Why India Must Remember Sardar Patel

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To  see in slide show format on Rediff.com http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-why-india-must-remember-sardar-patel/20131115.htm

Leaders  of today can pay homage to Sardar Patel by being realists, calling a  spade a spade, having sound advisors, playing to our strengths etc,  says Sanjeev Nayyar.

Bharatiya  Janata Party leader Narendra Modi's statement that it would have been  better if Vallabhbhai Patel had become India’s first prime  minister, created a political storm. The Congress claims Patel is  theirs, so how could the BJP appropriate his legacy?

Instead  of looking at the political side, the article seeks to provoke  thought by exploring how some of Nehru’s decisions, that Patel  opposed, have impacted the geo-political situation in the Indian  subcontinent. This is done through a series of questions, insights  and Patel’s views on Jammu and Kashmir and Tibet.

The  article draws extensively from the book Patel  A Life by Rajmohan Gandhi. I quote from book's preface, 'But the opinion of  some that the Mahatma had been less than fair to Vallabhbhai was a  factor in my decision to attempt to write the latter’s life. If a  wrong had been perpetrated, some reparation from one of the Mahatma’s  grandsons would be in order'.

The  Congress is on a weak wicket when it says that due credit was given  to Patel. Rajmohan Gandhi wrote, 'Falling in 1989, the centenary of  Nehru’s birth found expression on a thousand billboards, in TV  serials, in festivals etc. Occurring on October 31, 1975 – four  months after Emergncy had been declared – the Patel centenary was,  by contrast, wholly neglected by official media and by the rest of  the official establishment'.

Actually  the Congress's attitude was not new.

'That  there is today an India to think and talk about,' President Dr  Rajendra Prasad wrote in his dairy on May 13, 1959, 'is very largely  due to Patel’s statesmanship and firm administration. Yet, we are  apt to ignore him'.

How  did Vallabhbhai become Sardar?

It  was during the battle of Bardoli, in April 1928, that someone  referred to Patel as the peasant’s Sardar. The appellation caught  on. It was due to Patel’s success in fighting the British that the  Vallabhbhai of April became Sardar in June and a triumphant general  in August.

Is  it true that Gandhi nominated Nehru to be independent India’s first  prime minister?
 
Aware  that the next the Congress president would be India’s first de  facto premier, Azad wanted to continue as president. If Gandhi had his own  reasons for wanting Nehru, the party wanted Patel, in whom it saw --  as veteran leader J B Kriplani would later say -- 'a great executive,  organiser and leader'.

Even  though Gandhi had indicated his preference for Nehru, the party  wanted Patel. Twelve of the 15 PCCs had nominated him. Knowing that  no Pradesh Congress Committee had proposed Nehru, Gandhi asked  Kriplani to propose Nehru’s name during a working committee meeting  in Delhi.
 
As soon as Nehru’s name was proposed, Kriplani  withdrew his nomination and handed Patel a fresh piece of paper with  the latter’s withdrawal written on it.

Patel  showed the sheet to Gandhi, who despite his preference gave Nehru an  opportunity to stand down in Patel’s favour.
 
Gandhi  said: 'No PCC has put forward your name. Only the working committee  has.' Nehru responded with silence. After obtaining confirmation that  Nehru would not take second place, Gandhi asked Patel to sign the  statement that Kriplani had prepared. Patel did so immediately.

Of  the many reasons for nominating Nehru, Gandhi knew that his selection  would not deprive India of Patel’s services though the reverse  might not be true.

In  the run-up to independence, Patel’s Working Committee colleagues  acknowledged his crucial role. On May 11, 1947, Sarojini Naidu called  him 'the man of decision and man of action in our councils'.
 
Said  Kriplani, 'When we are faced with thorny problems, and Gandhi’s  advice is not available, we consider Sardar Patel as our leader'.

Yet,  Nehru became India’s first prime minister.

What  about Kashmir?

The  princely state of Jammu and Kashmir shared a border with Afghanistan  and Russia.
 
'Patel’s lukewarmness about Kashmir had lasted  till September 13, 1947. His attitude changed later when he heard  that Pakistan had accepted Junagadh’s accession.' Why he changed  his mind is beyond the scope of this article.

On  October 22, 1947, about 5,000 armed tribesmen from Pakistan entered  Kashmir. Patel said the enemy must be driven back. Meanwhile attempts  to create a workable framework between Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh  and Sheikh Abdullah failed. Patel supported Hari Singh and Nehru,  Abdullah.

On  December 2, 1947, Nehru wrote to Hari Singh that Sheikh Abdullah  should be the prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir and should be asked  to form the government.
 
With this letter, Nehru took over the  shaping of India’s Kashmir policy so far played by Patel as  minister of states. Perhaps, Nehru allowed his Kashmiri roots and  sentiments to get the better of common sense on this issue.

Nehru  decided to refer the Kashmir question to the United Nations. Patel  was strongly against such reference and preferred ‘timely action’  on the ground. At the UN, Junagadh and allegation of ‘genocide’  against Muslims were introduced. The question of vacating the  aggression in Kashmir was turned into ‘the India-Pakistan dispute’.

