Life of Sardar Patel

Boss - 1934 to 1939       

1935 was a difficult year for SP. In the summer he got jaundice and laid low for a month. Then Mohanlal Pandya, a key associate in SP’s fight in Kheda and Bardoli died in May. This was followed by infighting in the Gujarat Congress. In March 1935, plague hit Kheda. SP’s work in defeating the epidemic was praised by the Brits too.  In 1936, SP had his nose operated upon during which time his moustache was removed. It never came back. Asked about the missing moust he said, “ I have become a socialist”.

Gandhi and Nehru – In 1934, when G sent in his resignation from the Congress to SP, G assigned a role to Nehru that SP would not have conceded on his own. Said G “I miss at this juncture, the association and advice of Nehru who is bound to the rightful helmsman of the organization in the near future”.   

After Rajagopalchari refused to become Congress President in 1937, Nehru told G that 8 months were not enough for him to revitalize the Congress, so he wanted a second term. Then G asked SP to withdraw his nomination, which he did. G however, clarified, that Nehru’s appointment did not mean that the Congress endorsed Nehru’s policies e.g. socialism or that it was committed to rejecting provincial power.

Patel and Nehru – 1. After Nehru became Congress president in 1935, at the Lucknow Congress session, Nehru extolled the virtues of socialism. Though an acrimonious duel between SP and Nehru was witnessed, the two were not as divided as the Raj might have liked them to be. Soon, however, Nehru’s preaching of socialism in his speeches and a remark that he had consented to the WorCom’s composition against his better judgement created conflict. SP objected to Nehru championing a creed, which the Congress had not even accepted, and to the comment on the WorCom. Said G “the country should not be made to suffer for your mutual intolerance”.

2. In 1937 the Congress needed a new President. Nehru let it be known that he was ready to accept another term. SP was offended by Nehru’s apparent willingness to continue indefinitely as President. He wrote “The decked up groom prince is ready to marry at one stroke as many girls as he can find”. With G’s support, Nehru became president. SP became chairman of the Congress Parliamentary Board. Thus Nehru became the vote catcher and SP the party man, controller of ministries. Similar to Vajpayee and Advani.

3. The Congress won an absolute majority in five out of the eleven provinces and emerged as the leading party in another four. Nehru pushed through a resolution in the U.P. provincial Congress against acceptance of office but SP, despite his renunciation of the 1935 Act, wanted Congress to seize the considerable powers it offered. Thanks to G’s intervention, the Congress formed ministries in seven provinces.

4. The Nehru –SP relationship nearly broke down towards the end of 1937. The issue was the Congress ministries stand on law and order. Nehru was upset because Mumbai’s law minister Munshi had not, cancelled curbs on the activities of some 20 Communists. Also disliked by Nehru was a decision of the Mumbai ministry to provide police protection to workers not heeding a Communist call to strikes. After S S Batlivala, a Mumbai socialist was arrested in Vellore for inciting violence, Nehru proposed a rule requiring a provincial ministry to consult the WorCom before making arrests of the Batliwala kind. Rajagopalchari, SP and G opposed Nehru’s proposal. The policy of non-intervention by the Congress in the affairs of princely states found Nehru at odds with SP who agreed with G that the rulers of these states must not be pushed into the Raj’s arms. Nehru sought a change in this policy but was repeatedly outvoted in the WorCom. Nehru decided to resign from the WorCom but did not. They never clashed head-on but SP’s sympathies were there for all to see. He knew the value of silence and cost of unnecessary speech.

Election Results and Power – The premiership of Mumbai had been coveted by K.F. Nariman an able left leaning lawyer who headed the Congress in Mumbai. Confident of himself and taking SP for granted, he expected to be named leader of the assembly. SP had not forgotten Nariman’s role in the 1934 elections to the central assembly and told him that he did not support him but would not harm him either. Just when everybody thought that Nariman would be premier, B G Kher became the first premier of Mumbai. Inspite of many attacks by Nariman and pro-Nariman journals, SP remained silent. G arranged for an impartial inquiry, which held Nariman responsible for hurting the Congress in 1934, and cleared SP of using any undue pressure in influencing the MLA’s.Led by Jinnah, the Muslim League had in 1937 won 20 of the 30 Muslim seats in the Mumbai assembly and 108 seats in the country. In May, Jinnah sent a feeler to G about Hindu-Muslim unity, congress-league coalitions were on his mind. This would have given the League a presence in every Congress ruled province and undermined Nehru, SP. G did not take up Jinnah’s offer.    

