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Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: The Man Who United India

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: Iron Man

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was an Indian barrister, statesman, and a prominent leader of the Indian independence movement. He served as the first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of independent India from 1947 to 1950. He played a crucial role in integrating 565 princely states into a united India, earning him the sobriquet "Iron Man of India". He was also a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi and a champion of non-violence, civil disobedience, and peasant rights. In this article, we will explore his life, achievements, and legacy.

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: Iron Man

Early life and legal career

Patel was born on October 31, 1875, in Nadiad, Gujarat, into a self-sufficient landowning family of the Leva Patidar caste. He attended primary school at Karamsad and high school at Petlad but was mainly self-taught. He married at the age of 16, matriculated at 22, and passed the district pleader's examination, which enabled him to practice law. In 1900 he set up an independent office of district pleader in Godhra, and two years later he moved to Borsad. As a lawyer, he distinguished himself in presenting an unassailable case in a precise manner and challenging police witnesses and British judges. In 1908 he lost his wife, who had borne him a son and daughter, and thereafter remained a widower.

Determined to enhance his career in the legal profession, Patel traveled to London in August 1910 to study at the Middle Temple. There he studied diligently and passed the final examinations with high honors. Returning to India in February 1913, he settled in Ahmedabad, rising rapidly to become the leading barrister in criminal law at the Ahmedabad bar. Reserved and courteous, he was noted for his superior mannerisms, his smart English-style clothes, and his championship in bridge at Ahmedabad's fashionable Gujarat Club. He was indifferent to Indian political activities until 1917.

Role in the Indian independence movement

In 1917 Patel found his life changed after being influenced by Mohandas K. Gandhi. He joined Gandhi's newly formed Gujarat Sabha, a public organization that aimed at social reform and popular education. He also participated in Gandhi's first major campaign against British rule, the Champaran Satyagraha of 1917-18, which protested against oppressive taxation on indigo farmers in Bihar. He became Gandhi's loyal follower and adopted his principles of non-violence, truthfulness, simplicity, self-reliance, and service to the poor.

Kheda Satyagraha

and cooperative societies for collective farming and marketing. The Kheda Satyagraha was a success, as the British government agreed to suspend revenue collection and relax the conditions for tax payment. Patel emerged as a national hero and a potential successor to Gandhi.

Bardoli Satyagraha

In 1928 Patel led another major campaign: the Bardoli Satyagraha. It was a revolt of peasants in Bardoli taluka of Gujarat against a 30 percent increase in land revenue imposed by the British administration. Patel organized a network of volunteers and representatives who mobilized the peasants to refuse payment of taxes and resist confiscation of property and land. He also negotiated with the government officials and the leaders of the Indian National Congress to secure their support for the movement. The Bardoli Satyagraha lasted for six months, during which Patel faced arrest, imprisonment, and personal attacks. However, he remained steadfast and inspired the peasants to maintain discipline and unity. The British government finally agreed to revoke the tax hike and return the confiscated property and land. Patel's leadership in Bardoli earned him the admiration and respect of his countrymen, who conferred on him the title of Sardar, meaning leader or chief.

Quit India Movement

In 1942 Patel was one of the main supporters of Gandhi's call for the Quit India Movement, a mass civil disobedience campaign to demand an end to British rule in India. He urged Indians to join the movement and declared that "every Indian who desires freedom and strives for it must be his own guide". He also warned that "there will be no tenderness shown" by the British authorities and that "we will have to receive bullets". He was arrested along with other Congress leaders on August 9, 1942, and was detained in Ahmednagar Fort until June 15, 1945. During his imprisonment, he suffered from several health problems, including malaria and intestinal issues. He also lost his brother Vithalbhai Patel, who died in Switzerland in October 1942.

Integration of princely states

After India gained independence from British rule on August 15, 1947, Patel was appointed as the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of India by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He was also given the charge of the Ministry of States, which was responsible for dealing with the princely states that had not yet joined the Indian Union. There were 565 such states, ranging from large ones like Hyderabad and Kashmir to small ones like Junagadh and Travancore. Patel faced the daunting task of persuading them to accede to India and ensuring their smooth transition into a democratic system.

