A disservice to Sardar Patel's memory by BJP-RSS propagandists

By painting him as a victim and by their incessant attempt to compare Patel with Nehru, BJP and the RSS do a great disservice to the leader, whose birth anniversary is on October 31

Pandit Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel
Pandit Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel

Arun Sharma

There is no truth in Amit Shah’s claim, made umpteen times and most recently on 16th October during his visit to the Andaman that efforts have been made for years to ‘diminish the image of many leaders including Sardar Patel and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’.

Leaders of the freedom movement had very cordial relationship with each other and did not downplay the role of each other. The practice of diminishing the role of others in the independence movement was started by Amit Shah’s party BJP and its parent body, the RSS. The honour of taking this practice to the level of fine art goes to Modi and Amit Shah, who seem to believe it to be their main occupation.

Even during British rule, writers and journalists, even from the foreign press, could freely interview Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and others, which found adequate space in the newspapers. The role of each leader has thus been assessed independently by historians of repute and no charge of any downplaying any leader can be levelled against them.

It is men like Modi and Amit Shah who have done a great disservice to the memory of national leaders, especially of Sardar Patel, by trying to engineer ‘negative propaganda’ in his favour. According to the renowned constitutional expert A.G. Noorani, “Sardar Patel is not praised by himself; significantly, he is always pitted against Nehru. The praise for Sardar Patel is invariably blended with a shrill denunciation of Nehru.”

Patel is also presented as a victim whose reputation needs to be guarded. The recent remark of a BJP spokesman on the alleged statement in the CWC, crediting Nehru rather than Sardar Patel for Kashmir’s integration into India, that they would ‘expose’ the Congress for this is the latest example of their unsolicited service to the Sardar. According to them, he can never be faulted.

This has ironically discouraged any serious evaluation of his life and work. Not much has been written about him. While planning for this piece, I was disheartened to find that there was very little material available for serious researchers on the Iron Man of India.

For example, in the reference section in Wikipedia on him, I could find only three or four titles on his biography. Moreover, of the 156 references appearing there, 55 references related to Rajmohan Gandhi’s biography of Sardar Patel alone. On the online library sites too, there was little besides volumes of his collected correspondence. Sardar Patel certainly deserves more titles than are presently available on him.

Sardar Patel played a very significant role in the integration of the princely states but he would have scoffed at the idea of being given sole credit for it. The honour should also go to his brilliant Secretary V.P. Menon, who brought in his Constitutional expertise and legal resourcefulness and to Governor General Lord Mountbatten, who with his charm and grace manoeuvred with the princes.

Menon, in his book ‘The Story of the Integration of the Indian States’, which he says, he wrote, ‘in part fulfilment of a promise made to the late Sardar Patel’ and which he dedicated to his memory, gives a brilliant account of how the feat was accomplished.

Menon records an interesting conversation between him and Patel which reveals how frank and cordial their relationship was and how accommodating Sardar Patel was, when it came to national interest.

‘I reminded him’, Menon writes, ‘that ever since I had met him, for the first time on 21 August, 1946, I had made it my purpose to consult him as far as possible on important developments in the constitutional fields and I particularly added that it had been his powerful support that had made possible the transfer of power. We had indeed got on well together, resolving occasional differences of opinion by mutual and amicable discussion. The position at that time was that tough I consulted Sardar, the final responsibility for whatever advice I gave to the Governor General was mine. Now that we were to work as minister and secretary, I was not quite sure how far we should hit it off together.'

'Sardar replied that I should not think along those lines. When I said there was a feeling that Congress leaders distrusted the permanent services, he replied that my fears were groundless. He added that whatever might have been the attitude in the past, he was confident that in future everyone would play the game. For his own part, he would do everything possible to bring about a most cordial atmosphere between the Cabinet and the Services and he kept his word.' (VP Menon, The Story of the Integration of the Indian States, page 93).

To claim, however, that Patel had no faults, that he never erred and his judgment was never wrong is facile at best. The great Sardar, one believes, erred in his assessment of the RSS and other extremist groups. In his letter dated January 5, 1948 to the Chief Ministers, barely 25 days before Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, Nehru warned the nation of the dangers from such quarters.

Nehru wrote: "The RSS has played an important part in recent developments and evidence has been collected to implicate it in certain very horrible happenings. It is openly stated by their leaders that the RSS is not a political body but there can be no doubt that their policy and programme are political, intensely communal and based on violent activities. They have to be kept in check and we must not be misled by their pious professions which are completely at variance with their policy."

Alas, Sardar Patel failed to see through their duplicity and their "pious professions". One wishes he had acted on the warning.

(The writer is an independent commentator. Views are personal)

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