Journal : Remembering Sardar Patel


Life Snippets … Source :

Vallabhbhai Patel was born on this day in 1875. He forged a united India from the 565 semi-autonomous princely states and British-era colonial provinces using frank diplomacy, backed with the option and the use of military action. He came to be known as the Iron Man of India and is remembered as the “patron saint” of India’s civil servants.

Patel passed his matriculation at the late age of 22; at this point, he was generally regarded by his elders as an unambitious man destined for a commonplace job. But Patel himself harboured a plan — he would study to become a lawyer, work and save funds, travel to England and study to become a barrister. Patel spent years away from his family, studying on his own with books borrowed from other lawyers and passed examinations within two years.

Patel cared for a friend suffering from Bubonic plague when it swept across Gujarat. When he himself came down with the disease, he immediately sent his family to safety, left his home, and moved into an isolated house in Nadiad; some say, it was a dilapidated temple, where slowly recovered.

Patel practised law in Godhra, Borsad and Anand while taking on the financial burdens of his homestead in Karamsad. He saved enough to take up his study in England and applied for a pass and a ticket, which arrived in the name of “V. J. Patel” at his elder brother’s home who bore the same initials. Patel’s elder brother, Vithalbhai, also sought to study in England and remonstrated to his younger brother that it would be disreputable for an older brother to follow his younger brother for study overseas. In keeping with his concerns, Sardar Patel let Vithalbhai go in his place, also providing funds for his brother’s stay in England. And pronto, he began saving again for his own goal of studying abroad.

In 1909, Patel’s wife Jhaverba was ill in Bombay and was to undergo a major surgical operation for cancer. Her health suddenly worsened and, despite successful emergency surgery, she died in the hospital. Patel was cross-examining a witness in court when he was handed a note informing him of his wife’s demise. As per others who witnessed, Patel read the note, put it in his pocket and continued to intensely cross-examine the witness. He won the case. Patel himself decided against marrying again and raised his children with the help of his family.

At the age of 36, he journeyed to England and enrolled at the Middle Temple Inn in London, finishing a 36-month course in 30 and topping his class despite having no previous college background.

In 1920, he was elected president of the newly formed Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee — and remained till 1945. He worked extensively for providing electricity, drainage and sanitation, and educational infrastructure, against untouchability and caste discrimination, opposing taxes on farmers reeling under famine, organising relief for people affected by natural calamities, and for empowerment of women.

Patel supported Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation movement and toured the state to recruit more than 300,000 members and raise over Rs. 1.5 million in funds. He helped organise bonfires of British goods in Ahmedabad, throwing in all his Western wardrobe. With his daughter Mani and son Dahya, he switched completely to wearing khadi.

During Quit India movent, Patel was interned in Ahmednagar fort from 1942 to 1945. He spun cloth, played bridge, read a large number of books, took long walks, practised gardening, and provided emotional support to his colleagues through their anxiety about developments outside.

In the 1946 election for Congress presidency, Patel stepped down in favor of Nehru at Gandhi’s request. The election was an important one : the elected President would lead free India’s first Government. Gandhi asked all 16 states representatives to elect the right person and Sardar Patel’s name was proposed by 13. But Patel respected Gandhi’s request to not be the first prime minister.

He became the Home Minister… and left a united, progressive India for poaterity. He died on December 15, 1950, leaving behind few possessions, a cane and a pair if slippers being the most prominent among them !


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