Soldier 1948 to 1950
SP’s prestige was its peak. While being acting PM, he wrote letters to provincial Premiers on Berlin, Japan, China, Indonesia, Burma, UN and several internal problems. The letters dispose of the charge that he was an Indian isolationist. G’s going removed the equality in his relationship with Nehru and made Nehru the Sardar’s chief. Patel’s heart attack and four months of rest underscored the new relationship. Inspite of Hyderabad, SP was aware of Nehru’s primacy and popularity.
The left assailed him. While admitting SP’s role in unifying India, Ashok Mehta, a socialist criticised his economic policies and capitalist friends. While SP rubbed shoulders with the rich, he was independent of them, led a simple life and sought no favor for himself or his family. Manibhen stayed in a one room apt till her last in the 1980s. SP was unlike the Leftists who took money from the capitalists and abused them. Mehta changed his views and said in 1980 “Looking back, perhaps, in those difficult years, 1946-7-8, he had a case. It was a question of India surviving or not surviving. I think we did not, atleast I failed to, take that fact into account”.
Now SP urged discipline in the Congress and hard work in factories and farms. Nehru attacked capitalists, landlords and imperialists. Nehru’s popularity surged with his appearances on the world stage. SP’s words were less appealing in comparison. SP could have retired but he had promised G to stay at Nehru’s side and national interest required it too. An occasional caller, J R D Tata, would retain the impact of SP’s good sense and logic and contrast it with Nehru’s mould of thought.
At the end of October 1948, Pattabhi was elected Congress President. Although it was known that SP preferred P Tandon, the election went off smoothly. Despite their divergent views, it seemed that the big two began to realize each other’s usefulness. Said Nehru “But for Sardar’s affection and advice, I would not have been able to run the state”.
When Sardars’s plane to Jaipur had got lost there was tension. On his return to Palam, he entered the Parliament Chamber later that day to be cheered for three full minutes. But he had been moved. Said the Sardar of Bardoli in a broken voice “The demonstration of love and affection which I have seen today will have abiding place in my memory. The three or four hours which I spent on the riverbed were filled with thoughts of the anxiety caused to my countrymen”. SP had gone to Jaipur to inaguarate the Greater Rajasthan Union that consisted of Kotah, Bundi, Dungarpur, Udaipur, Jaipur, Bharatpur, Bikaner, Jaisalmer amongst others.
While SP opposed the RSS’ s ideology he was impressed by the discipline and conscious that it had saved numerous Hindu, Sikh lives during the 1947 killings.
Hindus leaving East Pakistan far exceeded Muslims entering it putting pressure on W Bengal’s economy. As a third solution SP had said that if it did not stop, India would send out Muslims in equal numbers. As Sardar were to agree later it was a wrong thing to say. Dissatisfaction within the party on Nehru’s approach to the influx problem had given SP a chance to strengthen himself against Nehru But he had rejected it.
Liaqat Ali came to India to resolve the problem. Nehru pressurized SP to meet him. SP said to Liaqat, “Jawarharlal is exerting day and night for Muslim rights. I lie awake at night worrying what happened to G might happen to him”. When Liaqat proposed that both Bengalis must have ministers for minority affairs, SP opposed it. But a pact was signed that SP supported. The two govts agreed to ensure equality of citizenship to Hindus and Muslims alike constitute minority commissions and place minority representatives in the govts of Bengal and Asaam. SP went to W Bengal and sold the agreement to the people there.
If SP controlled the party and services, Nehru enjoyed the confidence of the masses and intelligencia. Such was the distribution of influence between 1947 and 1950. As chairman of the Advisory Committee on minorities, he completed the abolition of separate electorates.
After India became a Republic, the Governor General was to be replaced by a President. Nehru wanted Rajaji to be President. SP was willing but changed his mind for two reasons. One was the party’s desire to make Prasad president. Most members of the Constituent Assembly could not forget the Quit India Movement when Prasad went to jail but Rajaji was proposing accommodation with the Raj and League. Yet despite his personal preference for Prasad, if approached properly, SP would have helped in getting Rajaji the job. Nehru’s impatience and pride ruled out a solution, ably exploited by Shri S Sinha, the govts Chief Whip. He told Nehru that the talk among assembly members was that the PM would not be able to install Rajaji without SP’s help. Hurt, Nehru wanted to prove that Rajaji could be elected on his own. He wrote to Prasad that he had discussed the matter with SP (when he had not) and they felt that the present arrangement must continue i.e. Rajaji must become president.
Prasad and Nehru both turned to SP who was in Mumbai. Note that Nehru had not aplogised to SP for using his name without speaking to him. Prasad’ stand, the party’s view and being taken for granted SP wrote to Nehru that the matter was complicated and needed to be handled tactfully and cautiously.
