus indirectly refusing to recognize the Ayurvedic and other indigenous system of Medicine, and considering any association with the practitioners of indigenous Medicine as infamous conduct.”

Barrister Patel could have contributed much more in popularizing the Ayurveda and Unani system but he had to shift to Delhi. Of course, the charges against Dr. Popat were withdrawn by the Medical
Council, recognized that something had to be done for the indigenous medical system of India and in particular for Ayurveda. Patel included the Unani system in his Bill, because he wanted the support of
the Muslims. At least, he could established that Vaids and Hakims were not quacks.

Dr. Hari Desai
(The writer is a Sociopolitical Historian.
E-mail: haridesai@gmail.com)

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