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The welder of United India


His political foresight and wisdom contributed to the integration of over 600 former princely states into the Indian Union, at the time of Independence. He effectively tackled the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Nawab of Junagadh, who conspired to join Pakistan, much against the wishes of the people their respective states. His success in achieving the reunion of the states earned him the title, `Iron Man of India'.

The Kashmir problem would have been nipped in the bud, had it been entrusted to him . He foresaw the evil designs of Communist China, 12 years before that country made an aggression on India in 1962, and had forewarned the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, not to trust the sly neighbour.

That was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who never tolerated injustice. He showed leadership qualities and organisational abilities at an early age. He earned the appreciation of Mahatma Gandhi for successfully leading the peasants of Bardoli and people in the various movements against the tyranny of the British India Government.

Born at Nadiad in Gujarat on October 31, 1875, Patel had his early education at Karamsad and high school at Petlad. His father, Zhaveribhai, had served in the army of the Rani of Jhansi and fought against the British. His mother, Ladba, imbibed religious values in him and his brothers.

Patel was bold from his school days and did not hesitate to point out the mistakes committed by his teachers. His ambition was to become a barrister but his family was poor and could not afford college education. But that did not deter his determination and he borrowed books from a lawyer and studied them at home. He attended courts and keenly observed the arguments of the lawyers. He sat for the examination privately and passed.

He borrowed money from his friends, hired a room in Godhra town and set up practice. Within a short time, he carved a niche for himself as an eminent lawyer. He was only 33 when his wife died. His devotion to duty was such that when the telegram conveying her death was passed on to him while he was pleading a case, he just read it and continued his arguments. He did not marry again. He went to England for higher studies. He stood first in the Barrister-at-Law examination and on return to India, he set up practice as a barrister at Ahmedabad. His popularity grew and in those days he was earning about Rs.10,000 every month.

Patel dressed like Englishmen and used to enjoy club life in his spare time. He had no interest in politics and laughed at the Satyagraha Movement describing it as sheer waste of time. But his meeting with Gandhiji at a meeting at Godhra changed his outlook. He gave up his lucrative practice and joined the freedom movement.

In 1918, heavy rains destroyed the crops in Gujarat. The British India Government demanded payment of revenue, notwithstanding the plight of the farmers. Gandhiji asked Patel to take charge of the situation. He impressed upon the farmers that anything could be achieved through unity and joint struggle. The Government finally yielded and taxes were remitted.

In 1920, when the Congress Party decided not to cooperate with the British India Government in any way, he asked the people not to send their children to schools run by the Government. He founded the Gujarat Vidyapeeth for the benefit of those who had given up studies, to educate and inculcate the spirit of patriotism in them.

In 1923, when an order was passed that none should carry the Tricolour on any road in Nagpur, where Government officials lived, the people decided to disobey it. They invited Patel to lead the agitation. Satyagrahis from different parts of the country joined the movement and the agitation continued for three-and-a-half months. Finally, the Government withdrew the order.

As the president of the Karachi session of the Indian National Congress in 1931, he declared, "Swaraj (independence) is our goal and there can't be the slightest modification of that goal". He was imprisoned twice.

Even before India attained Independence on August 15, 1947, he invited the rulers of the Princely States to accede to the Indian Union to make the country prosperous. He also warned them that the position would be different, if they failed to join before the day of Independence. "You may not get the consideration and the concessions you now get," he said. Several patriotic rulers joined the Indian Union responding to his call. To compensate their loss, Patel offered them privy purse and some special privileges and ensure that these incentives were guaranteed in Free India's Constitution (However, these were abolished by Indira Gandhi in 1971).

When India became free and Pakistan attacked Kashmir, it was Patel who wanted the withholding of cash balances left by the British for Pakistan. But Gandhiji felt it was immoral and went on a fast unto death. Patel gave up his argument to save the life of the Mahatma.

During the first three years after Independence, Patel was the Deputy Prime Minister and

held portfolios like Home, Information and Broadcasting and Minister for States. He replaced the Indian Civil Service, used to be described as the "steel frame of administration" by the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Police Service and other Central Services.

After a protracted illness, Patel died in harness on December 15, 1950. He was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna on June 17, 1991.

A statue of this `Bismarck of India' has been installed on Waltair Main Road, near Siripuram junction. But it hardly resembles his personality.

B.M.G.

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