Compiled by Sanjeev Nayyar from a book by Rajmohan Gandhi February 2001
Years ago I saw Chetan Mehta’s movie Sardar. The Iron Man left a deep impression on me. I was fortunate to read this book, ‘Patel – A Life’ by Rajmohan Gandhi. The essay is based on excerpts from the book & my own analysis. Quoting Rajmohan G, “There exists a general view that Gandhi was unfair to Patel is what prompted me to write this book. If a wrong had been perpetuated, some correction from one of Gandhi’s grandsons would be in order”. Wrote in 1959, our first President Rajendera Prasad, “That there is today an India to think and talk about, is very largely due to SP’s statesmanship and determination. Yet, we are apt to ignore him”. Imperfections had he but is anyone of us perfect.
I am sharing those parts of his life that saw him evolve, throw light on his personality and approach to problems. In order to provide you with reference and continuity, the essay refers to important events during that period. I have compressed a 540-page book into a forty three-page essay so it is not possible to cover every event and all issues in detail. My choice of content was decided by the importance of an event. I have tried my best to handle a complex subject. In case of any errors, am willing to stand corrected and seek your forgiveness. The essay is divided into Eight chapters.
Early Life (1875 to 1917) covers Patel’s family traits, education and initiation into the freedom movement.
Lieutenant (1918 to 1922) covers fight of Kheda and the Khilafat Movement.
Sardar (1922 to 1929) covers the battle of Bardoli.
Boss (1934 to 1939) covers SP’s relations with Gandhi and Nehru, elections of 1937, India and the Second World War, SP and Muslims.
Thwarted (1939 to 1945) covers relations between Gandhi and SP, Civil Disobedience Movement, Why did Gandhi prefer Nehru to SP, Cripps Mission in 1942, Quit India Movement, Gandhi’s wooing of Jinnah.
Victory (1945 to 1947) covers elections of 1945, Cripps Cabinet Mission, Why did Gandhi select Nehru as Congress President to be Premier, Direct Action Plan of 1946, Constituent Assembly, SP and Gandhi, Gandhi’s last bid to avoid partition, Partition accepted and Princely states.
Climax (1947-1948) covers riots in Delhi and Calcutta, Jungarh Won, Kashmir, Hyderabad, payment of Rs 55 crs to Pakistan and Hyderabad Won.
Soldier (1948 to 1950) covers critics of SP, election of Dr R Prasad as President of India, SP’s views of Tibet and China, developments in Kashmir, election of Purshottam Tandon as Congress President and a tribute to the Iron Man.
Early Life (1875 to 1917) Chapter One
Halfway between Ahmedabad and Baroda is the town of Nadiad. Here was born Patel (P) on a day that people believe was October 31, 1875. He belonged to a family of land owners, Patidars, modern day Patels. Their ancestors – possibly linked to the Huns who swept down from the northwest from the 6th century or to the Gurjars of Punjab or both. Some of their characteristics were loyalty to Hinduism, rallying against outsiders, male supremacy, and silence before elders. Bluntness in speech, an unconcern about dress and appearance, a sense of superiority towards non-Patidars and self-image of tough men meant they were naturally born to rule over others.
Patel did his law and became Pleader, Borsad. Like many others at that time he too wanted to go to England. He saved Rs 10,000 and was all set to go until elder brother Vithalbhai expressed a desire to go. P gave his brother 15 days to make up his mind failing which P would go. This characteristic of keeping second string to his bow is, as we shall see later, became part of his character. This happened in 1901. He lost his wife Jhaverba in 1909. For the benefit of his children he did not marry again.
Patel sailed for Engalnd in 1910. From Marseilles, he took a train to Calais and via Dover reached London. He wore western clothes for the first time as he left for London. P resented British rule and the notion of Englishman’s superiority. The fire seen in his breadth, when he attacked Englishmen who were calling others uncivilized, was smoldering inside him even in 1910-1913.
He was admitted to the Middle Temple, one of the Inns of Court, as London’s law colleges were called. In 1910, Nehru was admitted to the Inner temple. While Nehru came via Harrow and Cambridge, P came via Petland, Nadiad and Borsad. P wrote his finals after a 20-month stay, passed in the first attempt and claimed a pound 50 prize. P was called to the Bar, a great honor. He returned to India in 1913. He decided to practice in Ahmedabad inspite of a good offer in Mumbai.