SP said that he would agree to Jinnah’s plea if the League merged with the Congress. Jinnah ruled out a merger and the talks broke down. Munshi is not alone when he supports the Congress decision. In his view, League ministers in a Congress – League coalition would have been at the disposal of Jinnah to obstruct, defy, sabotage and by using veto, blackmail the Congress into submission. This was probably true in Mumbai but not in U.P. There was no way friction could have been avoided if the two had come together. Earlier, in January 1937, Jinnah and Nehru had clashed on one point – the Congress would never agree to Jinnah’s view that what the Congress was to the Hindus the League was to Muslims.

In U.P, of the 228 seats in the Provincial Assembly, 64 were reserved for the Muslims of which 26 were won by the League, 28 by independent Muslims, others and one by the Congress. The Congress would accept two ministers from the Muslim League on certain conditions, the most important was that the League would cease to exist and merge with the Congress. This has been held by many to be a turning point in the creation of Pakistan. Pakistan had been desired and agreed to long ago.

Extracts from Struggle for Freedom by the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan. “Since 1920 the Congress had claimed to be the sole champion of Indian freedom. Now came the League saying we are different, you are not the sole custodians of Indian freedom. Nehru emphasized national unity, which meant that there could not be separate parties for Hindus and Muslims but one party i.e. the Congress, which represented every community in India. The desire to merge the League with it arose from that thought. The Congress view was primarily shaped by Nehru, who had a poor knowledge of the history of Muslims in India and their attitude towards Hindus during Mughal/ British rule. Nehru believed that the Hindu-Muslim problem, communalism of today, to be a latter-day phenomenon that is essentially political, economic and middle-class. Did Nehru forget the invasions of Mahmud Ghazni and Timur and their outrage on the Hindus? Neither did Nehru have any understanding of the Aligarh Movement and its founder or else he would never have held communalism to be recent phenomena. Inspite of his experience of ten years with the League he hoped for the weakning of communalism with the coming of social issues. It only shows that he was an idealist, unable or unwilling to accept facts.

Similarly Nehru’s stand on national unity ignores some basic facts. It was the Congress which had in 1916 recognized the Muslims as a separate political entity, it was Gandhi by his action in respect of the Khilafat movement endorsed the view of Muslim leaders that they were Muslims first and Indians afterwards, that their interests were more bound up with the fate of the Muslim world outside India than that of India herself. Sacrificing the collaboration with the League was a mistake for which India had to pay dearly”.

My personal view is that the seeds for Pakistan were sown long ago, has to do with the nature of Islam. A few reasons to support the view. In response to a delegation led by Aga Khan to Lord Minto on 01/10/1906, Minto assured the deputation “that in any system of representation in which it is proposed to introduce an electoral organization, the Mohammedan community should be represented as a community and its position should be estimated not merely on its numerical strength but in respect to its political importance and service it has rendered to the Empire”. At a meeting on 30/12/1906 at Dacca, the Muslim League was established with the objectives to promote amongst the Musalmans of India, feelings of loyalty to the British govt, to protect the political rights of Muslims etc. The Secretary of the League declared “ We are not opposed to social unity of Hindus and Muslims but political unity no. The Congress and we do not share common political objectives. They want representative governments which means death for Musalmans”. These are excerpts.

Said G’s favorite Muhamad Ali at a public speech in 1908 “Muslims could not be expected to become martyrs to the unity of India and it would be a retrograde step in the political evolution of the Muslims to leave them at the mercy of an angelic majority”. At the first annual session of the Muslim League held at Karachi on 29/12/1907 said Ghulam Mahmud “The Muhammadans have a political status, having been rulers of the land immediately before the advent of the British rule in India, and as such they deserve a larger representation than may appear warranted by arithmetical strength”.

Excerpts from Muhammad Iqbal’s presidential address in the Allahabad session of the Muslim League, Dec 1930- “ Is it possible to retain Islam as an ethical ideal and to reject it as a polity in favor of national politics, in which a religious attitude is not permitted to play a part? Therefore the construction of a polity on national lines, if it means displacement of the Islamic principle of solidarity, is simply unthinkable to a Muslim. I would like to see Punjab, N.W.F.P, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state, within or without the British empire”.

At a conference held at Allahahabad on 01/01/1911 attended by 60 Hindus and 40 Muslims, said G “As a man of truth I honestly believe that Hindus should yield to the Muslims what the latter desire, and that they should rejoice in so doing”.

