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Vallabhbhai Patel (Sardar Patel)

Vallabhbhai Patel / Sardar Patel


  1. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's death at the age of 75 on 15th December, 1950, meant the loss to India, at a critical period of her development and at a time when the world situation is becoming increasingly threatening, of a personality who by his effectiveness, determination, and administrative capacity had, at least in the internal sphere, contributed more than any other man to India's practical achievement and consolidation since independence. His health had, however, been failing for a long time and in the last few month his influence derived more from the general awareness of his continued presence in authority behind the scenes than from the part he played in day-to-day administration, which he was no longer able to supervise with his full former effectiveness.

  1. Sardar Patel was a Gujarati by birth. Like so many Indian politicians he studied law as a young man, being called to the bar by the Inner Temple in London. Returning to India he built up a good legal practice at Ahmedabad, Like Motilal Nehru, he had no sympathy with the national movement in his early days but was converted into a keen Congress worker by meeting Mr. Gandhi, with whom his association was thereafter very close. He showed his administrative ability first as Mayor of Ahmedabad, but he first sprang to fame for his work as organiser of the Congress campaign for non-payment of Government land revenue in the Bardoli sub-district when the principle of "Satyagraha" was first tried out; this caused Mr. Gandhi to give him the mock-serious title of "Sardar" which clung to him ever since. From that time he had no rival as main organiser of the Congress Party machinery and chief controller of its activities. He was elected President of Congress in 1931. For the period between 1937, when the 1935 Act came into operation, and 1939 he controlled and co-ordinated the activities of the Congress Governments in the seven (later eight) provinces where they came into being, until the resignation of these Governments at the beginning of the war. During the war he played an active part in Congress affairs, undergoing detention for nearly three years following the" Quit India” Campaign of August 1942, and later in the negotiations which led to the promulgation of the Cabinet Mission plan. In the interim Government set up at the end of 1946 he took the portfolio of Home and Information Minister. This appointment he retained after transfer of power when he acquired in addition that of the newly-created States Ministry. His special position in India "with but after" Mr. Nehru was recognised by his appointment a Deputy Prime Minister, an appointment which has lapsed with his death.
  1. A chief organizer and Treasurer of the Congress Party, Sardar Patel maintained until his death a complete grasp on the party machinery. The latest manifestation of the effectiveness of his control was the success. Against the Prime Minister's known wishes, of the candidate whom he favoured, Purshottamdas Tandon, in the Congress presidential election of September 1950. Not a few of the Congress Ministries in the States owed their continuance in power to Patel's support, and by his flying visits and consultations he was at all times ready to step in to smooth over a rift in one States Government or provincial congress party or lend a tottering Ministry in another State the support of his own unrivaled prestige. Less than a month after Patel’s death Hiralal Shastri, Chief Minister of Rajasthan, who for nearly two years had relied on the Sardar's support against his political opponents, has been compelled to resign. It seems inevitable that with Patel gone and Nehru ill-litted by temperament for the role of party manager, discipline within the Congress Party will be relaxed and rifts and dissensions will increase within the Party, now an unwieldy body comprising too great a variety of political opinion for easy cohesion. In the eyes of the average Nationalist-minded Indian, however, Sardar Patel's main work as a Congressman lay before 1947 in the organisation of the Congress Party with the objective of the attainment of India's independence. Sardar Patel was undoubtedly one of the greatest "party bosses" the world has seen. Although personally honest, he was prepared to use most of the methods of Tammany Hall. His policy of financing the Congress Party by Marwari business men has been justly criticised and has left a legacy of corruption and graft which is now a serious handicap to the Party. Despite considerable humanity and personal charm of manner, he could be quite ruthless in dealing with opponents whenever he conceived that this was demanded by the national or Party interests. A word from him was usually enough to bring the most refractory to heel and any trouble, in Parliament or outside, were habitually nipped in the bud by the Sardar summoning his trusted henchmen or his opponents to confer with him at his house.