During the next four years i.e. 1913 to 1916 he aroused envy, awe and became the highest paid lawyer in Ahemdabad. Patel with his masculinity impressed the Raj’s custodians from 1913 to 1947. The Raj would have knighted him but Destiny! April 1915 brought Gandhi (G) to town. Curiosity took members of the Gujarat Club to the ashram in Kochrab that G had started there. They were told of G’s faith in Satyagraha, non-violence. P laughed and made others laugh with his ridicule of the crank and sarcasm about G’s brilliant ideas. However, what impressed P about G was his ability to gather a group of young, outstanding lawyers around him. A friend had also taunted P that public could not be served from the Club.
In October 1916, the Gujarat Sabha organized the Bombay Presidency Political Conference in Ahmedabad that saw the extremists led by Tilak sharing a platform with the moderates for the first time. Jinnah, at that time, a keen advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity was asked to preside. P attended and was impressed enough to visit Lucknow where the Congress was to hold its annual session. Unimpressed he returned to practice.
However, things changed soon. Offended by the appointment of John Shillidy as Municipal Commissioner of Ahmedabad, P’s friends urged him to enter the city board. Having won the election, he was by December 1917, a member of the city board and chairman of the sanitary committee.
Gandhi’s firm yet dignified rebuff to the Raj against the exploitation of the indigo workers of Bihar by their British masters had made the Gujarat Club decide that they wanted G as their President. P concurred. Thus, in April 1917 was forged the first link in the chain that would bind P to G. The incident probably convinced P that Shillidy could be got rid of. Not a guy who shooted from the hip, P gathered irrefutable evidence to prove Shillidy of deliberate insubordination, forcing the Raj to transfer him.
After accepting the presidentship of the Gujarat Sabha G proposed that signatures be collected for a memorandum for Montagu demanding Swaraj. By the end of Sept 8,000 signatures were collected. As P were to say later “ I felt that G’s ten lines had greater influence than a 100 page memorandum”. Working with a G initiated activity for the first time, he went to Borsad and called for signatures.
In November 1917, the Sabha had organized the Gujarat Political Conference where G urged leaders to speak in an Indian language. While Tilak spoke in Marathi, Vithalbhai had to struggle with Gujarati and Jinnah too stammered out a speech in Gujarati. 27 yrs later G said “Jinnah hated me since the day I asked him in a meeting to give up English and speak Gujarati”. Impressed with G, P agreed to serve as the secretary of the Gujarat Sabha’s first executive committee. G’s success in 1917 impressed P. Not to be left behind, P helped majorly when Plague struck Ahembadad and famine the nearby villages.
The farmers of Kheda district were going through trying times. Little rain in 1915, slightly better in 1916, too much rain in 1917. However, its peasants had to pay new higher rates to laborers, the First World War had increased prices, the district was hit by plague too. For these reasons they begged the Raj to lower the land revenue demand. G advised the Gujarat Sabha to ask the peasants to suspend payment until a reply was received to their letter from the Raj Office in Mumbai.
During the Sabha’s executive committee meeting, he laid down a condition that atleast one of its members should devote all his time till the Kheda campaign was completed. Obviously he was hinting at Patel. Wooing P was G’s objective. P went through self-conflict, was he give up his practice. Quoting G on P’s duvidha “ My practice may or may not be there tomorrow. Let me leave them a higher legacy than money”.
In his book India Wins Freedom, Maulana Azad says that P owed everything to G, P planned his wooing of G. This is untrue. It was G who needed P and not vice versa. It was courage to side with the peasants of Kheda rather than cleverness that made P join G.
Lieutenant (1918 to 1922) Chapter Two
Ahmadabad Commissioner F Pratt had against the wishes of P appointed an engineer Macassey. Faced with a serious water problem, the Gujarat Sabha had urged action. Said Mr Pratt “The best way Mr Patel, is for your committee to cooperate with the municipal engineer”. Unable to control himself P said “The best way is to relieve Macassey. Is there anything he has asked that my committee has not done? Yet when the secretary of the Gujarat Sabha waited on you, you asked him to burn down our houses. Why our houses? Why not burn the bungalow of this fellow who is the root of the trouble? We can see the ruthlessness of P’s speech. Unable to deny the charge, Maccasey resigned.
