A Dedicated Daughter: Maniben Patel

 She lived a worthy daughter of the Sardar, the national hero of India  Nehru took the a bag of Rs.35 Lakh from Maniben without emotions

Dr. Hari Desai Monday 04th June 2018 06:03 EDT

She was destined to study in England but ended up graduating from Gujarat Vidyapith along with her younger brother. Both of them were left as boarders with one Miss Wilson of Queen Mary’s School in Bombay by their father, Vallabhbhai Patel, before he left for London to be a Barrister from the Middle Temple. Both used to talk in English with each other and took up French as a subject, but after their father became follower of Mahatma Gandhi, a transformation in their life made them study in the nationalist University established by the Mahatma in 1920. Despite becoming widower at the age of 33 and so much pressure on him to marry again, Sardar Patel did not budge since he never wanted a step-mother for his children.

Both, Maniben and her younger brother, Dahyabhai, were to be the Members of Parliament (MPs) in free India after their father and the first Deputy Prime Minister of India died on 15 December 1950. Vallabhbhai believed in creating history and even today he is remembered as the national hero. His daughter, Maniben Patel, never married and lived as a Sadhvi totally devoted to her father during his life-time. Even after his death she followed Gandhian simplicity despite being four time MP in Lok Sabha and one time MP in Rajya Sabha. She lived life as a worthy daughter of Sardar Patel, strictly following her father’s ideals, till her death on 26 March 1990.

In January 1924, when Vallabhbhai went to his native, Karamsad, his mother, Ladba, raised the question of Maniben. Patel’s biographer, Rajmohan Gandhi, records: “Already several years older than most brides of the time, Mani, who was studying Gujarati literature, English and Bengali at Gujarat Vidyapith, would be 20 in April. ‘What is destined to happen will happen,’ the son replied. ‘I think God kept me alive only to see the day of Mani’s marriage,’ returned Ladba. Mani’s father remained silent. He had not asked Mani if she wanted to marry, or looked for a boy for her, or asked others if they knew of someone suitable.” Vallabhbhai hardly knew what his children studied. Fortunately for him, both, Maniben and Dahyabhai, were self-reliant. He loved them but could not talk to them frankly as his family tradition was like that. He wrote to Mahadev Desai: “Until I was thirty, I could not utter a word if elders were around…Older ones hardly spoke with youngsters.” There was a communication gap between the Sardar and his daughter. He was worried about her but when away from Ahmedabad, he used to write to her expressing her love and worry about her. In February 1925, Dahyabhai married Yashoda of Virsad in presence of Mahatma Gandhi in Gandhi Ashram. Maniben stayed with the Mahatma who was urging her “to serve Father with heart and soul” and reminded her of “the heavy responsibilities Father is loaded with”. It was the Mahatma rather than Vallabhbhai who made plans for Maniben. After her graduation from the Vidyapith in November 1924, she spent some weeks in 1925 with the Servants of India Society in Pune and thereafter in Wardha under the care of Jamanalal Bajaj and his wife Janki Devi. Rajmohan notes: “A friend noticed that the strong father chocked at Ahmedabad station while farewelling his daughter, and his eyes became wet.” In 1926, she lived at the Ashram for several weeks, in the room next to Kasturba’s. Meanwhile, Mahatma Gandhi wrote a letter to Vallabhbhai in January 1927 stating “Maniben has no intention to marry for the present at any rate. We must support her to maintain this attitude. You please cease to worry about it and leave it to me.”

From that day onwards, Maniben continued to join the Gandhian movement and be the shadow of her father as his care-taker and secretary till his death in 1950.Maniben kept day to day diary of meetings with Vallabhbhai and thanks to her we have the records available about Sardar Patel. She was jailed several times during Freedom Movement, offered satyagraha in 1975 against arrest of Opposition leaders under PM Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, was arrested in 1976 under D.R.I. for shouting slogans for release of leaders and removal of Emergency and Press Censorship etc., undertook Dandi
March in 1976 for the purpose of creating consciousness and fearlessness among the people. She was Secretary for four years and later Vice-President of Gujarat State Congress Committee (1957-’64) and during the Emergency President of Gujarat State Congress (O), 1976-’77. She was a Member of Parliament of 1 st , 2 nd , 5 th and 6 th Lok Sabha and a Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha during 1973-’77. Maniben served as Trustee of Gujarat Vidyapith, Navjivan Trust, Mahadev Desai Memorial Trust, Bardoli Satyagraha Ashram and Sardar Vallabhbhai Seva Trust. One would find her travelling in a rickshaw even during her last days.