  1. His work as Stales Minister in integrating the 600 odd former Princely State into the homogeneous pattern of the new India was possibly Sardar Patel's greatest achievement, and, historically speaking, the one which now seems likely to endure longest. The Government of India were, of course, untrammeled by the treaty obligations which had prevented such a course being embarked upon during the period of British rule, but, nevertheless, the accomplishment of the task was a great achievement and at the same time a prerequisite to the consolidation of the new India in a unitary whole. The framework of the new structure had been practically completed by the lime of the Sardar's death, although much remains to be done in breathing political life and administrative strength into the reconstituted States, and centrifugal tendencies and resistances still persist. There are now many voices saying that the work was done too quickly and it is perhaps significant that within a month of the Sardar's death the Maharaja Gaekwar of Baroda's Union of former Princely rulers came into the limelight with publicly-voiced complaints about the difficulty of the Rulers' present position. The States Ministry were compelled to administer a public rebuke to the Maharaja of Baroda for complaints made by him regarding the merger of his state with Bombay. Patel’s personal prestige and position was, in fact, a very important element in the successful carrying out of the policy of the States Ministry, and with his dominating influence removed difficulties and dissatisfaction will no doubt be exploited and publicised by "reactionary" elements. Patel's sense of political realism and judgment in deciding how far and how fast to go in introducing political reforms into the politically immature Princely States will also be missed, though it is only fair to add that his successor in the State Ministry. Gopalaswami Ayyangar is a sensible man with considerable administrative experience in the States. However, as an ex-Civil Servant he has none of the Congress contacts or authority so valuable in handling the e problems, and he is little more than the "creature" of Nehru, whose views on the States are apt to be colored by prejudice and emotion.
  1. In the Horne Ministry, apart from his direct responsibility for centrally administered States, and for the all-India Civil and Police Services, Sardar Patel's main concern was with the all-India aspects of law and order (primarily a provincial or "State" subject) and in particular with the suppression of Communism in India. The effectiveness of the measures taken to suppress Communism and for the maintenance of law and order were largely due to Patel's inspiration and determination, and the general awareness of his determination and readiness if necessary, to take severe and even ruthless steps was an effective check on 'the spread of lawlessness. Sardar Patel also dealt very effectively, although by different and more diplomatic means, with the extremist parties of the right, the Hindu Mahasabha and the R.S.S., and with the menace of provincialism, more especially from the Sikhs. His very reputation as a Hindu Nationalist stood him in good stead in keeping the Mahasabha and the R.S.S. in check and he had special and secret private arrangement with the R.S.S. leader and also with certain influential Sikhs, which have prevented any serious threat to Government coming from either of these tough and potentially dangerous groups. Unfortunately these arrangements were personal to the Sardar. So far as Communism (and for that matter Communalism) are concerned, Patel's successor in the Home Ministry, Mr. Rajagopalachari, is determined to carry on Patel's policy without relaxation and with possibly even greater severity in its application. Mr. Rajagopalachari is, of course, a man of great intellectual gifts and administrative capacity, and will no doubt be a very able successor to Sardar Patel, but at the same time one is inclined to doubt whether he has quite the same political savoir faire as Patel or knowledge of how far it is politically expedient, as opposed to theoretically desirable, lo go in the application of a given policy. Nor has he Sardar Patel's unchallenged position in the Congress Party.
  1. One of Sardar Patel's greatest contributions to the consolidation of the new India was the relation hip of complete confidence which he established with the services, who had previously been regarded in Congress circles as the main supporters of alien rule. He was held in quite extraordinary regard by officials in his own and other Departments of the Government and, when he died, a spontaneous ma s meeting was attended by several thousand civil servants in the Secretariat of all ranks to record their grief at his loss. This respect arose not merely from admiration for his capacity for executive action without fuss and bother, but was al o due to the confidence which he placed in his trusted subordinates and his readiness to defend them publicly against criticism from outside, if need arose. They also knew that he could secure political support for any measures he considered necessary. Although assuming major political responsibility so late in life, he proved an admirable chief and a splendid administrator.
