As prime minister of Britain, Churchill had ordered the preparation of an imperial strategy with the intention of balkanizing India and tightening Britain's post-war hold over her. The strategy envisaged two Pakistans, one in the west and the other in the east, both large in size at India's expense: the west to include the non-Muslim east Punjab; the east, the whole of Bengal (despite Hindus comprising almost half the population), and the predominantly Hindu Assam. Within her borders, India was to be balkanized with the creation of independent confederations of princely states. Attlee's policy statement of 20 February 1947 was to implement the same, and Mountbatten was given the mandate to transfer power and quit India by June 1948, a date that was advanced to August 1947. However, Churchill's imperial strategy was foiled by Patel. He stood in the way of transfer of power, unless Punjab and Bengal were divided. Fearing the loss of Congress cooperation, Mountbatten was forced to reach an agreement with Patel. Patel's most significant gain was the concession that Britain would not interfere in the settlement with the princes. This enabled Patel to integrate over 560 princely states in a period of about 18 months and helped him to create a united India.
This book examines the extraordinary contribution of Sardar Patel, from his unflinching support to Gandhi's satyagrahas and the Indian freedom struggle, to his farsighted and courageous approach in building a strong, integrated India.
Balraj Krishna began his career as a journalist with the Civil & Military Gazette, Lahore, in 1944. Post-Partition in New Delhi, he was with the Publicity Division of the External Affairs Ministry and British Information Services. He was a special correspondent with the Hindustan Times in Kashmir. His articles, book reviews, and photo-features appeared in the Illustrated Weekly of India, the Times of India, the Economic Times, the Hindu, and Frontline, besides Eastern World, London. He is the author of Indian Freedom Struggle and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel: India's Iron Man.
Patel, along with Gandhi and Nehru, was a leading member of the triumvirate which conducted the last phase of India's freedom struggle. He was the "savior" and the "builder". Non-violently, he demolished the princely order Lord Wellesley had created; and in January 1946, he had nearly buried Pakistan in Karachi. Post-independence, Patel was the creator of New India just as Surendranath Banerjea was the father of political consciousness to the newly educated class of Indians in the 19th century; and Gandhi, the father of mass awakening pre-independence.
(a) Savior: Patel saved India from the machinations of the ruling British, and thereby did not allow large Hindu majority areas to fall into the hands of Jinnah. In 1946, in an undivided India, the Cabinet Mission was giving away to lirmah a Pakistan comprising the whole of Punjab and Bengal, besides Hindu Assam, as fully autonomous parts of Groups B and C. Gandhi favored the plan since it preserved India's unity. In his "paternal pride" as Congress president, Azad seemed totally committed, confident of securing Congress acceptance. He thought that it would not only keep India united, but also safeguard Muslim interests. Nehru, however, voiced his opposition to grouping, as it related to the NWFP and Assam. He even suggested that there was "a big probability" that "there will be no grouping". Patel was more blunt than others in telling Wavell that the mission's "proposed solution was 'worse than Pakistan', and he could not recommend it to Congress". India's partition, as conceived by Churchill in 1945 as Britain's prime minister, was implied in Attlee's policy statement of 20 February 1947. It clearly meant the creation of Pakistan in one form or other, but in a divided India. Under it, too, Jinnah was to get the whole of Punjab, Bengal, and Assam. Patel immediately countered it with a policy statement on behalf of the Congress, demanding a division of Punjab—and of Bengal by implication—thereby saving Assam for India. Assam was predominantly Hindu, whereas in Bengal the Hindus were 49% as against 51% Muslims.
(b) Builder: Attlee's statement of 20 February categorically stated transference of power to the princely states, simultaneously with India and Pakistan, thus making the princes completely independent on 15 August. This would have led to the creation of a "Third Dominion", comprising confederations of princely states, and thereby throwing open possibilities of some of the states going over to Pakistan, in "association", if not "accession". This book discusses some of the conspiracies hatched in that direction, which Patel scotched with rare boldness, backed by his towering personality that exuded unquestioning friendliness towards the princes. The states involved were major ones like Travancore, Hyderabad, Junagadh, Jamnagar, and Jodhpur, and some Central Indian states. Through his diplomatic manoeuvres, Patel secured "accession" of all states prior to 15 August, before they could be made independent on par with India and Pakistan, thereby gaining equal status. The exceptions were those of Junagadh and Hyderabad—Kashmir too, but it was under Nehru's charge.
On the ashes of a defunct empire, Patel created a New India—strong, united, put in a steel-frame. That frame was the Indian Administrative Service, which kept a subcontinent bound together as a single unit despite disparities of politics and economy. As saviour and builder, Patel played decisive roles that took India to new pinnacles of success and glory after centuries.
