Understanding Sardar Patel

Published: November 10, 2014
The writer is a syndicated columnist and a former member of India’s Rajya Sabha

The writer is a syndicated columnist and a former member of India’s Rajya Sabha

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel are the two leading icons of the Indian freedom movement. One belonged to the left of centre school of thought and the other was a proponent of the right of centre, but they set aside their ideological differences to win freedom.

After independence, the Nehruvian thought came to influence India because he was the most popular leader and his views fit into the general sentiment of pluralism in the country. Naturally, therefore, the name of Sardar Patel receded.

Prime Minster Narendra Modi has refurbished the past and brought Patel’s name to the fore by celebrating his birthday as Rashtriya Ekta day. It, however, goes to the credit of Prime Minister Modi that unlike his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he has not devalued the role, which Nehru played in freeing and building of the country. The BJP has not mentioned Nehru among the freedom fighters and builders of the nation in its manifesto.

There are people who believe that India’s interests would have been served better if Patel, in place of Nehru, had been the country’s first prime minister. This hypothetical possibility had been voiced by Prime Minister Modi when he was the Gujarat chief minister.

Of all the leaders, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Nehru’s guide and philosopher, came to the same conclusion after watching Nehru as an administrator. Azad was in Nehru’s cabinet and observed him from close quarters. Azad told his secretary, Humayun Kabir, that they should have made Nehru the country’s president and Patel its prime minister.

By no stretch of the imagination, can Azad be linked with Patel or his philosophy. During the national struggle, in which both were ardent participants, it was clear that they were poles apart and made no secret of their stances. Patel was a pro-Hindu leader, but strictly adhered to pluralism. Azad was secular through and through and boldly faced the charge of being a ‘Hindu show boy’ that the Muslim League had levelled against him. He did not flinch, even for a second, to say publicly that the formation of Pakistan would be harmful for Muslim interests.

Azad had said before Partition that Muslims could walk proudly in India with their heads held high in the surety that they were equal partners in running the country, even though they were fewer in number. Once India was divided on the basis of religion, Hindus would tell Muslims that as they had taken their share, they should, therefore, go to Pakistan.

Even after 67 years of division, this approach has not been disowned, either in India or in Pakistan. There are very few Hindus left in Pakistan, while Muslims in India continue to be targets for fanatics. When there is tension between the two countries, many Hindus in India start referring to Muslims as Pakistanis. Little purpose will be served in pursuing this point because the wounds of Partition are far from being healed and people in both communities continue to be exploited in the name of religion.

If it had been left to Patel, there would have possibly been an exchange of population before accepting Partition. Nehru was different. He did not mix religion with matters of politics or state. The difference in their respective approaches led to Mahatma Gandhi — who led the war of independence —nominating Nehru as his successor. Hindu-Muslim unity was a matter of faith with Gandhi, but it was not a part of policy.

Gandhi and Patel came from the same state, Gujarat, ate the same food and represented the traditions of their state in many ways. Yet, Gandhi preferred Nehru to Patel. He knew that Nehru even dreamt in English and that he was very much engrossed in world affairs. But Gandhi also knew that Nehru would interpret his philosophy of Hindu-Muslim unity faithfully and would employ methods to implement it in a manner that respected scruples and were non-violent and fair.

Gandhi was also confident that his secular ideals would be safer in the hands of Nehru. This was proved when Patel refused to release Rs64 crore to Pakistan. This sum was part of the assets, which India had agreed to transfer to Pakistan at Partition. Patel argued that he could not release the money when India and Pakistan were engaged in a war over Kashmir. Gandhi had to threaten to go on a fast unto death, after which Patel relented.

Extremist Hindus had vitiated the atmosphere of amity over this sum of Rs64 crore. They criticised Gandhi again and again for being anti-national and anti-Hindu. The RSS, the fallout of the Hindu Mahasabha’s philosophy of Hindutva, hatched a conspiracy and shot dead Gandhi.

Patel was quite right in banning the RSS and blaming it for disturbing the atmosphere of secularism. However, his slant towards the RSS made him withdraw the ban once the organisation changed its character to become a cultural organisation. This was only a smokescreen and the RSS used the BJP for its political activities. Today, Modi can be considered to be its frontman and the RSS openly participates in politics. Nehru had rightly exposed the duplicity of the RSS during his lifetime.

Azad had thought Nehru to be more suitable for the office of the president because he was confident that communal forces had been crushed. He commended Patel’s quality of being pragmatic and practical. Azad had come to have full faith in Patel’s secular aptitude. That Modi is using Patel’s image for polarising society is unfortunate. Practical as Patel was, he would have understood that India’s destiny lay in a democratic, secular polity. He, as prime minister, would have deepened its foundation even more firmly than Nehru did.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Rahul
    Nov 10, 2014 - 2:54AM

    The Congress of Nehru is not the Congress of Rahul Gandhi. The BJP of 2014 is not the Jana Sangh of 1948. India has moved on beyond religion. Muslims have as much economic opportunity as Hindus in India. Modi was elected on the basis of his economic performance. Congress was voted out for corruption, misrule and its inability to project a national leader of sufficient stature.


  • Nov 10, 2014 - 3:15AM

    When you have a PM like Modi. who is ultra right, ultra religious
    utra everything and whose warped perspectives asserts that plastic
    surgery and cloning existed in Ancient India. Then there is not much
    of a going concern for anything else,…is there?


  • ajeet
    Nov 10, 2014 - 6:39AM

    Population exchange would have solved all the problems.


  • kksr
    Nov 10, 2014 - 9:09AM

    This article is a recycled version of author’s own article that was published in Dawn (http://www.dawn.com/news/1054742). Many sentences and even paragraphs are the same.

