31 October 1875
Birth of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
On 31 October 1875, ‘Iron Man of India’ Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was born in Nadiad village in present-day Gujarat.
- Patel’s father Jhaverbhai had been a soldier in the army of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. His mother was Ladbai.
- He passed his matriculation in 1897 and then pursued law in England. After completing his law course in 1913, Patel returned to India and then established his practice at Godhra.
- He later moved his successful practice to Ahmedabad and initially wanted to accumulate wealth and live a comfortable life for himself and his family. He had married and had two children by then.
- In Ahmedabad, he happened to meet Mahatma Gandhi and after a couple of meetings, came under his spell. He became an ardent follower of Gandhi and started involving in political work.
- He became the secretary of the Gujarat wing of the Congress Party and volunteered to lead the Kheda campaign against taxation of peasants, since Gandhi himself would be at Champaran.
- The Kheda campaign (1918) was a success and through a village-by-village tour, Patel and his associated compelled the peasants to refuse to pay taxes until the government met their demands. Patel raised an army of volunteers who helped the villagers in this work. This revolt directed a lot of sympathy towards the farmers’ plight. The government agreed to talk with Patel and also suspended taxes for a year. Patel emerged as a hero of the people.
- After this in 1920, he was elected the president of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee. He remained in that position till 1945.
- When Gandhi announced the non-cooperation movement in 1920, Patel supported him and worked tirelessly organising it. It was then that he discarded his European garb and adopted Khadi. Patel was one leader who supported Gandhi when he suspended the movement in the wake of the Chauri Chaura incident.
- Another major campaign led by Patel was the Bardoli Satyagraha in 1928. Here again, he asked farmers to refuse to pay taxes in the wake of floods and famines in the area, and a steep hike in taxes by the government. After the success of this campaign, the title ‘Sardar’ was bestowed on him by his colleagues.
- Patel was arrested during the Dandi Salt March (1930). After his release following the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, he was elected the President of the INC in its Karachi session in 1931. He was again arrested in 1932.
- He became a central figure in the Congress Party and was its chief fundraiser and organiser especially in selecting candidates for the central and provincial assemblies. He believed in instilling discipline among the party members and did not want people to be distracted from the larger goal which was independence from British rule.
- He supported the Quit India Movement and inspired people to fight by an emotional speech made on 7 August 1942. He was arrested along with all prominent national leaders and released only in June 1945.
- Partition of the country seemed inevitable and even though Patel was against it, he understood that it was needed at that time as the Congress and the Muslim League could not see eye to eye on that issue. It was also needed to stem the tide of communal hatred and violence that was seeping throughout the country. At the Congress meeting set to vote on the proposal, he said, “I fully appreciate the fears of our brothers from [the Muslim-majority areas]. Nobody likes the division of India and my heart is heavy. But the choice is between one division and many divisions. We must face facts. We cannot give way to emotionalism and sentimentality….Whether we like it or not, de facto Pakistan already exists in the Punjab and Bengal. Under the circumstances I would prefer a de jure Pakistan, which may make the League more responsible. Freedom is coming. We have 75 to 80 percent of India, which we can make strong with our own genius. The League can develop the rest of the country.”
- Patel represented India on the Partition Council where the division of public assets between the two new nations were overseen.
- After the unimaginable horrors of the violence during partition, Patel set about organising relief work and refugee camps. He called the South Indian regiments of the Indian Army to restore order in the affected areas knowing well that the police force of Punjab and Delhi, who were too close to the tragedy, could not be relied upon.
- Patel is revered in India not only for his role as a freedom fighter but also for his role in unifying the country after independence. India was politically composed of British Indian provinces and the princely states which numbered more than 600.
- Patel is considered as the Bismarck of India with regard to his stellar contribution in the political integration of the country. When the Nawab of Junagadh acceded to Pakistan despite having an 80% Hindu population, Patel sent the army there. With a combination of military and political tactics, the princely state was merged with India. Hyderabad also, with a similar situation (Hindu majority with a Muslim ruler) followed the Junagadh way. The Indian army, on the orders of Patel, invaded Hyderabad in 1948 and secured its union with India.
- Patel was in charge of the Provincial Constitution Committee and the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities and Tribal and Excluded Areas, in the Constituent Assembly of India.
- For his role in setting up the modern civil services of India, he is also referred to as the ‘patron saint’ of the civil services. He famously called the services the ‘steel frame’ of the country’s government machinery.
- Sardar Patel died in Bombay of a massive heart attack on 15 December 1950 aged 75.
- He was awarded the Bharat Ratna posthumously in 1991. His birth anniversary is observed as Rashtriya Ekta Diwas (National Unity Day) since 2014.
Also on this day
1984: Indira Gandhi assassinated by her own bodyguards.
See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.
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