It marks the beginning of the appeasement of the Muslims by the Congress that eventually led to Partition”. End of  B Vidya Bhavan extract. If co-opting the League in the U.P. govt might have prevented partition, how does one explain Pakistan’s hate campaign, cross border terrorism for the last fifty years. The Muslims of Pakistan have an Islamic state, thus, they must have been content Na! But no, destruction of Bharat is their sole objective.

As Chairman of the Congress Parliamentary Board, SP exercised supervision over
Congress’s provincial ministries. He laid down certain rules that were to be followed by all to create a strong central authority. The Raj recognized his role and Viceroy Linlithgow noted in the summer of 1938, that SP was a figure of growing importance. Narayan Khare, the premier of the Central Provinces took on SP and was humiliated, had his wings clipped.  People accused SP of being an autocrat, fascists, dictatorial but he was unfazed.  Whether or not this affected SP’s popularity, the Khare episode strengthened SP’s image as the tough man of the Congress.     

Subsequent to Subhas Bose’ defeat of G/SP’s candidate Pattabhi’s in the Congress President election of 1939 the divide within the Congress increased. SP’s deep conviction that the Congress must not give up G for Subhas was as deep as Subhas’s conviction that he was the need of the hour. Abused by many of Subhas’s admirers his self-control was admirable. On an occasion when he heard that Bose had called him undemocratic he said “the Lion becomes a king by birth, not by an election in the jungle”. This strengthened his image as a toughie.

When the 2nd World War broke out in 1938, Australia and Canada were asked if they wanted to join the war but Indians were taken for granted. Incensed with the Raj were SP and G but they did not want to break with the Raj. Nehru however, was in a combative mood. Meeting under SP’s chairmanship, the Congress Premiers had agreed that cooperation with the British must be wholehearted if an understanding were to be arrived at between the Raj and the Congress. Nehru had indicated that the Congress Ministries might have to resign.

The Congress WorCom met at Wardha met in September 1939 with Jinnah staying out. After heated discussions the WorCom sided with Nehru, its mood affected by the Raj’s refusal to consult India before drafting her into the war and even more by a change by the British Parliament that empowered the Viceroy to override provincial governments, reducing the Congress Ministries to the status of Viceroy’s officials. G tried out his idea of nonviolent support to the Brits but it was shot down.

Discussing the event 11 years later, SP said “If only we had followed Bapu’s way fully the situation would have been totally different. Bapu was ready to offer moral support. But Jawarharlal stood in the way. If Nehru had agreed with Gandhi’s view, there would have been no Pakistan”. SP would add, referring to a Linlithgow-Patel meeting in October 1939, “that if the Congress does not support me I’ll have to take the Muslims help”.

However, SP did not oppose Nehru. G said “the Sardar’s stand was affected by popular opinion which shared Nehru’s view that friendship between India and England is possible but only on equal terms”. Reluctant to let go power SP accepted the reality of the divide. G and the WorCom asked two things of Britian. One would India be free at the end of the war and meanwhile representative Indians would be associated with power at the center as well.

The Raj rejected the Congress proposal but made a counter offer. Indians would have constitutional talks, not freedom, at the end of the war, during the pendency of the war they would be granted a decorative consultative committee.

The League promised the British govt support on two conditions. First that the Muslims must be assured of fair play and justice in Congress ruled provinces. Second, the British govt must give an undertaking that no declaration regarding the question of constitutional advance for India should be made without the approval and consent of the League nor any Constitution framed without League approval.

The Congress asked Ministries to resign. SP had remembered to ask the speakers of the Congress majority legislatures to adjourn their houses sine die. This was to deny Congress’s foes an opportunity to form ministries. The Viceroy began to depend of the League. For all practical purposes, Jinnah was given a veto on further constitutional progress.

Sardar and Muslims – 1. SP’s fight with the Dewan of Rajkot evoked from Lord Lothian, a pro-Indian Briton, a comment that was true and depressing “The people as yet have had no experience of representative institutions, and if the Congress pushes them too far, it may push the Muslims out of India altogether”. SP may have sensed this truth when he accepted without demur G’s decision to hand over victory to Virawala. The hues of Rajkot were heard in Bhavnagar as well. A crowd of 30 Muslims armed with knives, swords tried in May 1939, to attack SP who was being taken out in a procession of the local Praja Mandal but was saved because others received the blows.

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