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Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: Creating India, State By State

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

Today, India celebrates the 141st jayanti of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. It is argued with some justification that the contribution of Sardar Patel, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and other stalwarts of India’s struggle for freedom were undermined by mainstream historians.

It is only in the past few years that the nation is recalling the great deeds of Patel and Bose.

We would do well to recall some of the great deeds of Sardar Patel on this day:

1. The erstwhile princely state of Junagadh with 85 per cent Hindu population and 15 per cent Muslims and others was ruled by a Muslim nawab. On 15 August 1947, the nawab acceded his state to Pakistan. The people responded with protests. Patel asked Pakistan to reverse its acceptance of the accession and to hold a plebiscite.

Samaldas Gandhi, a popular leader of the erstwhile princely state of Junagadh, formed a government-in-exile. Then, Junagadh was surrounded on all of its land borders by India, and the complex conditions led to a suspension of all trade with India with the state government facing financial collapse.

A provisional government was set up, and a plebiscite took place on 20 February 1948, in which 99.95 per cent of the population voted to join India. Patel, K M Munshi and N V Gadgil visited Junagadh on 12 November 1947 to direct the stabilisation of the state with the help of the Indian Army and at the same time called for the reconstruction of the Somnath temple.

Mahatma Gandhi gave his support to the cause, but on the condition that the cost of reconstruction should not be borne by the government but by donations from the people. Sadly, Patel died before the construction was completed. However, the Somnath shrine was rebuilt in all its glory due to Patel’s resolve.

Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, All India Congress Committee meeting, Bombay, 1946 (Wikimedia Commons)

2. Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyer, the diwan of Travancore, wanted his state to be independent and not accede to India or Pakistan. Patel was told that the maharaja was holding Lord Padmanabha’s territory in trust and, therefore, the lord’s independence could not be surrendered to anybody.

Patel then asked, “How then did you allow Lord Padmanabha to be subordinate to the British?” Later through negotiations, where Patel applied his political shrewdness, Iyer stepped down as diwan and the maharaja acceded his state to India.

3. The Nizam of Hyderabad was given the title of “His Exalted Highness (HEH)” by the British, and he contributed large sums to the British war effort during the two World Wars. While Mountbatten, supplementing the efforts of Patel, did his bit to persuade the Indian princes and nawabs to unconditionally accede to the Indian Union, in the case of Hyderabad he wanted not accession but a treaty between the nizam’s government and India.

In June 1948, Mountbatten arranged the 'Heads of Agreement' deal offering Hyderabad the status of an autonomous dominion nation under India. The deal not only allowed the nizam to continue as the executive head of the state but also called for a plebiscite along with elections. When Patel took a look at that, he asked Mountbatten whether this agreement meant a lot to him. Mountbatten said “yes”. Patel then put his signature to it. But when it was presented to the nizam, he rejected it.

Mountbatten left India saddened that he could not get the nizam and the Government of India to agree to the “agreement”. This incident showed Patel’s genuine regard for Mountbatten and, at the same time, his conviction that the nizam, under the influence of the Islamists in his state, would not agree and that military action alone would resolve the problem.

Supported by the Razakars, the ruling clique in Hyderabad was now in a militant mood. ...Kasim Razvi who seems to dominate Hyderabad has categorically stated that if the Indian Dominion comes to Hyderabad it will find nothing but the bones and ashes of the one and a half crores of Hindus….
Excerpt from V P Menon’s book, The Story of the Integration of the Indian States

Patel prevailed over Jawaharlal Nehru to take military action. The Indian forces were to march into Hyderabad state in the early hours of 14 September 1948. Thanks to him, Hyderabad has not turned into another Kashmir.

Jawaharlal Nehru with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (Wikimedia Commons)

4. When Kashmir was invaded by Pakistan-supported Mujahideen troops, Patel declared:

I should like to make one thing clear, that we shall not surrender an inch of Kashmir territory to anybody.
Life & Work of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

It is due to Patel’s timely action of dispatching troops to Kashmir to throw the invaders out was Kashmir saved. However, Nehru divested Kashmir from Patel’s portfolio of Home and States.

H V Kamath, the veteran member of the Constituent Assembly, writes:

Sardar Patel once told me, with a ring of sadness in his voice, that “if Jawaharlal & Gopalaswami Ayyangar had not made Kashmir their close preserve, separating it from my portfolio of Home & States,” he would have tackled the issue as purposefully as he had already done the Hyderabad problem...
H V Kamath, “His Variegated Role in the Constituent Assembly” in Maniben Patel & G M Nandurkar ed., This was Sardar – the Commemorative Volume, Ahmedabad: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Smarak Bhavan, 1974

5. In the Constituent Assembly, when some Muslim members demanded separate electorates, ostensibly to protect the interests of the minorities, Patel responded:

The agitation was that “we are a separate nation, we cannot have either separate electorates or weightage or any other concessions or consideration sufficient for our protection. Therefore, give us a separate State”. We said, “All right, take your separate State”. But in the rest of India, in the 80 per cent of India, do you agree that there shall be one nation? Or do you still want the two nations talk to be brought here also? I am against separate electorates. Can you show me one free country where there are separate electorates? If so, I shall be prepared to accept it. But in this unfortunate country if this separate electorate is going to be persisted in, even after the division of the country, woe betide the country; it is not worth living in. If the process that was adopted, which resulted in the separation of the country, is to be repeated, then I say: Those who want that kind of thing have a place in Pakistan, not here. Here, we are building a nation and we are laying the foundations of One Nation, and those who choose to divide again and sow the seeds of disruption will have no place, no quarter, here, and I must say that plainly enough.
Constituent Assembly Report on Debate, August 27, 1947, vide: vol. 5

This statement of unadulterated nationalism will now be termed communal.

6. Mountbatten’s preference for Patel to Nehru to head the newly created States Ministry was for good reasons. He wrote:

I am glad to say that Nehru has not been put in charge of the new State’s Department which would have wrecked everything .... Patel is essentially a realist and very sensible...the States Department was under the admirable guidance of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel.
India’s Bismarck, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel By B Krishna

Today, the country remembers the best Prime Minister India never had.

Author: Dr. Hanuman Chowdary

Published: Oct 31, 2016

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