Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: The Iron Man of India
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was one of the most influential leaders of the Indian independence movement and the first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of independent India. He is widely regarded as the chief architect of India’s political integration, as he successfully persuaded more than 500 princely states to join the Indian Union. He is also known as the Iron Man of India for his strong will and determination in achieving his goals.
Early Life and Education
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was born on 31 October 1875 in Nadiad, Gujarat, to a farmer family of the Leva Patidar caste. He was the fourth of six children of Jhaverbhai Patel and Ladba Devi. He had a humble upbringing and received his primary education in Karamsad and Petlad. He was mostly self-taught and had a keen interest in reading and learning.
He married Jhaverben Patel at the age of 16 and had a son and a daughter with her. His wife died in 1909 due to cancer, and he remained a widower for the rest of his life. He was deeply devoted to his family and took care of his children and siblings.
He decided to pursue a career in law and passed the district pleader’s examination in 1897. He started his practice as a lawyer in Godhra and later moved to Borsad. He earned a reputation as a skilled and honest lawyer who could challenge the British authorities and police witnesses.
In 1910, he went to London to study at the Middle Temple, one of the four Inns of Court that train barristers in England. He completed his studies with distinction and returned to India in 1913. He settled in Ahmedabad and became one of the leading criminal lawyers of the city. He also joined the Gujarat Club, where he met many prominent figures of the Indian National Congress.
Role in the Freedom Struggle
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was initially indifferent to politics and focused on his legal career. However, he was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership and ideology after meeting him in 1917. He joined the Congress and became one of Gandhi’s closest associates and followers. He participated in various campaigns and movements launched by Gandhi, such as the Non-Cooperation Movement, the Civil Disobedience Movement, and the Quit India Movement.
He also emerged as a leader of the peasants and workers in Gujarat, who faced oppression and exploitation by the British government and landlords. He organized several successful agitations against unjust taxes, land revenue, and forced labor, such as the Kheda Satyagraha (1918), the Borsad Satyagraha (1923), and the Bardoli Satyagraha (1928). He earned the title of Sardar, meaning Chief or Leader, after leading the Bardoli Satyagraha.
He also played an important role in strengthening the Congress organization and expanding its base among the masses. He served as the president of the Congress in 1931 and 1947. He was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly in 1934 and 1937. He was arrested several times by the British government for his involvement in anti-colonial activities. He spent more than three years in jail during his political career.
He was also a vocal critic of some of the policies and decisions of the Congress leadership, especially Jawaharlal Nehru, who had different views on socialism, secularism, foreign policy, and relations with Pakistan. He opposed Nehru’s proposal to give Rs 55 crore to Pakistan as part of the partition agreement. He also disagreed with Nehru’s approach towards Kashmir, Hyderabad, Junagadh, Tibet, China, and the United Nations.
Contribution to National Integration
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s most remarkable achievement was his role in integrating more than 500 princely states into the Indian Union after independence. These states were ruled by local rulers who had varying degrees of autonomy under British suzerainty. They were given the option to join either India or Pakistan or remain independent after partition.
Patel took charge of this complex task as the Minister of States. He used diplomacy, persuasion, incentives, threats, and military action to convince or coerce the rulers to accede to India. He also appointed V.P. Menon as his secretary, who assisted him in negotiating with the rulers.
Some of the major challenges that Patel faced were:
- Hyderabad: The Nizam of Hyderabad wanted to remain independent or join Pakistan, despite being surrounded by Indian territory. Patel sent an ultimatum to him to join India or face military action. When he refused, Patel launched Operation Polo in September 1948, which resulted in the annexation of Hyderabad by India.
- Junagadh: The Nawab of Junagadh acceded to Pakistan, even though his state was located in Gujarat and had a Hindu majority population. Patel rejected his decision and asked the people of Junagadh to decide their fate through a plebiscite. He also sent Indian troops to occupy the state. The plebiscite held in February 1949 showed an overwhelming majority in favor of India, and Junagadh became part of India.
- Kashmir: The Maharaja of Kashmir wanted to remain independent, but faced an invasion by Pakistani tribesmen and soldiers in October 1947. He sought India’s help and agreed to accede to India. Patel sent Indian troops to repel the invaders and secure Kashmir.
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