It will be my singular honour as the President of the India League to lay flowers and give a short speech at the Statue of Mahatma Gandhi, this Saturday, on Gandhiji’s birthday, at the invitation of the High Commission of the Republic of India.
In one sense it is ironic India should celebrate Independence Day a couple of months ago in August. It is after all a civilization older than its former Imperial masters. A country born not 70-odd years ago but a nation 5000 years old. To celebrate a blip in its recent history seems to put it in the same category as all those ordinary new nations.
More to be celebrated is the exceptional manner in which India gained Independence. And in this struggle whilst the world rightly knows Gandhiji, too often forgotten is Sardar Patel.
Let us not forget that the Sardar was elected to be India’s first Prime Minister – he was the people’s choice. As Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister he was charged with forming the Union of India by ensuring that all 565 Princely States within the territory acceded to India – rather than sought accession to Pakistan or seek to be Independent nations. Remember Hyderabad in the centre of India sought to secede to Pakistan. Patel made the Prince an offer he could not refuse.
He earned the reputation as the iron man of India for precisely his firmness in ensuring the shape of modern India, and whilst he focused on the Hyderabad succession issue Nehru dealt with Kashmir. The rest as they say is history and to this day many say that under Patel, the Kashmir dispute would never have occurred. In any event, it is a dispute no more.
But as Gandhiji represented peaceful revolution, the likes of which mankind had not seen since Christ walked in Jerusalem, so Patel was a man of his times. To understand him we have to understand from where he hails.
If you visit the Sardar’s former home in the tiny village of Karamsad in Gujarat, one of a million villages in India, a home in a non-descript alley, there you will find a living room the floor of which is made of cow pats. The British Empire they say was formed on the playing fields of Eton. The end of the British Empire was formulated on this cow pat floor in Karamsad, in a small village in what to the greatest Empire known to man must have seemed the middle of nowhere.
These men who constructed the most populous democracy in the history of the world and precipitated the end of the age of empires. More than the modern Americans or the ancient Greeks – they brought more people under the umbrella of democracy than any other individual ever to have lived. Not Lincoln, not Washington, not the American Revolution, not the French revolution, can claim that success as these men.
As the Mahatma and Patel knew, freedom is not free at all, it comes with the highest of costs. The cost of blood.