On May 13, 1959, the first president of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, wrote in his diary, “There is today an India to think and talk about largely due to Sardar Patel’s statesmanship and firm administration… Yet we opt to ignore him.” Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel played the architect in integrating the 565 princely states into the Indian Union, preserved the administrative network and supervised the making of the world’s most detailed constitution in a record period. However, the architect of the modern state of India was grossly ignored following his death on December 15, 1950.
In the 1946 organisational elections, the Congress party had recommended the name of Sardar Patel for AICC with a majority. Of the 15 provincial Congress Committees, 12 preferred Sardar over Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the Congress President and, subsequently, the first Prime Minister of Independent India. But Sardar Patel, a staunch follower and obedient lieutenant of Mahatma Gandhi, willingly accepted the wishes of his leader and sacrificed not only the presidentship of Congress but also the post of interim Prime Minister and that of the first Prime Minister of Independent India.
However, these sacrifices and his unparalleled contribution to strengthening the Congress Party, the national movement and building of a united and strong India were very easily forgotten by the same party. Till 64 years after his death, this unsung leader of modern India was not given his due by the successive Congress Governments.
After the demise of Sardar Patel, there were differences within the Congress party on celebrating his birth anniversary. The dominant and powerful elite within the party succeeded in projecting him as the leader of the anti-development stream. He was also portrayed as conservative, status-quo orientated and a staunch supporter of the Hindus’ cause. The successive Congress Governments at the Centre left no stone unturned to erase the memory of this great hero from the minds and ideas of Indians.
Neglecting Sardar Legacy
The greatest proof of neglect of Sardar’s legacy was the deliberate avoidance of commemorating events related to his life and times, including the celebration of his centenary in the year in 1975. No commemorative event matching the momentous occasion was held. No government schemes on his name were launched as his birth centenary passed uncelebrated. The year of 1975, which would have been a remarkable remembrance year commemorating the centenary of Sardar, the unifier of India and protector and facilitator of individual’s rights and liberty as the chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Constituent Assembly, is, unfortunately, today remembered for the imposition of Emergency, which saw the suspension of these rights.
In June 1975 country was pushed into the darkness of Emergency where the democratic values and liberal principles were greatly undermined. During the birth centenary year of Sardar, no Congress leader could ask the simple but pertinent question to the leadership, “Why was country not giving the due to Sardar and remembering him in the auspicious year?” It speaks volumes about the pusillanimous state of the Congress leaders who allowed the contribution and sacrifices of the unifier and architect of the Congress party to be hidden behind the grand statues of the Gandhi-Nehru family! No leader questioned the control of a dynasty over the party and the government!
As mentioned earlier, efforts were made to portray him as a Hindu communal leader, which was never countered and contested by the Congress party and the successive Congress Governments. He was also coloured as anti-Muslim, which he was not. Definitely, he hated the Muslim League and Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah since they spread hatred, and communal tension and demanded the Partition of the country.
There were conspiracies within the Congress party and some of the leaders had complained to Mahatma Gandhi regarding alleged bias Sardar exercised in dealing with Hindu-Muslim issues as Home Minister but Gandhi categorically stated that, “I know the Sardar… His method of approach to the Hindu-Muslim question as also to
several other questions is different from mine and Pandit Nehru’s. But it is travesty of truth to describe it as
anti-Muslim. The Sardar’s heart is expansive enough to accommodate all.”
There were differences between Sardar Patel and Pandit Nehru on a number of issues, including Kashmir, Tibet, China etc. But once accepted as the leader, Sardar neither questioned Nehru’s leadership nor challenged it despite the fact that almost the entire party was with Patel at that point of time. He willingly accepted and clearly warned the others to follow the leader. No doubt that Nehru was more popular among the masses but
acceptance of Sardar was clearly greater within the Congress organisation, workers and leaders, which was enough to unsettle and challenge Nehru’s leadership.
Despite the coordination and cooperation provided to Nehru by Sardar in helping him to write a tryst with the destiny of independent India, Nehru could not give the due to his sincere colleague even after Patel’s death. His successors from the dynasty tried to undo the contribution of Sardar by attempting to push him out of
The ungratefulness of the entire Congress party in general and the Gandhi-Nehru family, in particular, is testified by the fact that it took 41 years for the government to confer the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, on the Iron Man of India. It was as late as 1991 that a government led by a non-Gandhi-Nehru family member under P V Narasimha Rao conferred the award posthumously on Sardar.
It was only in 2014 that Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared Sardar Patel’s birth anniversary as National Unity Day, and the entire country started to remember Sardar for his contribution to the whole of India. The Congress, finding itself cornered on the matter, now is raising hue and cry that their legacy is being appropriated by the Sangh Parivar. The question is “Why did they allow Sardar to be forgotten? Why are his contributions not part of the academic curriculum?” The questions are many.
It is, however, fortunate that the country has finally come to acknowledge the contributions of Sardar and is ready to undo the wrongs of Congress Governments.
(The writer is an Associate Professor at Maharaja Agrasen College, University of Delhi)