  1. Apart from holding the portfolios of States and Home Affairs, sardar patel was also Deputy Prime Minister and his influence on government extended far outside his own Departments. In the economic sphere, for instance, Patel's counsels, based as in all his dealings with affairs, on practical experience, were notable for common sense, sound judgment and realism, and they will be correspondingly missed. He maintained close contact with the business world, both Indian and British, and it was lo him rather than to the Prime Minister, that its leaders normally addressed their representations. While Nehru was in America a year ago Sardar Patel took the opportunity to reorient the Indian economy on sounder and less doctrinaire lines. It is true that he tended to place too much confidence in the judgment and honesty of some of his business contacts and that he had little understanding for progressive economic thought with a left tinge, but he provided much needed stability in the approach of the new India to her own and world economic problems, more especially as he was the only man in the country whose views Nehru had to take seriously into account.
  1. In the sphere of external relations there had been a tacit understanding between Nehru and Sardar Patel that the former would be left a free hand, in return for the relatively free hand left to the Sardar in the domestic sphere. This agreement has always been respected in the interest of preventing any open breach between the two on matters where their opinions differed, as differ they did. In recent month, however with the threat from Communist China becoming plainer, Sardar Patel began to play an increasingly active part within the Cabinet and Party circles, in formulating and propounding views on foreign policy, the general tenor of which was that, in placing so much emphasis on "neutrality" India was risking her own safety and economic prospects; that if Communism swamped the rest of Asia India could not in the long run withstand the flood without the support of the Western democracies and that she should accordingly come clown firmly on the latter's side. Sardar Patel's main concern was for additional economic and military supplies, which could only come from the West and more especially from the United States and without which India's future prospects would be bleak. He was also concerned with the international as well as with the internal menace of Communism and therefore suspicious of Soviet Russia and Red China. In adopting this attitude Patel had considerable support in the Cabinet and might even have been prepared to press his point of view to the extent of a breach with Nehru had not his death supervened. He had even publicly launched a campaign for better relations with the United States. With Patel gone there is no other member of the Cabinet able and willing to challenge Nehru’s person control of India’s foreign policy; his death thus removed the main political influence on Nehru in the direction of great realism in this field.
  1. In the sphere of Indo-Pakistan relations Sardar Patel was regarded abroad, and more especially in Karachi, in a somewhat sinister light. As an orthodox Hindu he did not disguise his communal sympathies, his regret over partition (which, however, he had done much to bring about in the last stages), his violent resentment of any discrimination against Hindus in Pakistan, and his general antipathy towards Pakistan. Nevertheless as a realist he had come to acknowledge that Pakistan and that India, in her own interests must work with her neighbor. The Hind extremists and indeed the many millions of orthodox Hindu, who still represent the basic India, were aware of his sympathies, and the knowledge that his powerful voice could be heard in the Cabinet reassured them: he was therefore, a stabilizing influence, so long as he did not allow his strong Hindu feelings to cloud his judgement. The freedom with which he expressed these feelings in public as well as in private gave grounds for justifiable anxiety in Pakistan. Nevertheless when a decision had to be taken his judgment remained sound and he gave full weight to the real interests of India, acknowledging the necessity to avoid a complete breach with Pakistan. Indeed, on the Kashmir issue he had pressed Nehru strongly to agree to a settlement with a view to disposing of all the major issues between the two countries and his death has seriously prejudiced the prospect of early progress.