If  the Pakistanis were driven out of Jammu and Kashmir, and not only the  Valley, India would have shared a border with Afghanistan, virtually  Russia (Tajikistan today) and have close proximity with the energy  rich Central Asian Republics.
 
Further,  occupation of Gilghit-Baltistan has opened multi-dimensional spheres  for co-operation/collusion with China now and in the future.

Therefore,  Karakoram Highway that connects China with Pakistan was made and an  upcoming rail link will eventually link China with the Pakistani port  of Gwadar

The  moot point is, was it possible to drive the Pakistanis out of  princely state of J&K?

Major  General Sheru Thapliyal wrote, 'Indian forces therefore had to  operate in Jammu and Kashmir under serious handicaps. The enemy could  not be beaten by decisively local actions. For decisive victory, it  was necessary to bring Pakistan to battle across the international  border as was done in 1965. Nehru, the apostle of peace, must have  hoped that Pakistan’s aggression in Jammu and Kashmir would be a  temporary aberration, that all enemy forces would be peacefully  withdrawn from the state under the impartial advice of the UN and  that thereafter India and Pakistan would have lived as friendly  neighbours.' Read full article HERE (external link).

When  the Constituent Assembly considered special status for Kashmir in  1949, Patel followed Nehru’s wishes. The realist that Patel was, he  did not trust Sheikh Abdullah. That is perhaps why in private  conversation he said ‘Jawahar royega’  (Jawahar will cry). Three years after Patel’s death, Nehru  dismissed and arrested Abdullah.

Patel  was unhappy with many of Nehru’s steps on Kashmir but never spelt  out his own solutions. Seeing the way he handled the merger of  Hyderabad (Operation Polo), a ruthless yet carrot-and-stick approach  backed up by swift army action could be the way Jammu and Kashmir  might have been cleared of the Pakistanis.
 
Unlike  Nehru, Patel was not overtly bothered about international opinion.  Perhaps, Sardar thought it was pointless to apply his mind on an  issue that was purely Nehru’s baby.

Would  terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir have started in 1989 if the entire  princely state had become part of India? Anyone’s guess. Note that  43,273 lives were lost, between 1989 and August 19, 2012.

And  what about Tibet?

Patel  wrote to Nehru on June 4, 1949: 'We have to strengthen our position  in Sikkim and Tibet. The farther we keep away from the Communist  forces the better. I anticipate that as soon as the Communists have  established themselves in the rest of China, they will try to destroy  Tibet’s autonomous existence. You have to consider carefully your  policy towards Tibet in such circumstances and prepare from now for  that eventuality.'

While  the Chinese were planning the invasion of Tibet, Nehru was  aggressively campaigning the cause of Chinese entry into the United  Nations.

Excerpts  from Patel’s letter to Nehru dated November 7, 1950: 'The Chinese  government has tried to delude us by professing peaceful intentions.  During this period of correspondence, the Chinese must have been  concentrating for an onslaught on Tibet. The tragedy is that the  Tibetans put faith in us and we have been unable to get them out of  the meshes of Chinese influence. Their actions indicate that even  though we regard ourselves as friends of China, the Chinese do not  regard us as their friends. The undefined state on the frontier has  the elements of potential troubles between China and India. For the  first time after centuries, India’s defence has to concentrate on  two fronts simultaneously'.
 
The  letter ended with a suggestion that 'we meet early and decide'. The  meeting never took place.

How  might Patel have dealt with the Chinese invasion of Tibet?

Patel  would have strengthened the Indian army garrison in Tibet (it was a  contingent of Maratha Light Infantry posted there until 1950),  increase the cost of conquest thereby ensuring that the Chinese did  not conquer it as easily as they did.

Patel  might have tacitly supported the Tibet Liberation Movement, not  accepted Chinese sovereignty over Tibet and revitalised the  century-old cultural links between India and Tibet.
 
He  realised the importance of retaining Tibet as a buffer between India  and China... The minute India lost that buffer, the consequences are  there to see.

To  be fair to Nehru, it was difficult for him to know how the future  would shape out. Having said that, Nehru surrounded himself with  glamorous collaborators and ignored warnings of the impending threat.

'Two  great Indian leaders warned Nehru and the nation against the  impending danger which would come as a result of the liquidation of  Tibet’s independence -- one was Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar and the other  Veer Savarkar'.

Conversely  this is what then home secretary V P Menon said about Patel:
 
'Having  selected his men, Patel trusted them entirely to implement his  policy. Sardar never assumed that he knew everything and he never  adopted a policy without full and frank consultation.'

It  is very difficult to undo the past, but in hindsight the Indian  subcontinent would have been a different place had Patel become  India’s first prime minister.

Leaders  of today can pay homage to Sardar Patel by being realists, calling a  spade a spade, having sound advisors, playing to our strengths etc.  Our policy should be guided by a policy of enlightened self-interest.
 
High  principles must be backed by sound armed strength to see they are  brought into practice.

Hope  the Statue of Unity constantly reminds us of Sardar Vallabhbhai  Patel’s virtues

The  author is a national affairs analyst and founder of esamskriti.com

Also  read
1. Life of Sardar Patel
2. Pictures of Somnath Mandir