Coming back to the peasants of Kheda, the Government of Bombay ruled out suspension of revenue, period. Preparing for a battle ahead, G and P left for an inspection of Kheda’s villages to get first hand information. Pratt had used threats of seizure to collect the first installment of revenue, G urged Pratt to defer the collection of the second but orders for collection had been issued. Realizing that the peasants case was genuine an agitation was launched. 200 peasants signed a pledge on March 22 not pay to revenue to the Raj. P was to later, address a big meeting of Kheda’ s peasants at Nadiad, the place of his birth and early childhood. Gone was the suited booted P, in place were Indian clothes. He said –
“ This fight will act as a spark which will set the whole country afire. Happiness cannot be obtained without undergoing trials and tribulations, and if perchance you get happiness easily, it does not last very long. In India there is a district called Kheda which is the land of brave men. They will not receive assistance in this manner (i.e. help from the people of Mumbai or Gujarat)”.
Pratt responded by seizing the land of some nonpaying peasants of Vadtal. On Pratt’s request, G allowed him to address a gathering of 2,000 peasants in Nadiad. Pratt told the peasants that the Raj was well within its rights to demand land revenue, their lands would be confiscated if they did not pay, there was no way Lord Willingdon would agree to a waiver of land revenue, the final decision was in their hands. Well not only did Pratt not carry out his threat but on April 24 he ordered cancellation of fines and notices of confiscation of land. Only movables would be seized for recovery of revenue and those who could not pay would not be forced to do so. The orders were however, not made public. Apparently, Viceroy Lord Chelmsford forced Pratt to backtrack. The Viceroy needed G’s support in the War effort and did not want to alienate him.
Kheda’s peasants celebrated victory on June 29. Said G on that occasion “If it were not P’s assistance, this campaign could not have been carried out so successfully”
The Indian Muslims hated the empire’s treatment of Turkey, then the world’s largest Islamic state. Not only was Turkey defeated but it transpired in August 1919 that Britain intended to end the Turkish Sultan’s custodianship of Islamic holy places in Saudi Arabia. To India’s Muslims, the Sultan of Turkey was Khalifa, charged with the duty to protect the holy places. In May 1920, Turkey lost all her colonies, places like Mecca and Medina were placed under British guardianship. Indian Muslims were upset and wanted to restore Khilafat – the Khalifa’s lordship. This was an erroneous understanding of Islam as pointed out by J.W. Hore “there is no canon which lays down that the Sultan will always remain the Khalifa” Subsequent events proved him right when in March 1924, Mustafa Kamal seized power in Turkey, abolished Khilafat, expelled the Sultan yet no Indian Muslim felt then that his Muslimness had diminished.
Writing in 1971, Indulal Yagnik quoted P as having said “Imagine our fighting for the Arabs of Arabia when we ourselves are held as slaves under British bayonets in our own land”. Said P in 1920 “It has been a heartbreaking episode for the Indian Muslims, and how can Hindus stand unaffected when they see their fellow countrymen in distress”. G wanted Indian Muslims to adopt the doctrine of nonviolence to protest against Khilafat.
Upset with the inactivity of the Government over the Jallianwalabag massacre (considered by many to be a secondary issue) and the Khilafat, G launched the non-cooperation movement. People left government jobs, lawyers have up their practice, charkhas were installed in large nos, hindus – muslims worked together for the success of the movement. But Hindu Muslim unity received a rude shock when infuriated by the tales of insults to their religious leaders, the Muslims of Malabar, who trace their ancestry to Arab immigrants, rose in revolt (Moplah Rebellion) first against the government and then against their Hindu landlords. An independent Muslim state was declared, murder – arson took place and Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam. It increased the divide between hindus-muslims. Movements for strengthening the Hindu community were launched in reaction to these movements, in turn, caused disquiet among Muslims.
Foreign cloth was burnt. Once again P supported G. P switched to khadi. From 1921 most of P’s dhotis and kurtas were spun by his daughter Manibhehn. In July 1921, Muhammad Ali said that in the present circumstances the Holy Shariat forbids every Muslim to serve or enlist himself in the British army. For this sedition, the Ali brothers were arrested, tried and sentenced. What Ali brothers did not know that Mustafa Kamal for whose sake he was inviting Muslims to leave the army, intended to destroy the Khilafat. G raised the tempo by making two decisions. One would be a boycott of the tour by the Prince of Wales. Second, a mass civil disobedience would start in a selected area. Taxes would be withheld to press for Swaraj. The honor of hosting the first battle was to go Surat’s Bardoli taluka. The Prince’s visit was boycotted wherever he went.
