There is this man that the entire India knows ‘today.’ A lot of tweets are being shared for him, a lot of articles are being written about him – but none could substantiate the agony that he must have been going through on this day which has been declared as “Rashtriya Ekta Diwas” or “National Unity Day.”
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the ‘Iron Man of India’, the ‘Unifier of India,’ wouldn’t be pleased to look at this nation where political polarisation has divided every community, caste, and creed and it still celebrates “National Unity Day” with such enthusiasm.
Sardar Patel – An epitome of love, tenacity, and perseverance
Sardar Patel was no ordinary person. A barrister by profession, he was known for his dedication towards his work. In 1909, when he was cross-examining a witness in court, he received a note. He read it, kept it in his pocket and continued questioning the witness. Standing in the court was this man, unchanged after reading the note that informed him about the demise of the love of his life, his wife Jhaverba; unchanged after reading the note that had changed his entire life.
No matter how broken he was from the inside, he didn’t let the world see his pain. He made his contribution in the court’s proceedings and won the case. Later, he shocked all by disclosing the news. Nobody can match his commitment to his work. After losing the love of his life, he never married again. His love for his soulmate was pure, but so was his love for his motherland.
Sardar Patel, who initially held different opinions from Mahatma Gandhi, later became one of his closest allies. Such was the magnetism of Mahatma Gandhi that Sardar was profoundly influenced by his commitment to bring freedom to India. This lure, dedication, and charisma pulled Sardar Patel into the nation’s struggle for independence, and from there on, there was no looking back for this man.
In January 1918, when he joined Gandhi in the struggle for freedom, he asserted: ‘When I joined Gandhiji, I collected some firewood, lit a fire and put all considerations of my family, my career, my reputation and everything into the fire. I do not know what would be left of all these except the ashes’.
The relationship that Sardar Patel and Mahatma Gandhi shared could be understood from the fact that just within two months of Gandhi Ji’s demise, Patel suffered a major heart attack. He later described his deteriorating health and the heart attack as “grief bottled up” due to Gandhi Ji’s death.
In a speech given at Benaras Hindu University on November 25, 1948, after Mahatma Gandhi’s death, he highlighted his admiration and respect for the Mahatma:
“I claim to be nothing more than an obedient soldier of him like the millions who obeyed his call. There was a time when every one used to call me his blind follower. But, both he and I knew that I followed him because our convictions tallied.”
Two Men, One Mentor
Two men, both came from different cultural backgrounds, both had some differences of opinions, but both were united with one ideology, one mission, and one mentor. Both, Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru were acclaimed lawyers. While Sardar was the person who supported the party through thick and thin, Nehru was the one who attracted many cohorts through his massive popularity.
Today, many political parties are sparing no effort to create controversies regarding occasional friction and disagreements between these two great leaders; though the truth is that Sardar never was covetous of Nehru or his Prime Ministerial position. In fact, he proudly maintained the fact that Nehru was far more popular than him. During a Congress rally in Bombay, when a massive crowd of nearly 3 million people had amassed, it was Sardar only who told American journalist Vincent Sheean, “They come for Jawahar, not for me.”
When Mahatma Gandhi, a mentor to both Sardar and Nehru was assassinated, Nehru sent Patel a letter on 3rd February 1948. An excerpt from this letter reads:
‘…I have been greatly distressed by the persistence of whispers and rumours about you and me, magnifying out of all proportion any differences we may have…We must put an end to this mischief…It is over a quarter century since we have closely associated with one another and have faced many storms and perils together. I can say with full honesty that during this period my affection and regard for you have grown, and I do not think anything can happen to lessen this.’
Patel responded to this correspondence on 5th February 1948. He wrote:
‘…We have both been lifelong comrades in a common cause. The paramount interests of our country and our mutual love and regard, transcending such differences of outlook and temperament as existed, have held us together.’
In another letter written by Sardar Patel in October 1949, these were his words for Nehru: “It is obviously impossible to do justice to his great and pre-eminent personality in these few condensed words. The versatility of his character and attainment at once defy delineation. His thoughts have sometime a depth which is not easy to fathom, but underlying them to all is a transparent sincerity and a robustness of youth which endear him to everyone without distinction of caste and creed, race or religion.”
Such was the camaraderie and love that they both shared.
The pain that I feel, when I see people maligning the bond between the two great leaders of all times, is excruciating. It is not only a disgrace to the legacies that these men have left behind, but also a disgrace to the nation that talks highly of its political icons and still tries to discriminate between them and the sacrifices that they made for the country.
India would never have been the same without Sardar Patel
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s contribution to the freedom movement of India was immense.
Be it the Champaran Satyagraha of 1917, the Kheda Satyagraha of 1918 or the Quit India Movement that started in 1942 – he played a crucial role in fighting against the British Rule and its savageries. And he will always be remembered for all his contributions towards the development of the nation.
With nerves of steel and the goal to unite the entire India, he successfully integrated more than 550 Princely States into the nation – an achievement that validates his efforts of keeping India united.
There was this man, the Iron Man of India who kept India as ‘one’ with all his might. Whereas, on the other hand, today we see political leaders who are focusing all their efforts on keeping India divided through communalism and polarisation
Appropriation of Icons to build an Icon
Today as the nation celebrates the 142nd birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is running campaigns to appropriate Vallabhbhai Patel’s legacy.
Last year, Modi said, “I am from the BJP and Sardar Patel was from Congress, but I still follow his ideology and beliefs, which belong to no party.”
Building up the political capital required to sit in the prime minister’s chair for an extended period has been Modi’s tactic in the past few years. From Mahatma Gandhi to Sardar Patel, BJP and RSS have tried hard to appropriate many Congress leaders – not surprisingly though, as RSS doesn’t have its icons who have played an important role in India’s history, particularly the nation’s freedom struggle.
Modi has promised to build the ‘Statue of Unity’ to honour Sardar Patel, claiming it to be the world’s tallest statue. While the statue is believed to bring an estimated expense of INR 2,500 crore in a nation, it is an irony that it will adorn a nation that is fighting hard with poverty.
BJP, which is facing an anti-incumbency of 22 years, surely needed some fuel to invoke the emotions of Guajarati’s and that’s what’s being done in the wake of the upcoming Gujarat Assembly Elections.
The BJP, RSS & our PM all need to ponder that these celebrations in the name of Run for Unity and the tactic to build the tallest statue in the world will never make Sardar Patel’s soul happy. If they really need to give them a tribute, then they must follow the constitution and support his ideology in the right sense.
An India where politics is mixed with religion and comments like ‘kabristan-shamshan’ are made, will never be the India Sardar Patel envisaged.
Today, as our Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the ‘Run for Unity’ march in different parts of the country to commemorate this day of importance, I want to know his ‘real’ stance on Sardar Patel and his teachings. Does Modi also believe in non-violence, ‘actual’ integration of the nation, secularism, and not aligning with the ideology of RSS? For that’s what Sardar Patel’s principles were!
On July 18, 1948, in a letter to Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Sardar Patel wrote:
“As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, the case relating to Gandhiji’s murder is sub-judice and I should not like to say anything about the participation of the two organisations, but our reports do confirm that as result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible. There is no doubt in my mind the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasbha was involved in this conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of the Government and the State.”
In another correspondence dated 11th September 1948 and addressed to Sarsangh Chalak of the RSS, Sardar Patel wrote:
“The speeches of the Sangh leaders are poisonous. It is as a result of this venom that Mahatma Gandhi has been assassinated. The followers of the Sangh have celebrated Gandhiji’s assassination by distributing sweets. “
Patel even banned the RSS just after Gandhi’s assassination.
Besides this, Sardar Patel never approved of a Hindu Raj and in February 1949 he had said, “Hindu Raj is a mad idea, it will kill the soul of India.”
Yes, Sardar Patel hails from Gujarat just like Narendra Modi, but that’s the only similarity between the two. BJP’s continuing attempts to appropriate Patel shows the lack of conviction that the party has in its own ideology.
While Congress has committed a mistake by failing to highlight the contributions of the party’s icons, it is even a bigger mistake on BJP’s part to highlight their contributions for electoral gains.
A party has failed to revered its biggest leaders and another party is snatching the opposition’s leaders for name and fame.
However, both the parties need to remember that the true followers of these leaders will only be the ones who practice their ideologies – not for rhetoric, but for bringing a change in the nation.