One has to be extra cautious while dealing with the history of the towering personalities of Indian freedom struggle, especially that of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (31 October 1875 - 15 December 1950). The present day politicians prefer “to pronounce” his life and quotes according to their convenience like a blind person describing an elephant. During his life time even the Sardar used to caution the Muslims about some of his opponents calling him “an enemy of the Muslims” where as he has always been “a true friend of Muslims”. None can dispute the fact that the trinity of the freedom movement i.e. Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel differed in their approach but all the three were unanimous on implementing the decisions to achieve their goal to gain freedom from the British.
Even today, the Congress is being abused from public platforms as one responsible for the Partition without bothering to understand that the first Prime Minister Nehru was not the only person responsible for Partition of India and the abuses are targeting Patel and the Mahatma as well. The era of the towering personalities is gone and the dwarfs have taken over. They judge the towering personalities of yester years with their own yardsticks. Even during the freedom struggle era, persons like Maulana Azad who was a Congress President had commented that, “(Mohammad Ali) Jinnah may have raised the flag of partition but now the real flag bearer was Patel”, in his autobiographical book “India Wins Freedom”. And yes, Patel does accept the responsibility of the partition under certain circumstances along with Nehru. Both had to concede Pakistan.
Patel disclosed ‘the inner history’ in the Constituent Assembly: “I give this inner history which nobody knows. I agreed to Partition as a last resort, when we had reached a stage when we could have lost all. We had five or six members in the Government, the Muslim League members. They had already established themselves as members who had come to partition the country. At that stage we agreed to Partition; we decided that Partition could be agreed upon the terms that the Punjab should be partitioned- they wanted the whole of it- that Bengal should be partitioned- they wanted Calcutta and whole of it. Mr. Jinnah did not want a truncated Pakistan, but he had to swallow it. We said that these two provinces should be partitioned. I made a further condition that in two months’ time power should be transferred and an Act should be passed by Parliament in that time, if it guaranteed that the British Government would not interfere with the question of the Indian States.”
“We said, ‘we will deal with that question; leave it to us; you take no sides. Let paramountcy be dead; you do not directly or indirectly try to revive it in any manner. You do not interfere. We shall settle our problem. The Princes are ours and we shall deal with them.’ On these conditions we agreed to Partition and on those conditions the Bill in Parliament was passed in two months, agreed to by all the three parties. Show me any instance in the history of the British Parliament when such a Bill was passed in two months. But this was done. It gave birth to this Parliament.” (CAD Vol. X 10 October 1949). Eajmohan Gandhi, the biographer of Patel, presents the Sardar making up mind for conceding Pakistan almost in December 1946, much before the Viceroy Lord Mountbatten announced the Partition Plan on 3 June 1947.
Sardar Patel never needed certificate from anybody that he was a secular leader despite efforts by a section of people to brand him a Hindu leader. Patel supported the Mahatma’s efforts for the Hindu-Muslim unity throughout his life including the Khilafat movement and resisting India being made the theocratic State even after independence. He considered “the Hindu Rashtra as a concept of madmen.” In his speech on 6 January 1948 at Lucknow, Patel said: “I am true friend of the Muslims although I have been described as their greatest enemy. I believe in plain speaking. I do not know how to mince matters. I want to tell them frankly that mere declarations of loyalty to the Indian Union will not help them at this critical juncture. They must give practical proof of their declarations. I ask them why they do not unequivocally denounce Pakistan for attacking Indian territory with the connivance of Frontier tribesmen. Is it not their duty to condemn all acts of aggression against India?”
There was so much hue and cry on what Patel told the Muslims in Lucknow and the Mahatma had to defend him. It did hurt the Sardar. In a January 1948 letter, Gandhi wrote to Patel saying, "Many Muslim friends had complained to me of the Sardar's so-called anti-Muslim attitude. I was able to assure the critics that they were wrong in isolating him from Nehru and me, whom they gratuitously raise to the sky. The Sardar had a bluntness of speech which sometimes unintentionally hurt, though his heart was expansive enough to accommodate all."
“The Sardar also believed that the Muslims should be given legitimate safeguards as they were not foreigners in India…Patel expected a change of outlook on the part of the Muslim community. They should forget their past and should involve themselves in the processes of nation-building,” writes Moin Shakir in “Vallabhbhai Patel : A Biography of his vision and ideas” edited by Verinder Grover.
The Sardar was never apologetic about his decision of the Partition. In one of his public lectures on 11 August 1947, Patel said: “People say that Congress partitioned India. It is true. We have taken this responsibility after proper thinking and not because of any fear or pressure. I was strong opponent of partition of India. But when I sat in the Central Government I saw that from a peon to high officers are infested with communal hatred. In such conditions instead of fighting and tolerating the interference of the third party, it is better to separate.” Patel was the person who presented the unanimous report of the minorities in the Constituent Assembly. He said: “It is up to the majority community, by its generosity, to create a sense of confidence in the minorities, and so also it will be the duty of the minority community to forget the past and to reflect on what the country has suffered owing to the ‘sense of fairness’, which the foreign rulers thought was necessary to keep balance between community and community.” Patel was never shy of speaking out truth.
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(The writer is a Socio-political Historian. E-mail: [email protected] )