    One point that the author has ignored is Sardar was one of the few leaders who was successful in making the transition from a freedom fighter to an efficient administrator. Not many, including Nehru were living in an utopian world until Chinese burst the bubble.


  • Nov 10, 2014 - 9:11AM

    @golnath – do you know what the meaning of “tongue in cheek” is?


  • Sneha
    Nov 10, 2014 - 10:15AM

    @Golnath Agarwal: Ever heard of Sushruta Samhita classical text on surgery in Sanskrit in ancient india? Google it then talk. Or here’s the link



  • BlackHat
    Nov 10, 2014 - 3:47PM

    Azad was absolutely right in predicting the future of the two countries. He is definitely under appreciated. When we judge leaders of that era, one should know that most of the people lived in villages. Most of those villages did not even have a post office, let alone telephone or telegraph. Often, people read newspapers that were weeks out of date. There were people in Kerala who thought their village would be Pakistan. Infrastructure in the country was almost nonexistent. Under these circumstances, exchange of population was impractical. I am thankful, even if some mistakes were made at that time, they more or less guided the country on the right path. Things could easily have been far worse.


  • Nov 10, 2014 - 5:58PM

    @Sneha: I am really fed up of listening ancient India had had airplanes (pushpak viman), atom bombs (agni van etc) plastic surgery, cloning etc etc etc. Tell me even if we had how does it matter. In the entire recorded history even if you include the time of Ramayana and Mahabharata, no research work, drawings, measurements, calculations or details are available to prove as to how these things were done. In the living memory of our history of modern times say post Mahabharata what have we discovered or contributed even paper, printing, gun powder, cycle, car is discovered by fellow human beings living in China or west. I wonder what purpose is served by drumming we had this we had this and so on. We only sound foolish.


  • dude
    Nov 10, 2014 - 7:20PM

    but can you ignore yoga, which is from ancient India, even now modern medical doctors advising to practice?
    those who are blindly supporting these vimanas, atom bombs, clonings are as equal as those who are blindly opposing it. reality is something inbetween.


  • Raj NJ
    Nov 10, 2014 - 8:22PM


    How does it matter? even if they are fictitious work – still imagined of what things to come. That is what I am looking for – Imagine things to come – things may come to fruition later. Become a vibrant community of incubator of ideas.

    Hope Modi’s intention is asserting ourselves of capable of generating ideas rather than glorifying the past. Why we need to renegade ourselves to publish feeble corollaries.


  • Max
    Nov 10, 2014 - 9:57PM

    I too find these discussions on ‘scientific’ achievements of the Vedic times, without any visible proof or documentation quite boring and tiresome. Whatever was good enough or relevant has survived….like Yoga…..and the rest were not worthy anyway. These right wing advocates of ‘past glory’ are so vain……they are no less pathetic than the numerous religious bigots doting Pak


  • Shahid
    Nov 11, 2014 - 12:43AM

    History will never forgive Gandhi Who under pressure first from Patel and then Nehru agreed on Partitin of India.


  • MrBrown
    Nov 11, 2014 - 4:26AM

    Pushpak viman, etc don’t know nor do can I comment on the Indian PM, but, here is perhaps a better reference.

    Early developments in plastic surgery

    The modern definition of plastic surgery is rooted in ancient medicine. The Sanskrit text Sushruta-samhita, written about 600 bce by ancient Indian medical practitioner Sushruta, describes, with surprising modernity, a quintessential plastic surgical procedure: the reconstruction of mutilated noses using tissue bridged from the cheek. During the Renaissance, Italian surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi and French surgeon Ambroise Paré adopted these early procedures and kindled a modern fascination with the use of local and distant tissue to reconstruct complex wounds. In the 19th century German surgeon Karl Ferdinand von Gräfe first invoked the term plastic when describing creative reconstructions of the nose in his text Rhinoplastik (1818).


    Something similar happened with as to how ‘algebra’ reached Europe.


  • the eddy
    Nov 11, 2014 - 10:44AM

    Oh good !! & what about your Qaid-e-Azam. He never wanted partition , is that so!!


  • Ask
    Nov 11, 2014 - 2:28PM

    First read too much about Gandhi, then speak. His political theories are still valid. Stop looking things from fanatics eyes. Lacs of Muslims were saved during partition due to his efforts. So many Muslims are in India only because he stood for [email protected]:


  • Qamar
    Nov 12, 2014 - 10:51PM

    Patel was a hardliner and was more popular then Nehru. It was Gandhi who rejected pastel ism and paved way for Nehru to head congress. Nehru and Gandhi had both realised to stop India from a never ending civil war, creation of a muslim state was inevitable. Otherwise a Pakistan twice the size of today could have been a possibility after much blood shed as historically afghans and iranians both had come to rescue muslims. Such was intelligence of Gandhi who eventually lost his life to Pastel ism.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Nov 13, 2014 - 12:49AM

    100 mouths and 100 stories we dont know who was angel or whos devil but what we can see more clearly is that pakistan was a right decission and its saved us reverced discrimination from Hindu brothers and we all know why/….


  • Ali Tanoli
    Nov 13, 2014 - 1:27AM

    I guess the Naked crazy looking men at Jumna river kinaray explains all the ancient india …. and its advancment in tech. and today some jobs in IT sectors are what Maulana Azad have vision for india in fifties.


  • bahadur khan
    Nov 13, 2014 - 6:57AM

    Defeat of congress party was due to
    1. wrong selection of leader-please remove RAHUL
    2. not projecting Ashok Gehlot, P Chidambaram, kamla Nath
    3. 2G SCAM
    4. Inadequate pursual of disturbances in Gujarat.
    5. complicity over 1984 Delhi riots , not taking timely action on Man Mohan


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