To a truce offer backed by Abul Kalam Azad, G said that he would withdraw under two conditions, one the Ali brothers are released, two there should be an agreement before hand on the composition and date of appointment of the grievances committee. While all this was happening P was in Gujarat raising funds, recruiting fighters, reconciling differences and rallying the public. Asked to mediate in the villagers fight with Jehangir in the village of Varad in Bardoli taluka, Vallabhai was for the first time described as Suba (ruler) of Gujarat, an expression used by many till he would be called Sardar in 1928.
Bardoli was making intense preparations for independence. The patidars were willing to support the fight. While G addressed the crowds, P did not speak but occupied himself in studying the people very carefully. Gandhi issued the govt an ultimatum. In seven days prisoners should be released, bans lifted, Congress workers allowed to work without hindrance for Swaraj and Khilafat. However, violence in Chauri Chaura forced G to call the whole thing off making him unpopular in the process.
The Raj realized that arresting G would produce no rebellion. The Muslims felt that G had, by calling off the movement betrayed Khilafat while the Hindus were demoralized. In such an environment G was arrested and sentenced to six years imprisonment for preaching disaffection.
Sardar 1922 – 29 Chapter Three
P emerged from the loneliness following G’s arrest to take charge of Gujarat. He raised a million rupees for the Gujarat Vidyapith. He set into motion a campaign against imported cloth. He wooed the untouchables. In the Kathiawad Political Conference was asked the abolition of untouchability in Patel’s presence. With this P had ceased to be a leader of the Patidars and became the leader of Gujarat.
In September 1922, the Raj announced a levy of Rs 2 and a half lakhs on the residents of Borsad taluka. The Raj claimed the money as its expense on special anti-dacoity police posted in the taluka. Before taking on the Raj, P asked his trusted lieftants to tour villages and ascertain the facts. Their checking reinforced the view that the police were hand in glove with several dacoits, particularly Aliya. Sure about his facts, P had the residents of Borsad start their satyagraha. The Raj empowered officials to attach property or cattle in lieu of the tax with no success. Under pressure, the police arrested Aliya. The Raj was forced to rescind its earlier order. Once again P had secured a victory. Please note that he did not start the agitation till he had ascertained all facts. This style was an essential part of his character. G had on his release from jail praised P for his efforts in Borsad.
As President of the Ahemdabad Municipality, he had some solid achievements. Only a third of the city had drainage when he took over. The complete city had it by the time ended his term in 1928. Half of the city was electrified by 1928. More water was drawn and distributed. He was called anti-Muslim when he supported a proposal for demolishing of the wall built by past Muslim rulers. A lull in India’s fight with the Brits coincided with P’s municipal spell between January 1924 and the summer of 1928.
The Fight of Bardoli – For two years the residents of Bardoli had been protesting against the proposals for increase in land revenue. In January 1928, the rates for Bardoli taluka were increased by 22 %. Simultaneously, 23 villages were raised to a higher-taxed category, which meant a double increase for their residents. The peasants decided not to accept the order. They knew that the only man could help them Vallabhai Patel. Egged on by various deputation’s to lead the struggle, he first asked a group of Patedars to visit the villages and give him a first hand report. The group subsequently assured G that they would continue with their struggle even if P was arrested. Look before you leap was P’s time-tested policy. On Feb 4, 1928, he personally visited Bardoli and cross-examined representatives from 79 villages. Sure about the villager’s determination to fight, he sent a letter to the revenue department asking them to appoint a tribunal to go into the question. If the tribunal were not appointed he would have no option but to ask the people not to pay revenue.
Next P went to Vankaner village and coached the peasants like a general trains his troops. “Keep your doors closed, locked and take to the fields, only to return home in the evening. Make friends with your bitterest enemies. Only that way you can present a united front. Make as many women attend these meetings as men for they might easily betray you if they did not learn to see their dear cattle seized before their own eyes. The news from every village must reach Bardoli daily and punctually”. He told farmers not to underestimate the power of their unity. The organizing skills that P had shown were honed by his Bordoli experience, stint as municipal president.
