“Every Indian still regrets that Sardar Patel did not become the first Prime Minister. Had he been the first Prime Minister, the country’s Fortune would have been different,” said Narendra Modi, Prime Ministerial Candidate from Bharatiya Janata Party, on 29 October on a occasion where he shared the dais with current Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Hinting that religiously divided Bharatiya Janata Party didn’t qualify to make such comments, unfazed Singh said, “Sardar Patel was secular. Patel was a deputy prime minister in Nehru’s cabinet. Leaders of such stature don’t limit themselves to party they belong; rather work as the leaders of the nations. Despite their political differences, they had great respect for each other”.
Briefly pausing, he added, “There is a severe dearth of the values he stood for, the same values that form the bedrock of our country.” Though Singh was quick with his clever retorted, he could not deny the first statement.
How could Patel as the first PM matter to our country. Would we have seen a different approach to issues under Patel’s leadership? What exactly did Patel do be called ‘The Iron man of India’
British left India as fragments of 625 different kingdoms, divided by conflicting interest and ideas among which 554 belonged to the partitioned part of Pakistan. The rulers of these big and small states were promised dreams of independent sovereignty by the British. Uniting these numerous states and pleasing every ruler was not an easy task. Consider Kashmir, which has seen Nehru spend 17 years to integrate into India, and everyone who followed Nehru try to resolve, but still remains under conflict. Orissa alone was made up of 26 small factions, and Chattisgarh was ruled as 15 small entities and Saurashtra broken into 14 parts and ruled separtely. Apart from these there were 500 other princely states. Patel’s leadership obtained the peaceful and swift integration of all 565 princely states into the Republic of India. Patel’s initiatives spread democracy extensively across India, and re-organized the states to help transform India into modern federal republics. But as one would expect, some of the filthy rich, power hungry princes posed some of the greatest hurdles to Patel. On June, 1947 when it was clear British were to give up their hold over the country, Nizams of Hyderabad made it clear that, Hyderabad would be an independent state and would not be a part of India. To enhance the future of Hyderabad the rulers made arrangements to take over a part of the then Portuguese occupied Goa.
When Independence from British rule was announce on 15th august 1947, Hyderabad chose to remain an independent state. No amount of talks convinced them to join free India. Muslim forces loyal to Nizam, called the Razakars, pressed the Nizam to hold out against India, while organising attacks on people on Indian soil. Negotiations were opened through KM Munshi, India’s envoy and agent general to Hyderabad, and the Nizam’s envoys, Laik Ali, but Patel and VP Menon were doubtful of Hyderabad’s peaceful co-operation. While these negotiations were being carried out, communal riots between Hindus and Muslims had broken out in Hyderabad. Patel indicated that India’s tolerance towards Nizam’s arrogance won’t last long. Meanwhile Nehru was pursuing peaceful negotiations regarding Kashmir and Hyderabad with Sheik Abdulla.
As soon as the Indian Government received information that Hyderabad was arming itself and planning to ally with Pakistan, Sardar Patel decided to confront the Hyderabad threats and secretly started planning the ‘Operation Polo’ with VP Menon.
One day prior to the operation, Prime Minister called for a meeting consisting of security committee of the cabinet, the heads of the three armed forces and the Home Minister, Patel , Maulana Azad, the State Secretary Menon . In this meeting, the then Prime Minister Nehru castigated Patel, of being a communist, insulted and disgraced him. A shocked Sardar Patel silently collected his papers from the table and slowly walked out of the Cabinet room. That was the last time Patel attended a Cabinet meeting and also stopped speaking to Nehru since then.
On September 13, 1948, Operation Polo was launched.
Spread over most of the Deccan Plateau, Nizam Meer Usman Ali Khan had an army consisting of 22,000 mercenaries consisting of Arabs, Rohillas, North Indian Muslims and Pathans. Though dominated by Muslims, Hindus amounted to 85% of the population. In addition to these, there were 200,000 of voluntary militia of Muslims called the ‘Razakars’ set up by his close advisor Qasim Razvi and a well equipped modern army supplies. In a battle that lasted 4 days, under the command of Major Chaudri, the Nizam’s army surrendered to the Indian Army and Hyderabad was integrated as a part of the Union of India.
Sardar Patel took over as the nascent nation’s Home Minister at a very crucial juncture in history and devoted himself wholeheartedly to ensure that the country which was already partitioned remained intact and united. In September 1947, Patel initiated talks with Kashmir’s Monarch Raja Harisingh, who was approached by VP Menon and Field marshal Maanik Shaw for peaceful negotiations regarding Kashmir and hence would avoid further divide between India and Pakistan.
“The commitment, statesmanship, vision and determination Patel showed in every cause he supported is one of its kind. The world hasn’t seen any other shrewd military strategist and savvy leader as Sardar Patel” said Dr Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President.
Quit India movement was launched under Mahatma Gandhi in 1942, and all the congress leaders showed their solidarity towards this movement. But the British arrested everyone and they were released only after three long years. Before the release, few Muslim league leaders made secret pacts with the British to try and stop the fights for freedom. Patel swore an oath that anyone coming in the way of struggle for Indian independence will pay a costly price. Sardar Patel symbolizes the lost virtues of a firm political will and a solid sense of national unity.
Mr Patel was always suspicious of Chinese’s intentions at peaceful negotiation and warned Nehru at every opportunity that India should stop appeasing China and taking their neighbor at face value. In a letter written one month before his demise, Patel suggested Nehru that India should be assertive and mindful of its sovereignty and security needs.
So the question arises that how a Leader of this stature who’s leadership and practical judgments were hailed even by the British Statesmen, not be chosen to lead our country. Apart from being the chief engineer, he was also the chief visionary who had won the minds of every Congress worker by his practical approach towards solving problems and envisioning a future which was not too farfetched and which seemed to be accomplishable. In 1946, there was an election for the post of Congress president (It was decided that the elected Congress president would become the first PM of independent India). Such was the leadership trait of Patel, he won 13 out of 16 votes. However, Gandhi asked Patel to step down, thereby making Nehru the party president and hence the first PM of independent India. Once in a generation, there comes an intellectual leader and visionary, who aims for the skies, feet firmly on ground, mind made of diamond and fist made of iron, with sheer dedication and focus.
With all this knowledge, how can it be preposterous to state that if a visionary such as Sardar Patel were to be the first prime minster of India, the nation would have seen a completely different future?
Next Wednesday will mark the 63rd anniversary of Patel’s death. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has decided to commission the world tallest statue in honour of Sardar Vallabhabhai Patel. A marathon called ‘run for unity’ is organized which will take place at 700 places and conclude by 26th January 2014. More than 1.85 lakh people have already signed up to be a part of this great movement. Keeping in view Sardar’s personality, The statue will be the tallest ever with its height being 182 meters or 600 feet or equal to 60 storeys compared to the height of Statue of Liberty is 93 meters.
In the history of India that stretched over ages, India became one and united for the first time, under the Iron willed leadership of Sardar Patel, hence this statue will be called ‘Statue of Unity’.