Nehru’s Word: Jawaharlal Nehru's homage to Sardar Patel on his death

Many attempts have been made by vested interests to falsely project Sardar Patel and Nehru as rivals for power & position. However, historical records testify to their deep respect for each other

Nehru’s Word: Jawaharlal Nehru's homage to Sardar Patel on his death
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Mridula Mukherjee

This week, on 15 December, we commemorated the 71st death anniversary of Sardar Patel, a life-long comrade and partner in struggle of Jawaharlal Nehru. We have witnessed in recent years many attempts by those who had nothing to do with the freedom struggle to project Sardar Patel and Nehru as rivals for power and position, with allegations that the Sardar was denied his due by Nehru.
Historical records however testify to the strong bonds they had forged in the Congress, and their deep respect for each other. As an example, we bring to you extracts from Nehru’s speech in Parliament announcing the death of Sardar Patel and from a resolution he drafted for the Cabinet meeting which mourned his death. Nehru’s words are relevant today also in the context of the great kisan resistance we have witnessed as it reminds us of how the Sardar steered one of the greatest peasant struggles in Bardoli in 1928.

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“I have to convey to you, Sir, and to the House mournful news. A little over an hour ago, at nine thirty-seven this morning, the Deputy Prime Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, passed away in Bombay city. Three days ago, many of us saw him off at the Willingdon airfield and we hoped that his stay in Bombay would enable him to get back his health which had been so grievously shattered by hard work and continuous worry. For a day or two he seemed to improve, but at last early this morning he had a relapse and the story of his great life ended.

It is a great story, as all of us know, as the whole country knows, and history will record it in many pages and call him the builder and consolidator of the new India and will say many things about him. But perhaps to many of us here he will be remembered as a great captain of our forces in the struggle for freedom and as one who gave us sound advice in times of troubles as well as in moments of victory, as a friend and colleague on whom one could invariably rely, as a tower of strength which revived wavering hearts when we were in trouble.

I can say little more on this occasion. My colleague Mr Rajagopalachari, and I are going almost immediately to pay our last tribute and homage to him in Bombay. I understand that the President has also decided to go to Bombay immediately, and the Speaker, Sir, went early this morning….

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“Sardar Patel [was] a great Indian and unmatched warrior in the cause of freedom, a lover of India, a great servant of the people and a statesman of genius and mighty achievement….

More than thirty-four years ago, he fell under the spell of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, and from that day onwards his magnificent talents and abounding energy were devoted to the struggle for India’s freedom.

By his matchless courage, inflexible sense of discipline, and genius for organisation, he became one of the principal lieutenants of the Father of the Nation and a great leader in India’s struggle. His championship of the poor and underprivileged made him the leader of the peasant campaign at Bardoli. The success of that movement demonstrated his capacity for leadership and his great organising power. Under that leadership the peasants of Bardoli maintained the strictest discipline in the face often of grave provocation. Bardoli became a symbol and an inspiraton to the rest of India.

In failing health, he continued, without rest or respite, his service of India. When freedom came at last to India, it was inevitable that he should take an outstanding part in the service of free India. It was fortunate for India that Sardar Patel should have had this opportunity to put the coping-stone to his life’s labour.


He had, as it now appears, only a little more than three years to give in that service, and these years were periods of great turmoil and conflict in India and the world and, for him personally, of increasing ill-health and physical weakness. Yet his achievements during this period will be recorded in India’s history with pride and admiration.

He concentrated his attention on the great task of unifying the country and maintaining its stability at a time when disruptive forces were at work. In particular, his genius was demonstrated in the way he handled the difficult and complicated problem of the old Indian States. He fixed his goal, a united and strong India, and set about to achieve it with skill and determination.

Step by step he advanced towards this goal, ever keeping the final objective before himself and others and at the same time by negotiation and friendly compromise winning the willing consent of the people he was dealing with. Thus, without any ill-feeling on the part of the rulers or the people of those States, he made a united India out of a welter of States, whose separate existence would have been a powerful force for disintegration in these troublous times.

He devoted himself also to the maintenance of peace and stability of India which were continuously challenged by internal strife and by the conflict that has been the heritage of the post-war world all over.

As Deputy Prime Minister and in charge of two of the most important portfolios of Home and States, a heavy responsibility was cast upon him. That burden and responsibility he bore with patient courage, wisdom and equanimity. To the people of India and to the Governments at the Centre and in the States, the loss of Sardar Patel is grievous and irreplaceable.

Yet he laid solid foundations and that work has to be carried on by those that follow him. It is for the people of this country to follow his shining example, his devotion to duty, his steadfastness, his sense of discipline, and thus to realise in ever growing degree that free and strong and prosperous India for which he laboured.

That will be the true and imperishable monument to his memory and that of the Father of the Nation who led him to his path of destiny.”

(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library)

(This piece was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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