  1. In dealing with the various aspects of Sardar Patel's political activity  people have referred more than once to the divergence of outlook between him and Mr Nehru. The two men were, of course, temperamentally poles apart and the natural inclination of each must have been to disapprove of or at least lo disagree with not only the actual ideas and proposals of the other but with the other's whole personality and approach to life. The fact that they nevertheless managed to work together as a most effective political team with relatively little friction reflects great credit on them both but more especially upon Sardar Patel as the older man with such a strong grip upon the party machine that he could at any moment have made Nehru’s political position extremely difficult. The fundamental reason for the maintenance of an unnatural partnership was no doubt the fact that they had both worked so closely with Gandhi as his leading lieutenants in the struggle for freedom and that they had both in their very different ways been deeply affected by Gandhian philosophy. It is said, with truth, that Gandhi, having cast the mantle of his succession on Nehru, appealed to Sardar Patel lo work with Nehru for the good of the nation and to guide him with his much greater knowledge of the real India and with his greater sense of realism. Sardar Patel certainly took it on himself to fulfill this role and, although he permitted himself to criticize Nehru very freely in private and even on occasion to oppose him in public, he never allowed if his criticism or opposition to go so far as to under-mine Nehru’s position. He realized that Nehru’s popularity throughout the country and his international position were immense assets to India in her first years of independence. He realised also that in his own failing stale of health he could not replace Nehru effectively as the Prime Minister for long. He also probably had a shrewd idea that. if Nehru were thrown out by the majority which Sardar Patel controlled in Parliament and in the Congress Party, he might well have come back to power with a more left wing programme based on his strong popular support among the masses. Sardar Patel was, therefore, ready to play a secondary role such as few political figures of his eminence have been ready to play and to content himself with wielding effective power in the background and acting a Nehru's mentor and guide on all those issues to which he, Sardar Patel. attached importance.
  1. With his death Nehru is left alone in the position of leader of the State. No alternative is now seen to his leadership, even among those who regard his head as being too high in the clouds, and to the Congress Party his popular appeal is an important factor for retaining the support of the electorate in the future. He is free again to pursue a personal foreign policy, and the pressure to qualify his principle of non-attachment is relaxed. A Kashmir settlement again becomes a matter for his sole decision. The Congress Party machine to some extent offers itself to his control in the absence of any strong party manager to follow in Patel's footsteps: but detailed party management is highly distasteful to Nehru, and it is questionable whether he will shoulder the burden. The process of disintegration within the party, already evident, may be expected to be accelerated. Administratively the removal of Patel’s watchful eye for the interests of practical efficiency gives Nehru more scope for pursuing his economic ideals, which have hitherto shown insufficient grasp of the limitations of Indian administrative and business resources. The death of the “Man of Iron” therefore casts long and dark shadows and it is impossible to say with any confidence that they will be dispersed at any early date.
  1. It is too early to assess finally Sardar Patel's place in history but, whatever nay be the future of the new India which he has built up with Gandhi and Nehru, he has a claim to figure on a short list of the great world figures of the 20th century. He had not only the appearance but also the manner and the qualities of a great Roman Emperor. Despite a very limited education and little experience until the latter year of his life of great world events outside the Indian Congress Party, he had the directness of approach and the sureness of touch which mark the great statesman. Even in three short years, dogged by ill-health and at the close of a long life, he made his mark upon India as few have clone since Akbar and Clive. The depth and universality of the grief with which hi death was received by Indians of all clashes and the disquiet felt by all thinking Indian about the future of India without his hand effectively at the helm are proof enough of his stature inside India. He had no opportunity to make a similar mark on the international scene, where he was inevitably out-shadowed by Nehru. But in his approach to inter­national problems he showed the same robust common sense and determination to get to the heart of the matter as he displayed on the internal scene. He saw clearly the force at work in the modern world and he had no doubt where India should stand in the struggle between Soviet imperialism and the democratic cause. Although one of the greatest and most dangerous opponents of Britain during the struggle for freedom, he became after 1947 a staunch advocate of the Common­wealth connexion and of good relations between Britain and India. His death was therefore a very serious loss not only to India but to the Commonwealth and to the whole democratic world.

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