Yet, the saviour and builder of New India were accused of responsibility for the partition of India; and the assassination of Gandhi. Patel never asked for India's partition. He and other Congress leaders were opposed to it. It was thrust upon them by the British through Attlee's policy statement of 20 February. He merely served India's interests by making partition conditional upon division of Punjab and Bengal. He could not have left the Punjabi and Bengali Hindus, as well as the Sikhs, to the cruel mercies of the Muslim League after the genocide of August 1946 in Kolkata. He also looked beyond, in gaining a free hand in the integration of over 560 States.
About Gandhi's assassination, General Roy Bucher, the British commander-in-chief of the Indian Army, wrote to the author, in his letter of 24 July 1969: "From my knowledge, I am quite sure that Maulana Azad's charge that Sardar Patel was responsible for the murder of the Mahatma was absolutely unfounded. At our meeting in Dehra Dun, the Sardar told me that those who persuaded the Mahatma to suggest that monies (Rs. 55 crore) held in India should be dispatched to Pakistan were responsible for the tragedy, and that after the monies had been sent off, the Mahatma was moved up to be the first to be assassinated on the books of a very well-known Hindu revolutionary society. I distinctly remember the Sardar saying: `You know quite well that for Gandhiji to express a wish was almost an order'." It was on Gandhi's insistence that security had been withdrawn.
Gandhi commanded every Hindu's veneration, Godse being no exception. He had bowed to him in reverence thrice before firing the shots. Gandhi had exhausted the patience of even Nehru and Patel over two of his impossible demands. First, asking Mountbatten, at his meeting on 1 April 1947, "to dismiss the present Cabinet [interim government] and call on Jinnah to appoint an all-Muslim administration." This would have killed Patel's dream of creating a unified India. He had publicly stated in 1939: "The red and yellow colors on India's map [representing provinces and states] have to be made one. Unless that is done, we cannot have swaraj."3 In Nehru's case, Jinnah would have denied him the chance of becoming independent India's first prime minister—a historic opportunity Nehru could not have missed under any circumstance.
Gandhi's second demand was even more difficult. Addressing the All-India Congress Committee on 15 November 1947, he demanded that all Muslims who had fled India were "to be called back and restored to peaceful possession and enjoyment of all that they had had, but been forced to abandon while running away".4 It would have amounted to making Hindu and Sikh refugees from Punjab and, the NWFP vacate the Muslim houses they had occupied by restoring the same to the Muslims who were living in refugee camps the government had set up. It would have been a cruel double tragedy for the Punjabi refugees to suffer so soon after the Punjab genocide.
A year before Patel's demise, M. N. Roy, once a comrade of Lenin in Soviet Russia and a Communist of international fame, wrote: "What will happen to India when the master-builder will go, sooner or later, the way of all mortals? Nationalist India was fortunate to have Sardar Patel to guide her destiny for a generation. But her misfortune is that there will be none to take his place when he is no more when the future is bleak, one naturally turns to the past, and Sardar Patel can be proud of his past.' He was India's "Iron Man", who proved to be his country's "saviour and builder". Today's India is what he created and left behind.
Some of Sardar Patel's major achievements:
1. Patel was the backbone of Gandhi's satyagrahas. During the Dandi March in 1930, he played the role of John the Baptist to Gandhi as a forerunner who "baptized" people en route. In a speech as Wasna, on his way to Dandi, Gandhi admitted: "I could succeed in Kheda [in 1918] on account of Vallabhbhai, and it is on account of him that I am here today." 2. In the Bardoli satyagraha in 1928, Patel played the role of a Lenin. The British-owned and edited Times of India wrote that Patel had "instituted there a Bolshevik regime in which he plays the role of Lenin".
3. As chairman of the Congress Parliamentary Board, Patel played the role of a strict boss in the conduct of the provincial elections in 1937. In that capacity he declared: When the Congress roller is in action, all pebbles and stones will be leveled." He did not spare senior leaders like K. E Nariman and N. B. Khare; not even the indomitable Subhash Chandra Bose. He was an uncompromising disciplinarian. That was a major contribution to the party's unity and strength.
4. Without Patel's support Lord Wavell could not have formed the interim government in August 1946, nor could Lord Mountbatten, in 1947, have implemented transfer of power smoothly and within the time-frame. In return, Patel got for India half of Punjab and half of Bengal and the whole of Assam. Patel also got termination of paramountcy, which enabled him to achieve integration of over 560 princely states. That was his master-stroke, which demolished Churchill's imperial strategy. What was that strategy? An account is given in the chapter A Churchillian Plan: Partition of India.
5. Briefly discussed is what would have been India's position in Kashmir, Tibet and Nepal had Patel's proposals been implemented. Kashmir had been taken away from Patel's charge by Nehru under Sheikh Abdullah's pressure, while Tibet and Nepal were foreign territories directly under Nehru's charge.
6. Philip Mason (ICS) has written in the Dictionary of National Biography: "Patel has been compared to Bismarck but the parallel cannot be carried far. Patel was courageous, honest and realistic, but far from cynical."
7. On his demise on 15 December 1950, the Manchester Guardian (now Guardian) wrote: "Without Patel, Gandhi's ideas would have had less practical influence and Nehru's idealism less scope."
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