India's Iron Man
In the week preceding October 31st and on the date itself one had riveted one's attention on the Indian Government machinery and the Indian media as to how much notice they would take and pay service to the memory of independent India's greatest son whose 131st birth anniversary fell that day. It was the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhai Patel a towering but self-effacing leader on whom the appellation 'Sardar' was bestowed by the people of Bardoli in Gujarat where he had led a very determined agitation against the British. While Gandhi had earned the title 'Mahatma' about ten years earlier, Patel was bestowed the title of 'Sardar' for his sterling qualities of leadership against all odds.
'Sardar' broadly translated from Hindustani carries many meanings: 'The Chief', or ' The Indomitable Leader' or 'The Noble Leader'. Patel was all of these and this title continued as a prefix to his name. Jawaharlal Nehru the other freedom movement leader despite his charismatic personality could not earn any title bestowed by the people of India. He had to continue with the prefix 'Pandit' which was the common term used by all high class Brahmins. So going by their appellations it was Sardar Patel who was 'The Indomitable Leader' amongst the trinity of Gandhi, Patel and Nehru.
Unlike the long line of political dignitaries which make a bee-line to the various 'Ghats' and 'Samadhis' on such occasions nothing exists of that sort for Sardar Patel in New Delhi except a statue. There are no Memorial Libraries or Bhavans to commemorate his matchless role in India's freedom struggle or his unsurpassable contribution to the building of a stable and modern India in the short time that he had from August 15, 1947 to December 15, 1950 when he passed away. So this October 31 also passed with the public being unaware of Sardar Patel's birth anniversary as there was no conscious effort by the Government to highlight it. It was as if India had a national memory loss on Sardar Patel.
Sardar Patel was the 'Iron Man' of India. He was more than India's 'Bismarck'. Few in India would be able to recall that it was Sardar Patel who by his pragmatic and visionary statesmanship and statecraft welded more than 500 princely states of India into a merger with India. Many of the princely states merged with India voluntarily but not without the impact of the strong persuasive personality of Sardar Patel. Others like Junagadh and the very sizeable Hyderabad State under the Nizam had to face 'Police Action' by Sardar Patel as the country's strong, powerful and assertive Home Minister with the States Ministry under his charge.
If Nehru with his sentimental attachment to his ancestral Kashmir and under what I suspect the influence of Mountbatten had not moved the charge of Kashmir from the Home Ministry to his personal charge in the External Affairs Ministry, India today would not have been saddled with the Kashmir problem and Jihadi Terrorism emanating from Pakistan in the name of Kashmir. Like many other strategic blunders by Nehru jeopardizing India's security his Kashmir and China policies were monumental blunders which plague India till today.
Sardar Patel with his eagle-eyed strategic vision and as a strong votary of political statecraft based on 'political realism' as opposed to 'political idealism' had given many warnings in writing to Nehru as the Prime Minister both on his Kashmir policies and also on his China policies. Only if Mahatma Gandhi had not foisted Nehru as the Prime Minister of India and had let Sardar Patel as the 'Indomitable Leader' assume the mantle of Prime Minister the history of India would have been different. But then even the Mahatma was not without frailties and weaknesses.
It is the measure of Sardar Patel's greatness that on his demise that even British leaders and the British media paid glowing tributes. Nothing could be more eloquent than what the British newspaper The Guardian expressed which is as follows:
Without Patel, Gandhi's ideas would have had less practical influence and Nehru's idealism less scope., Patel was not only the organizer of the fight for freedom, but also the architect of the new State when the fight was over. The same man is seldom successful both as rebel and statesman. Patel was the exception.
Sardar Patel was truly an exceptional man and the Indian Nation State needs to do more to honor this architect of Modern India than it has done so far. I had the honor to visit his simple but dignified and austere Memorial at his native place of Karamsad near Anand in Gujarat. But then this Memorial is tucked away in a corner of India leaving the rest of present day India totally unaware of Sardar Patel's magnificent contributions to the solidarity and stability of India.
It is good that the Congress Party does not give too much prominence to Sardar Patel in its political hoardings as Sardar Patel was more than a Congress Party leader. He was India's leader and the architect of Modern India. Sardar Patel was and truly should be the icon of modern India. Sardar Patel always dreamt of a strong and powerful India taking full cognizance of strategic realities as opposed to unwise idealism.
It is my appeal to the people of India to organize a campaign to set up a National Memorial in the hallowed memory of 'The Great Sardar' which should incorporate an extensive Memorial Library for research on his political thought and contributions. It should be spread over an area of at least ten acres of land in New Delhi but outside it. The Sardar was never comfortable in post independence New Delhi. A suitable site could be across the road from the Akshardham Temple towards NOIDA side on the banks of the Yamuna River. It should incorporate a giant statue of Sardar Patel gazing over New Delhi as if his paternalistic gaze would protect India for all times to come, auditoriums library and research centers. In size and scale it should match Sardar Patel's towering personality.
In such a memorial the Government should be excluded from any participation as no Government so far in the last 60 years deemed it fit to raise such a memorial to 'The Sardar'. The cost of land and the Memorial facilities should be raised by public contributions and the project be handled by a Trust with no political or bureaucratic personalities in the Trust. One could even entrust the Akshardham people for the speedy execution of the Sardar Patel National Memorial.
While 'The Sardar' belonged to the whole of India and all Indians should contribute to its cost, I am sure the people of Gujarat who have a special claim on his heritage will with their affluent assets and means all over the world and especially in the United States would rise to the occasion and make a Sardar Patel National Memorial in New Delhi a reality.
Image Source: rajyasabha.nic.in
The portrait donated by the Maharaja of Gwalior and painted by N.S. Subhakrishna adorns the Parliament House in India. It was unveiled by the then President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad on 23 April 1958.