The Raj made it clear that farmers who were not paying revenue within ten days of receiving notice would have to pay a 25 % fine. If they persisted in defaulting, their movables and buffaloes would be attached or they would forfeit their lands. Fifty nine years later, a group of five who were part of the 1928 battle, said “He held everyone in his spell. People felt their day was incomplete if they hadn’t heard the Sardar or read his speech in the Patrika”.
It was in 1928 that someone referred to Vallabhai as the peasant’s Sardar. Thus Sardar Patel (SP) was born. SP gained a significant point when the Raj reverted 22 of 32 upgraded villages to their original category. They still faced a 22 % increase but no longer on a higher base. The Raj used Pathans to recover property, seize cattle but had to withdraw them after public protests.
Most striking was the role of Bardoli’s women. They began to outnumber men at meetings, gave SP spontaneous homage, their hard earned money and sang rustic songs of the misdeeds of the hapless government. The Raj warned the farmers that their land would be seized forever. Land was disposed off to outsiders. SP promised the peasants “Your land will come to you knocking at your door”.
SP asked the kerosene merchant from Bharuch who had bought some land “to give thought to the retribution which will me meted out to him by God in this life”. Funds began to pour in. By the end of June 2 lakh rupees had been given to the Satyagraha Fund that G had opened. In early June 63 village headmen and 11 talatis of Bardoli taluka resigned.
SP met the Governor but nothing was agreed. After negotiations, holding of cards close to the chest by SP, the Raj relented. Through an agreement of August 6, lands that had been sold were restored to their true owners, prisoners let off and headmen reinstated. This was agreed to provide the difference between the old and new revenue was deposited with the treasury. A Bombay businessman provided the funds. An inquiry committee was appointed to reexamine the revenue but decided against the increase in levy. So Patel now became Sardar Patel for ever.
Bardoli was SP’s fight all the way. Neither the Congress nor the GPCC had any role to play. Bardoli had restored Indian’s confidence in their ability to fight.
Boss - 1934 to 1939 Chapter Four
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.
Thwarted – 1939 to 1945 Chapter Five
When the Congress Ministries resigned Jinnah told the Muslims that they had experienced deliverance while SP tried to show that the perception was flawed. Sir Francis Wylie, Governor of the Central Provinces felt that “the accusations of gross anti-Muslim bias on the part of the Congress ministries were moonshine”. Yet the image was stronger than reality. Responding to Jinnah, large number of Muslims observed Deliverance Day on December 1942. Aware of truth, the Raj gave too much importance to the Muslim view. Zetland spoke of a Congress as “Hindu organization which should reach a settlement with the Muslims” to which the Sardar retorted –
“We ask the Viceroy for the objectives of the war. We did not receive any direct reply but now we are being told to go and settle with the Muslims, that is, with the Muslim League. If we do succeed, we shall probably be told, Go and settle with the Indian princess. When that happens they will say, what about the Europeans who have so many interests in the country - You the British are the real cause of all arguments. You introduced communal electorates”.
Wanting to blunt Jinnah’s arguments that the Congress represented the Hindus, G did at the end of 1939 press the presidency on Maulana Azad. In 1940, even as Azad asserted that Muslims were part of the indivisible unity i.e. Indian nationality, the League resolved in Lahore for separation for Pakistan. It also announced total opposition to any Congress-Raj agreement that did not concede Pakistan. The quam heeded Jinnah, period.
Gandhi and Patel - G’s approach to the Hindu-Muslim question were not SP’s. Willing to listen to genuine complaints he would not tolerate baseless allegations against the Congress. With its back to the wall in World War 2, some like Rajagopolachari felt that England must be helped. Patel agreed but G could not, with his ahimsa, endorse Congress’s participation in a violent war. A series of talks with the Raj had convinced G of a Raj-League nexus to foil the Congress. Sharing the thinking of Rajaji that Britain might accept the Congress demands and welcomes an offer of active assistance in the war, SP voted for the proposal in the WorCom. Nehru and G were both against it but SP’s backing ensured that the proposal carried through. SP had for the first time in 22 years gone against G but G was confident that SP would be back with him. Within a week SP and Rajaji wavered. The Raj proved G correct. A Viceregal statement said that if the Raj, Congress, League and the Princes reached an agreement, a certain number of politicians might be included in Executive Council of the Viceroy, who would however have the last word. At the end of the war, India would offer not freedom but a body to devise the framework of the new constitution. SP was relieved but his going against G was only a precursor of the 1947 gulf between the two of them.