The challenge of Hyderabad and Junagadh

Two of the most difficult states that Patel had to deal with were Hyderabad and Junagadh. Hyderabad was a large state in central India, ruled by a Muslim Nizam who wanted to remain independent or join Pakistan. Junagadh was a small state on the western coast of India, ruled by a Muslim Nawab who acceded to Pakistan despite having a Hindu majority population. Patel considered both states as vital for India's security and integrity, as they were surrounded by Indian territory and had strategic importance.

Patel adopted a firm but diplomatic approach to deal with both states. He tried to persuade them to join India through negotiations and economic pressure, but also prepared for military action if needed. He sent an army officer, Major General J.N. Chaudhuri, to Hyderabad as his personal envoy to assess the situation and plan for possible intervention. He also sent troops to secure the border areas of Junagadh and prevent any Pakistani infiltration. When both states refused to heed his appeals, he ordered military operations to annex them.

The Indian Army launched Operation Polo on September 13, 1948, to liberate Hyderabad from the Nizam's rule. The operation lasted for five days, during which the Indian forces faced resistance from the Nizam's army and a militia group called Razakars, who were loyal to Pakistan. The operation ended on September 18, 1948, when the Nizam surrendered and signed an instrument of accession to India.

the Nawab's rule. The operation lasted for 10 hours, during which the Indian forces faced little resistance from the Nawab's army and police. The operation ended on November 9, 1948, when the Nawab fled to Pakistan and his Dewan surrendered to India.

The creation of a united India

By December 1948, Patel had successfully integrated all the princely states into India, except for Jammu and Kashmir, which was still under dispute with Pakistan. He had used a combination of diplomacy, persuasion, incentives, and coercion to achieve this feat. He had also appointed a States Reorganisation Commission to recommend the reorganisation of states on linguistic and administrative grounds. He had thus laid the foundation for a strong and united India with a federal structure.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister

As the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of India, Patel had to deal with various issues that arose in the aftermath of independence and partition. He had to handle the refugee crisis, communal violence, law and order, relations with Pakistan and Kashmir, among others. He also had to work with Nehru and other leaders of the Congress and the government to formulate policies and programmes for the development of India.

Partition and refugee crisis

The partition of India in 1947 resulted in one of the largest mass migrations in human history. Millions of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan and millions of Muslims from India crossed the borders to seek refuge in their respective countries. Patel was deeply pained by the partition and its consequences. He said: "I have agreed to partition because it was inevitable...But I am grieved at heart over this division...I am not happy about it at all". He also said: "The partition is bad. But whatever is past is past. We have only to look to the future".

Patel took charge of organizing relief and rehabilitation for the refugees who came to India from Pakistan. He set up camps, provided food, clothing, medical care, and security for them. He also arranged for their resettlement in various parts of India. He appealed to the people of India to welcome the refugees and help them in their hour of need. He said: "We are one nation; we are one people; we have to live together".

Communal violence and law and order

The partition also triggered widespread communal violence between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs in both countries. Thousands of people were killed, injured, raped, looted, and displaced in riots that erupted in Punjab, Bengal, Delhi, and other places. Patel was shocked and saddened by the bloodshed and hatred that engulfed the subcontinent. He said: "I cannot understand why people have gone mad". He also said: "We have to shed mutual bickering, shed mutual jealousy, shed mutual suspicion...and unite as one man".

Patel took stern measures to restore peace and security in India. He deployed troops, police, and paramilitary forces to quell the riots and protect the minorities. He also banned communal organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Muslim National Guards that were accused of inciting violence. He arrested several leaders of these groups and put them behind bars. He also urged religious leaders to preach harmony and tolerance among their followers. He said: "Religion is a matter between man and his Maker".

