Ironman of India – Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

Vallabhbhai Patel, a politician and a prominent leader in the Indian Independence Movement, born on October 31st was the first deputy Prime Minister and first Home Minister of an Independent India. He is popularly referred to as ‘Sardar Patel’ and ‘Ironman of India’.

He received the title of Sardar after successfully leading the agitation of the farmers of Bardoli in 1928. His greatest contribution to post independence India was the integration of 565 princely states, and creation of All-India Services. In 1991, India’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna was conferred upon him posthumously.

Early Life:

While growing up in a traditional Hindu family, his early childhood was spent on the family’s agricultural fields at Karamsad. By late teens, he had completed his middle school education at Karamsad. In 1891, when he was 16-years-old he got married to Jhaverba. At 22, he completed his matriculation from a high school in Nadiad/Petlad.

Patel aimed to work and save up enough money to go to England to study law. After schooling, he studied by borrowing law books and passed the District Pleader’s examination. In 1900, he started his law practice at Godhra.

With his diligence and dedication, Patel became a capable lawyer. While nursing his friend during a plague epidemic, he contracted the disease. Leaving his family, he went to Nadiad to recover.

In 1902, Patel moved back to Kheda district to practice law, where he successfully handled challenging court cases. With his law practice, he saved enough money to go to England to study law. The ticket bore the name ‘V.J. Patel,’ which were also the initials of his elder brother, Vithalbhai Patel. After learning about his elder brother’s wish to study in England, Vallabhbhai decided that his elder brother should go first.

In 1909, Patel’s wife got seriously ill and was operated upon in a hospital in Bombay. However, she didn’t recover from it. When she died, Patel was in a court fighting a case. He received a note bearing the news, he read it, however he continued with the case without showing any emotion till the end of the case. He never got married again.

At the age of 36 in 1910, Patel went to England to study law at the Middle Temple Inn. With his hard work, he not only completed the course a couple of months earlier but also got the first position in Roman law.

Patel returned to India in February 1913 and established a successful practice at Ahmedabad. As a well-established barrister in criminal law, he led a westernized lifestyle. He was known for his courteous, well-mannered behaviour, modern clothes, and expertise in the game of bridge. He wasn’t interested in politics. However, a meeting with Mahatma Gandhi in 1917 changed his views. Feeling motivated by Gandhi’s ideologies, Patel left the practice and became actively involved in the Independence movement.

Role in the Indian National Movement:

Joining India’s independence movement, Patel motivated the people of Borsad in September 1917 to join Gandhi’s cause for independence. Patel joined the Indian National Congress’ Gujarat Sabha as secretary and helped in Gandhi’s campaigns.

Kheda district faced a plague epidemic in 1917, followed by a famine in 1918. Despite crop failures, the British government refused to exempt the land revenue. Patel led the agitation of the farmers and Zamindars to get tax exemption. Throughout the 3-month long campaign, he came very close to Gandhi. He travelled through various villages motivating farmers to revolt against the government without any violence by not paying taxes. Several farmers and volunteers were arrested, lands were seized and people faced harassment, but the resistance effort paid off and the government was forced to exempt the taxes.

In 1920, he joined Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation movement. He and his sons burned all their western clothing and boycott all British goods.

In 1923, while Gandhi was in jail, Patel led the Satyagraha Movement in Nagpur, when the British banned the hoisting of the Indian flag. He succeeded in getting the consent to hoist the flag publicly, and also got the prisoners released who earlier got arrested for hoisting the flag.

From 1924 to 1928, Patel was chosen as the President of the municipal committee of Ahmedabad. During this period, he implemented various sanitation, water supply, administration and town planning programs. He also worked towards several social reforms, including the prohibition of untouchability, casteism, alcoholism, etc.

In 1930, Gandhi called for Dandi March and Salt Satyagraha to protest against the salt tax. As one of the leaders, Patel was arrested before the Dandi March on March 7, 1930. He was tried without any witnesses or lawyers. After Gandhi’s arrest, the agitation intensified demanding the release of the two leaders. Patel was released in June and took on the responsibilities as the Congress president in absence of Gandhi. However, he was arrested once again.

Patel was elected the President of the 46th session of the Indian National Congress at Karachi, in March 1931. Congress approved the Gandhi-Irwin treaty, though Nehru and Bose didn’t totally agree with the terms of the pact.

On August 8, 1942, the All India Congress Committee launched the Quit India Movement. Many prominent Congress leaders, including Patel, were arrested on August 9, 1942. Patel was arrested and confined at the Ahmednagar Fort for 3 years. All Congress leaders were released in 1945, after the end of WWII.

Sardar Patel & Partition of India:

Initially, Patel was against the partition of India. However, he realized that communal conflicts in a long run could lead to a weak government at the centre, so he agreed for a separation based on religion preferences. Gandhi and other Congress leaders were totally against partition. He tried to make Gandhi understand that the Congress-Muslim League alliance government would not work, and may lead to a civil war in the country in later years.

At the time of independence, the partition of British India into India-Pakistan resulted in large-scale communal riots. Patel worked tirelessly to determine peace, and provide safety and essentials to the refugees. He went on borders to organize relief and set up refugee camps. He also called in the army to bring the situation under control.

Death & Legacy:

After Gandhi’s assassination in 1948 Patel suffered a heart attack.. His health began to deteriorate in the latter half of 1950. In December, he was taken to Bombay. He had a second heart attack there, and he rested in peace on December 15, 1950.

In 1980, the Sardar Patel National Memorial was opened at Moti Shahi Mahal, Ahmedabad. A major dam on River Narmada (Gujarat) was dedicated to him as Sardar Sarovar Dam. The international airport in Ahmedabad and several other academic institutions are named after Patel.

After his death, he was awarded India’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna, in 1991.

In 2014, it was declared that the nation would annually celebrate Patel’s birthday, October 31st, as Rashtriya Ekta Diwas or National Unity Day.

Recently, the world’s tallest statue, the 182-meter tall Statue of Unity, was dedicated to him. It was inaugurated on 31st October 2018. It is approximately 3.2 km away from Sadhu Bet near Vadodara, Gujarat. Built at an approximate cost of 29.8 billion rupees, the entire complex is also surrounded by an artificial lake.

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