A Civil Disobedience Movement was started in Oct 1940 that petered out. It was resumed in early 1941, nearly 15,000 were imprisoned including SP. Due to failing health, he was released in October. This policy has been criticized by many due to unwillingness of Nehru, G to embarrass the Brits and appears to be a desire to take the wind out of the sails of Subhas Bose’s party that had begun its campaign of Civil Disobedience in right earnest. On December 7, Japan swept across the Pacific and the WorCom following Rajaji’s lead accepted the impossibility of defending India non-violently against a Japanese invasion. Suspending satyagraha the WorCom offered cooperation to the Allies if India’s freedom was declared. Much against G and SP’s wishes, at the AICC session at Wardha in January 1942 was the above resolution passed.
It was on 15/01/1942 that G designated Nehru as his successor. He said “You cannot divide water by repeatedly striking it with a stick. It is just as difficult to divide us—When I am gone he will speak my language”. Why did G prefer Nehru to Patel? One was that SP was less popular than Nehru with the country’s leftists, youth and Muslims. Two age and health went against SP. Three, G knew that SP was there to supply a corrective, when necessary to Nehru, who would be primus inter spares and not the sole guide. Fourthly, G may have felt that Nehru was more likely than SP to resent a number two position. He was certain that SP’s commitment had nothing to do with rank.
Five was SP’s distance from the Muslims. “You should try to learn Urdu” G advised SP in a letter. SP’ reply showed that the Wardha announcement had not made him any less frank or free with G. Sardar Patel said “ Sixty-seven years are over and this earthen vessel is near to cracking. It is very late to learn Urdu but I will try. All the same, your learning Urdu does not seem to have helped. The more you try to get close to them, the more they flee from you”. Said G later “Those like SP who have followed me without question cannot be called heirs. Nehru has the drive that no one has in the same measure”.
The war had pricked the bubble of the white man’s superior civilization. Seething under major losses, the U.S. had urged Churchill to make a move towards G and the Congress. Under pressure, Churchill nominated Sir Stafford Cripps to take new proposals to Delhi. Cripps in early 1942 offered India full Dominion Status after the war, with the right of secession from the Commonwealth and a post war Constituent Assembly whose members would be chosen by provincial legislatures or nominated by the princes. For now, India could have a national government. In other words, once India became a dominion, every province would have the right to secede. Cripps incorporated this clause to get Jinnah’s acceptance but he gave the Congress a verbal view that no province would in fact demand that right. (why are we Indians so gullible to be taken in by verbal assurances, Indira Gandhi took Bhutto’s words on Kashmir while signing the Simla Agreement in 1972). Jinnah welcomed the proposals because it implied Pakistan but rejected the scheme because it gave provinces and not what he called the Muslim nation the right to separate. G and SP opposed Cripps proposals and accused the Muslims to be intransigent.
Though they did not realize, SP, Nehru and Azad had in their answer to Cripps, taken a step towards the acceptance of Pakistan. The WorCom clarified that it could not “think in terms of compelling the people of any territorial unit to remain in an Indian Union against their clear and established will”. Although SP was associated with this comment, in all probability it was drafted by Nehru and desired in the first instance by Azad.
Cripps proved to the world that India was hopelessly divided. Starting with the premise that Japan was enemy number one, Rajaji proposed peace with the Muslim League. G however, wanted Britain to leave India after which Hindus and Muslims would settle their disputes. Guided by Rajaji, the Madras Congress legislators proposed that the Congress should accept the League’s claim for separation of Muslim Majority areas. Deeply hurt SP took on Rajaji publicly. G supported SP. Unwilling to change his views, Rajaji resigned from the Congress and the assembly.