After Sardar Patel died, the Birlas asked her to stay at the Birla House for a while, but the arrangement did not suit her so she left to stay in her cousin’s house in Ahmedabad. She used to meet people at Navjivan Trust office.This writer was also fortunate to have met her there. A woman of tremendous honesty and loyalty, she dedicated her life to her father who contributed so much to build up present day India. Both father and daughter lived and died for the nation. After the demise of Sardar Patel, how shabbily Prime Minister Pandit Nehru treated Maniben is described by Dr. V. Kurien, the Father of White Revolution in India in his autobiographical book, “I too had a Dream”: “It was quite distressing to see that neither Nehru nor any of the other national leaders of the Congress ever bothered to find out what happened to Maniben after her father died.” “She told me that when Sardar Patel passed away, she picked up a book and a bag that belonged to him and went to meet Jawaharlal Nehru in Delhi. She handed them to Nehru, telling him that her father had instructed her that when he was dead she should give these items to Nehru and no one else. The bag contained Rs.35 Lakh that belonged to the Congress Party and the book was the party’s book of accounts. Nehru took them and thanked her. Maniben waited expectantly, hoping he would say something more, but he did not, so she got up and left.” Even when she was dying, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Chimanbhai Patel, came to her bedside with a photographer, instructing him to take a picture that was published the next day in all the newspapers!

Bravo, All the Lovers of Sardar Patel

We, the lovers of our national hero Barrister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in India, feel happy and honoured to know that the Sardar Patel Memorial Society, UK under the leadership of Shri C. B. Patel, the Chairman of the Society and the Editor-Publisher of “Asian Voice” as well as “Gujarat Samachar”, the Newsweeklies of ABPL Group, London, in collaboration of the India House, is celebrating the historical Bardoli Day on 12 June 2018.

The worthy son of Gujarat, India, Barrister Vallabhbhai Patel, joined the freedom movement under the leadership of another Barrister Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the Bardoli Satyagraha proved to be a turning point in the history of Indian Freedom Movement. Following the call given by Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of Nation, to celebrate 12 June 1928 as the Bardoli Day , the national awakening brought not only justice for the peasants of Bardoli, but also gave a boost to the Freedom Movement. The success of Bardoli Satyagraha made Vallabhbhai known as the Sardar at the National level who became the strongest leader of the Congress . The Satyagraha made the British hurry up leaving India.

Three Members of Patel family

The Bardoli Satyagraha saw at least three members of the same family joining it: Vallabhbhai was the supreme commander and even Mahatma Gandhi was prepared to join as his soldier. The elder brother of Vallabhbhai, Barrister Vithalbhai Patel, who was the President of the Central Legislature, not only carried out the survey before launching the Satyagraha, but he openly supported the Satyagraha morally and financially too. He kept the Viceroy informed about the justification of the demands of the Bardoli peasants. The third member of the Patel family who actively participated in the Bardoli Satyagraha was Kumari Maniben, the daughter of Vallabhbhai Patel. Though she did not get much recognition for her role in the Satyagraha, but this was rather a launch pad for her life-long role to serve her father and the freedom movement.

I must thank “Asian Voice” and “Gujarat Samachar” as well as the entire team of Shri C.B.Patel who allowed me to interact with the large section of readers, especially the youngsters, on Bardoli Satyagraha under the leadership of Sardar Patel through my column “Back to Roots” and “Ateetthee Aaj”. Looking forward to have your frank comments and suggestions too.

- H.D. 4 June 2018 Ahmedabad

(The writer is a Socio-political Historian. E-mail: [email protected] )

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