At a function to inaugurate a museum dedicated to the life of India’s first Home Minister and freedom fighter, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi while welcoming Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was present on the dais with him, said that if Patel had become the first PM of India, the face of the country would have been different. “I wish Patel had become the first PM of India. Patel was a visionary.”
Modi could be right.
Patel undoubtedly was a very able administrator with keen awareness of national security and political ground realities. His proposal early on to define the border with China, which Nehru ignored, was just one of his sensible moves that could have altered history. His actions to virtually coerce the princely states to merge with India are considered his greatest achievement. His resolve to achieve this became evident from the ruthless army action in Hyderabad State where thousands were killed to bring the Nizam of Hyderabad to heel. It was Patel’s abilities as an administrator and a practical politician that induced the British to promote his administrative talent, along with Nehru’s charisma to sway public opinion, and Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence, to facilitate their rule during the last stages of the British Empire.
After Modi’s statement Congress and BJP leaders are in contention while laying claim to Patel’s legacy. Patel’s interaction with the princely states probably inspired Narendra Modi to plan the world’s tallest statue to honor him and to name it “The Statue of Unity”. Some Congress leaders are criticizing the move. BJP leaders have retorted that if there can be so many statues of the Nehru dynasty why not the world’s tallest statue of Sardar Patel.
I have criticized earlier the plan to erect the statue.
My objection was, and continues to be, about the proposal to call the statue the “Statue of Unity”. By all means erect the tallest statue of Patel or any other icon of one’s choice. But to name any statue of the early Congress leaders as a symbol of unity would be a hilarious absurdity were it not such cruel distortion of history.
Patel along with Nehru and Gandhi divided India and unified Bharat. By becoming complicit in this shameful betrayal of national identity he lost all claims to be termed as a national unifier. By this betrayal Congress leaders exposed not only their opportunism, their subservience to British manipulation, but also their flawed appreciation of national identity and of the ground realities in Punjab which along with Bengal bore the brunt of the pangs of Partition.
Apologists of Sardar Patel have tried to argue that Patel was in no way responsible for accepting Partition. They blame Nehru, and partly Gandhi, for Partition.
These apologists are wrong.
Patel along with Nehru was at the forefront of the Congress leaders who accepted Partition. Gandhi did so through a reluctant compromise. And the reason for accepting Partition will forever damn these leaders in the eyes of posterity.
On June 3 1947 the Congress Working Committee formally resolved to accept the Partition of India against all the solemn pledges they had made to the people of India who supported them in the struggle for freedom. Gandhi avoided direct participation in this decision by staying away from it through observance of his ‘day of silence’. Nevertheless Mountbatten obtained his oral consent through a personal visit one day earlier on June 2.
Why was Partition accepted?
There were no riots to speak of. In Punjab 1000 people had been killed in a single Rawalpindi riot during March, which was quickly stamped out, one month after Mountbatten became Viceroy. Therefore the early date of accepting Partition has been questioned and criticized. The reason has always remained a puzzle. That puzzle is solved when one considers why Sardar Patel was the first to convey acceptance of Partition as early as April.
The official minutes of the meeting recorded between Lord Mountbatten and Sardar Patel to discuss the Cabinet Mission Plan reveal what transpired in the talks. At that time the Muslim League and the Congress were disputing certain clauses in the proposed Cabinet Mission Plan by which Muslim majority provinces could exercise autonomous legislative powers that would have curbed the powers of the Congress government at the center. Both the Congress and the League were adamant about their respective stands. Mountbatten met Jinnah and Patel separately on the same days to sort out differences, but without success. This is what the minutes of the meeting between Mountbatten and Patel discussing the Cabinet Mission Plan on April 25-26 1947 read:
“Sardar Patel then made the following statements:
(a) Congress would not accept any suggestion for a further degree of parity (between Congress and Muslim League) in the present Central Government.
(b) If the Muslim League did not accept the Cabinet Mission’s plan, Congress desired partition.
(c) Congress had reached the maximum limit of their concessions.”
This, then, was the real reason why the Congress accepted Partition. It could not achieve agreement with the leaders of the Muslim League on the sharing of power in government, and on the relationship between the central government and the provincial governments to be governed by the League. The decision was totally divorced from ground realities and the wishes of the people of India.
Could opportunism and betrayal have been more scandalous?
The Congress opportunism and lust for power resulted not only in one of the worst holocausts of recorded history, but also in tearing apart the most secular region of that time in the whole of India, which has now become Pakistan.
The Muslim League had no strength worth the name in Punjab. The Unionist Party with Muslim, Hindu and Sikh leaders was dominant. When the Muslim League was declared in 1940 the Unionist Party along with other Muslim led parties automatically joined it. But the Unionists never belonged to the League or followed Jinnah. In 1942 Unionist leader Sikander Hayat Khan said that if the creation of Pakistan would mean the partition of Punjab province, his party would reject Pakistan. With huge funds channeled to Jinnah by the British through certain princely rulers the League succeeded weaning away some leaders from the Unionist Party to participate in a heavily funded election campaign fomenting communal frenzy. But the League failed to obtain a majority. The Unionist Party defying Jinnah formed a coalition government with the Congress and the Akali Party under Khizar Hayat Tiwana as the Premier. After Congress accepted Partition, Tiwana in desperation pleaded with the British to stay on in undivided Punjab even if they had to grant independence to the rest of India!
Successive Punjab Governors Evan Jenkins and Bernard Glancy advised London to expedite the Indo-Pakistan boundary. They said that would prevent Partition and the creation of Pakistan. No Muslim leaders were prepared to accept partitioning of Punjab. Whitehall ignored them. The Indo-Pakistan boundary was declared only after Independence. Today that region has become a Pakistan heavily infiltrated by Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The day that Congress accepted Partition on June 3 the Congress leader of the NWFP, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, in anguish said that they were being thrown to the wolves! Today that region has become the hunting ground of Al Qaeda terrorists. Yet Gandhi, Nehru and Patel paid no heed to Ghaffar Khan.
Could betrayal be more shameful?
No wonder that after the holocaust which occurred after Independence both Gandhi and Nehru admitted their errors and tried to undo the damage. Gandhi wanted to settle down in Pakistan to undo the spirit of the Partition. Nehru tried to forge an Indo-Pak confederation. Both failed because of untimely death.
Therefore can any one of these leaders including Sardar Patel be properly designated as a symbol of unity? A remorseful Gandhi even demanded the dissolution of the Congress as an electoral party on the day he died.
Congress and BJP leaders are free to fight over the legacy of Sardar Patel. They are welcome to it. The common people of Punjab, Bengal and Kashmir do not need this legacy. They have unfinished business to attend. They have to achieve what Gandhi and Nehru failed to realize in their last days. They will succeed because eventually the truth triumphs. Let Congress politicians and their supporters run away from the truth. Let them run to heart’s content. They cannot hide. One day the truth will catch up with them.