SP was the first to agree and Nehru the last to agree with G’s proposal of Quit India. A call to the British to withdraw from India implying that the Congress would struggle to enforce it was the crux of G’s proposal. At the Allahabad WorkCom the Gandhi/Prasad draft was approved on April 30 morning. In the afternoon Prasad withdrew it in favor of Nehru’s draft to maintain party unity. Kriplani recorded the reversal followed a statement from Azad that he would resign if the Gandhi draft was accepted. Despite being upset, SP accepted Nehru’s draft. It did not say that the Brits must withdraw from India but said the Congress would find it impossible to consider any schemes which, even in partial measure, British control over India. When Gandhi heard about the change he told Kriplani “ You should have allowed the Maulana to resign”.
G and SP agreed with Rajaji that the Brits were unlikely to leave India, they envisaged a struggle. Although Nehru / Azad were against Quit India, any patience or passivity by the Congress at that time would have isolated the Congress, allowing violent elements and Subhas Bose to capture the Indian mind. Quit India was for Indian wars than British. The movement did gather momentum forcing the Raj to arrest top Congress leaders. SP, Nehru and Azad with nine others were taken to Ahmednagar fort where they spent the next three winters. All this happened in 1942. In the words of the Viceroy “by far the most serious rebellion since that of 1857”.
If the Congress had been saved by Quit India, Jinnah had been strengthened; the Raj let its sunshine fall on the league. SP would maintain till the end that Quit India was correct. But in a suppressed layer of his soul, lay several thoughts of blame. Yet a significant thought had taken place in his mind. “Next time he would think twice before going by Gandhi’s instinct”. Inwardly SP was prepared to disobey G in the future. Interestingly Nehru would justify Quit India in 1956 “ I don’t think the action we took in 1942 could have been avoided or ought to have been avoided. If we had been passive then, I think we would have lost all her strength”.
Although the movement collapsed within two months it would be a mistake to suppose that it was a dismal failure. The violent upsurge of 1942 left no one in doubt that freedom’s battle had begun in right earnest. This movement, the last rising of the people against the Brits, was non-violent, not planned nor led by G, to give him credit would be wrong.
Jailed SP read and read. Mahtab said, “he did not seem to have a scholarly bent of mind while Nehru wrote, “it is difficult for Vallabhai to think internationally”. These comments should be read with the assessment of Pattabhi who wrote in Oct 1942 of the Sardar as “one who inspires awe as well as reference, who is rich in anecdote, flowing in sardonic wit and humor, seemingly ignorant of the current of thought in the world and yet fully conversant with their intimate details and courses, having in him embedded deep in his heart and brain numerous details which explain the politics of the past one score and seven years”.
Azad and Nehru disagreed with Quit India while SP supported it. Knowing each other’s views they avoided arguments by not discussing the subject. As for the ability to include international factors in national strategies, SP, as time would show, probably possessed in greater measure than Nehru. Earlier we note Nehru’s judgement on SP’s mind “lucid but may not be deep”. No wonder SP and Kripalani sensed a superiority complex in Nehru. Weighing the men in Ahmednagar, Pattabhi called SP, “the most wise”.
Unwell, G was released in May 1944. After conferring with Rajaji, G told the Raj that he was prepared to ask the WorCom suspend the disobedience movement and Congress would cooperate fully with the War Effort if a national govt. responsible to the Central Assembly was formed. It was similar to Azad’s proposal but SP did not want the WorCom to yield to the Raj behind G’s back. The Raj spurned the offer. The second move was towards Jinnah. In his search for the settlement with the League, G went 14 times in September to Jinnah’s house in Mumbai. SP, Azad and Nehru disliked this. G’s proposal that the Congress and League must jointly form a national government on the understanding that the contiguous Muslim majority areas could secede following independence, if separation was the preference of their adult populations.
G was conceding Pakistan through the Rajaji formula but Jinnah did not find it large enough or sovereign enough because G wanted bonds of alliance between Hindustan and Pakistan written into any treaty of separation. Jinnah wanted partition under British auspices and before independence. It is possible that subsequent to his release SP admonished Rajaji for instigating G into his talks with Jinnah.
On Gandhi’s authorization, Bhulabhaidesai in January 1945, held talks with Liaqat Ali Khan to initial a pact that meant a national govt. would be formed with five members each from the Congress and League with two representing other groups. Within a month Liaqat denied any knowledge of the pact. Inspite of having a copy initialed by Liaqat, Desai preferred not to call the bluff. Jinnah disagreed because it did not bar from including a Muslim on the list. SP had reacted violently against the concession.
In April 1945, SP was transferred to Yeravada jail in Pune. The war ended a month later.