At the party MP’s meeting, it seemed that Nehru was to loose but SP took charge and told Nehru that a decision would be taken after his return from London. That night Nehru informed SP through a handwritten note that he would resign if Rajaji was not made president. That Nehru did not talk of quitting five weeks after his return was expected but he still tried to get Prasad to step down. Rejecting Nehru’s baits, Prasad stood firm forcing Rajaji to announce his retirement. SP told Rajaji “Nehru has spoilt everything. I wanted to do it tactfully. He has rushed into the matter”. Unable to harbor any resentment against SP, Rajaji spoke of the universal confidence that SP commanded. The adroit SP had won and a rash Nehru had lost.
It was not east to get SP to comment on foreign affairs but he was clued in. On Tibet he wrote to Nehru on 4.6.49 “We have strengthen our position in Sikkim and Tibet. The farther we keep away from the Communist forces the better. I anticipitate 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.
Nehru ignored SP’s views. Six months later the two differed on the timing of India’s recognition of China’s new govt. SP to Nehru excerpts “My own feeling is that we do not stand to gain anything by being in the lead (i.e. by recognizing China ahead of most other countries). In case you feel we must recognize China ahead of others, I feel we must have a discussion in the Cabinet”. Nehru’s reply “if we follow others, it would mean that we have no policy of our own, if we follow other countries”.
North Korea invaded South K in June 1950. India supported the UN resolution calling for assistance of S Korea but SP found the foreign ministries expression of India’s dislike of aggression unnecessarily apologetic. While Nehru strove to end the war in Korea and end mistrust between China and the U S, the Sardar focussed on China’s moves in Tibet. In 1949, China had acquired a strong leadership making SP anxious.
When China invaded Tibet in 1950, India’s response was an unsigned and unofficial note handed over to the Chinese Foreign Office expressing regret and surprise. Nehru India was more than willing to understand Russian and Chinese fears but SP was less understanding and accused of China of aggression / spoke of Tibet as a country in his utterances in Ahmedabad.
SP to Nehru on 7.11.50 excerpts “The Chinese govt have tried to delude us by professions of 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 as their friends. The undefined state of the frontier have the elements of potential troubles between China and ourselves. 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.
Said the London Economist excerpts “ If India decides to support the independence of Tibet as a buffer state between itself and China, Britain and the US will do well to extend formal diplomatic recognition to it”. Non-embarrassment of China was the cornerstone of Nehru’s policy.
Kashmir – On Nehru’s request he asked the Maharaja of Kashmir to leave the state. His own opinions were suppressed when the Constituent Assembly considered Kashmir. Despite strong feelings among members, as acting PM, he agreed to a special status for Kashmir. Abdullah pressed for them backed by Azad and Ayyengar. The three seemed to represent Nehru’s wishes and he did not want to repudiate Nehru in his absence. In private conversation he said “Jawarhlal royega”. 4 yrs later Abdullah was dismissed/arrested. Unhappy with Nehru’s handling of Kashmir he never said how he would resolve it. To him Kashmir was Nehru’s baby and he made no effort to pick it up.
Four times SP served as acting PM but never took advantage of Nehru’s absence. He never wanted to topple Nehru but wanted to contain him.
The Congress President elections came up. Nehru wanted Kriplani while P Tandon of U.P. was the other candidate. Why had not SP strived for a consensus? An itch for a tussle and an instinctive grasp of Tandon’s strength has influenced him but there were other factors as well. One was a feeling of being excluded, despite a membership of the Cabinet Foreign Affairs Committees, from consultations on foreign policy. Another was Nehru’s increased critical interest in the functioning of the Home and States Ministries. Realizing the possibility of defeat Nehru wrote to SP that if Tandon won, he would neither function in the WorCom not continue as PM. SP offered to cooperate with Nehru but it was too late. Tandon won. SP asked Rajaji after the result “Have you brought Jawarhlal’s resignation? SP was not expecting it, Nehru had changed his mind.
Said Kriplani in 1974 “The Sardar was the greatest administrator we had”. Old, unwell, tired SP had lost nearly all the will to fight Nehru except on the issue of Kidwai’s nomination to the Congress WorCom. Said SP to Rajaji in the middle of October 1950 “Till Bapu’s death, I used to oppose and fight with him. Bur now I have given up”. In view of G’s last wish any open criticism would look bad. But he would not remain silent if he found Nehru causing irreparable harm to the country. An autocrat with an ego, SP said to Rajaji about Nehru.
He passed his last on Friday the 15th of December. Said Rajaji “What inspiration, courage, confidence and force incarnate Vallabhai was! We will not see the like of him again”. Said Prasad “Sardar’s body is being consumed by fire but no fire on earth can consume his fame. We grieve for ourselves not for him”.
Said V P Menon “in the tasks that lie ahead, India would do well to remember the pregnant words of Sardar that “it will be a folly to ignore realities, facts take their revenge, if they are not faced squarely and well”.
This essay is my Tribute to the Iron Man of India. If Swami Vivekananda expounded the greatness of the Indian Civilization, restored self-confidence in the Hindus of their culture, Sardar Patel unified India as none other.