Relations with Pakistan and Kashmir

Patel had a strained relationship with Pakistan, which he considered as an enemy state that was bent on destroying India. He accused Pakistan of sponsoring cross-border raids, infiltrating spies and saboteurs, blocking trade and water supplies, fomenting communal trouble, and waging war over Kashmir. He said: "Pakistan behaves as if it is an enemy country". He also said: "We are not going to beg for peace...We are prepared for war if war is inevitable".

Patel was also deeply involved in the Kashmir issue, which was a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since 1947. Kashmir was a princely state ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh, who had initially decided to remain independent after partition. However, when tribal raiders from Pakistan invaded Kashmir in October 1947, he sought India's help and signed an instrument of accession to India on October 26, 1947. India accepted his accession and sent troops to repel the invaders.

the separatist movement in Kashmir and waged a war with India in 1947-48. Patel was in favour of a strong military response to Pakistan and a full integration of Kashmir into India. He said: "We cannot and will not allow Kashmir to be taken by force". He also said: "Kashmir is an integral part of India and no power on earth can wrest it from us".

Patel was instrumental in appointing Vallabhbhai Menon as the chief negotiator with Pakistan and the United Nations on the Kashmir issue. He also supported Menon's plan to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir under Indian control, which was accepted by Nehru and the UN but rejected by Pakistan. Patel was also involved in the drafting of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. He agreed to the provision as a temporary measure to win over the Kashmiri people and hoped that it would be abrogated in due course.

Legacy and recognition

Patel died on December 15, 1950, at the age of 75, after suffering a massive heart attack. He was cremated at Sonapur in Mumbai, and his ashes were scattered in the Narmada river. He was mourned by millions of Indians who revered him as a great leader and a national hero. He was also praised by his colleagues and contemporaries, including Nehru, who said: "History will call him the builder and consolidator of new India".

Patel's legacy is celebrated and honored by various means in India and abroad. He has received various awards and honors, including the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, which was conferred on him posthumously in 1991. He has also been featured on postage stamps, coins, and currency notes issued by the Government of India. He has been named as one of the greatest Indians of all time by various polls and surveys conducted by media and academic institutions.

Awards and honors

Some of the awards and honors bestowed on Patel are:

Award/Honor Year Remarks --- --- --- Bharat Ratna 1991 Posthumous Order of the Indian Empire 1947 Knight Grand Commander Order of St John 1948 Bailiff Grand Cross Doctor of Laws 1949 Honoris causa by Banaras Hindu University Doctor of Laws 1950 Honoris causa by Nagpur University Statues and memorials

Some of the statues and memorials erected for Patel are:

Statue/Memorial Location Remarks --- --- --- Statue of Unity Kevadia, Gujarat The world's tallest statue (182 metres) inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 31, 2018 Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Memorial Ahmedabad, Gujarat A museum and exhibition centre housed in Patel's former residence Sardar Sarovar Dam Narmada river, Gujarat A mega irrigation and power project named after Patel Sardar Patel Stadium Ahmedabad, Gujarat The world's largest cricket stadium (capacity: 1.1 lakh) inaugurated by President Ram Nath Kovind on February 24, 2020 Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport Ahmedabad, Gujarat The busiest airport in Gujarat Conclusion

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was one of the most influential and visionary leaders of India. He played a key role in securing India's independence from British rule and integrating its diverse regions into a united nation. He was also a staunch advocate of non-violence, democracy, secularism, and social justice. He is widely regarded as the Iron Man of India for his courage, determination, and resilience. He is an inspiration for generations of Indians who aspire to build a strong and prosperous India.


Here are some frequently asked questions about Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel:

  • When and where was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel born?

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was born on October 31, 1875, in Nadiad, Gujarat.

  • What was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's profession before joining politics?

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was a barrister who practiced law in Ahmedabad.

  • Who gave Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel the title of Sardar?

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was given the title of Sardar by the women of Bardoli who participated in his peasant revolt against British taxation in 1928.

  • How many princely states did Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel integrate into India?

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel integrated 565 princely states into India between 1947 and 1949.

  • When did Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel die?

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel died on December 15, 1950, at the age of 75.


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