“Many were prepared to follow me, but I could not make up my mind as to who should be my deputy commander. Then I thought of Vallabhbhai”
– Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Inspiration to many, an Indian barrister and statesman, one of the leaders of the Indian National Congress during the struggle for Indian independence, Sardar Patel was born on October 31, 1875. Vallabhbhai Patel was the fourth in a family of six children.
- Passing his matriculation exams at the age of 22 in 1897, Patel desired to go to Bombay for further studies. However in order to shoulder his responsibilities toward his family, he decided to take up a job in a local lawyer’s office where he had access to law books. Reading at home, he passed the District Pleader’s Examination within a period of two years.
- In 1910, after having finally saved enough after years of hard work, Patel went to London to study for his Barristership at the age of 35 in fulfillment of a long cherished dream. . He returned to India in 1913 and began to practice as a Barrister in Ahmedabad. Within a short span, he became one of the busiest and most successful barristers in the city.
- Patel called Gandhi a ‘crank’ when he first heard of his methods of ahimsa and satyagraha and scoffed at his ideas.
- In April 1917, Gandhi lent his support to workers of the indigo plantation in Champaran in Bihar. There, Gandhi organized a satyagraha for the peasants who were suppressed by the forceful plantation of indigo. This satyagraha in Champaran had a profound effect on Patel. Subsequent to this event, Gandhi was invited to be the President of the Gujarat Sabha. Patel who was on the Executive Committee of the Sabha concurred immediately with the suggestion.
- Coming to Gujarat, Gandhi took charge of a satyagraha in Kheda protesting on behalf of the peasants there. Patel was given the position of second-in-command in this campaign by Gandhi. In this manner began the life-long association between Gandhi and Patel
- Over the years, Patel became one of Gandhi’s most ardent followers and satyagrahis.
1928 – EARNING THE TITLE ‘SARDAR’
- It was women of Bardoli who bestowed the title Sardar for the first time, which in Gujarati and most Indian languages means Chief or Leader.
- The Bardoli Satyagraha in Gujarat is considered a major episode of civil disobedience and revolt in the Indian Independence Movement.
- Not only were all confiscated lands restored after Bardoli Satyagrah, but all taxes were also waived for the year, with the 30% increase in taxes pushed further by another two years.
SATYAGRAHA FOR FREEDOM
- While many leading freedom fighters initially criticized Mahatma Gandhi’s proposal for an all-out campaign of civil disobedience to force the British to quit India, Patel was its most fervent supporter.
- At the urging of Gandhi, the All-India Congress Committee approved of the campaign on 7th August 1942. Patel though suffering from ill health appealed to the masses to refuse paying taxes and participate in civil disobedience. Speaking to a large crowd of over 100,000 people gathered at Gowalia Tank in Bombay, Patel called for mass protests and a shutdown of civil services. For his role in the protest, Patel was arrested on 9th August 1947 and imprisoned with the entire Congress Working Committee from 1942 to 1945 at the fort of Ahmednagar.
- Such was the impact of this movement that at the time when Sardar was released in the year 1945, the British had started preparing proposals to transfer power to the Congress and leave.
- A long-cherished dream appeared to be finally within grasp.
1947 – THE POLITICAL INTEGRATION, HIS GREATEST LEGACY
- When the British finally left, they left behind India, Pakistan, and over 562 princely states in the territory colonized by them over nearly 200 years.
- All princely states were given the option of either joining India, Pakistan, or remaining independent.
- While most states including Bikaner and Baroda were quick to join the Union of India. Others like Kashmir and Manipur were indecisive for months, while Junagadh (now in Gujarat) acceded to Pakistan.
- Travancore (now in Kerala) declared independence, and the Hyderabad State, located in the heart of India (now in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra) wanted to follow suit.
- It was Sardar Patel who convinced 559 of 562 princely states to join the Union of India.
- He did so with pure persuasion and statesmanship – a stupendous task achieved without any bloodshed, with no parallel in recorded history.
- Only three states; Jammu & Kashmir, Junagadh, and Hyderabad did not willingly merge into the Union of India.
- In Junagadh located in Gujarat, Patel first showed force, sending the army to occupy three principalities of Junagadh, demanding that the Nawab accedes to India.
- Hyderabad, which was the largest of all princely states, also included parts of present-day Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra at the time.
- When the Nizam decided to hold out against India and organized attacks on Indian soil, Patel launched Operation Polo – forcefully securing and integrating Hyderabad into the Union of India in just four days.
In November 1950, Patel fell severely ill from an intestinal disorder and high blood pressure. He was flown to Bombay for further treatment where his daughter Maniben nursed him with great devotion. But he suffered a stroke and on the early hours of 15th December, 1950, the Iron Man of India closed his eyes for the last time.
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Kutch to Kohima, Kargil, or Kanyakumari – if we can travel freely today across the beautiful and bountiful lands of India, it is because of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
“History will call him the builder and consolidator of new India.”
– Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru