On May 27, 2020, A Raja published a piece in the prestigious Daily, The Hindu, where he claimed that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel belonged to the tradition of Madan Mohan Malviya and Lala Lajpat Rai. Indeed Sardar was a Hindu, who believed that their interest is very much part of the Indian state, and needs to be strongly defended, but he equally was committed for the protection of minorities in the country.
Sardar Patel had a choice at the very starting of his political career, to join the politics of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who was much greater of Hindu traditionalist than Madan Mohan Malviya or Lala Lajpat Rai, yet he chose to side with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Khilafat Movement was the first mass movement against the British rule, which was not supported by Madan Mohan Malviya, Sardar Patel not only supported it, he participated in it wholeheartedly.
When the movement was in its zenith, Sardar spoke of Hindu Muslim unity, he advocated, “Hindu Muslim unity is like a tender plant. We have to nurture it extremely carefully over a long period; for our hearts are not yet as clean as they should be”. (Sardar Patel and Indian Muslims by Rafiq Zakaria, page number 6).
After the Khilafat Movement, Sardar Patel understood that as long as Britishers are there, Hindu Muslim unity can never be achieved. Though he was not against it.
This approach though made him different from the methods of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who believed that Swaraj is incomplete without the Hindu Muslim Unity. While Maulana Abul Kalam Azad preferred Hindu Muslim Unity over the Swaraj.
Sardar Patel was foot soldier to the Gandhian struggle and one of the chief disciples of the Mahatma himself when Independence was approaching, many of his friends too wanted a Hindu State, which would have been around the “Majority Hindu Community”. Sardar rebuked such proposals, to G.D. Birla he wrote, “I do not think it will be possible to consider Hindustan as a Hindu state with Hinduism as the state religion. We must not forget that there are other minorities whose protection is our primary responsibility. The state must exist for all, irrespective of caste or creed” (Durga Das, Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, volume 4, page 56).
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel believed that “Hindu Raj is a mad idea.” (Patel A Life by Rajmohan Gandhi, page number 497). He had a choice to adhere the line of Lala Lajpat Rai or Madan Mohan Malviya, but Sardar Patel never left the side of Mahatma Gandhi in National Movement.
Indeed, Jawaharlal Nehru was totally against the Hindu Supremacist, and it would be fair to acknowledge that Sardar Patel had a Hindu heart, but it would be wrong to History if we believe that he wanted a state with the domination of Hindus. He had suspicion against Muslims during the partition, but as Gandhi said of him, which was true, that Sardar won’t “let his suspicion colour his action” (Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi Volume 89, page number 198). Sardar had shed lots of his suspicion, he promulgated later that “Ours is a Secular state and we cannot fashion our politics in the way Pakistan is doing it. Here every Muslim should feel that he is an Indian citizen and has an equal right as an Indian” (Introduction in Agreement with Differences by Neerja Singh).
Coming to Somnath Temple issue it is true that the Cabinet on the influence of Vallabhbhai Patel had decided to renovate the temple, but it’s also true that after discussion with Gandhi, it was decided that trust should renovate the temple with money collected from the public.
Rajmohan Gandhi in most authoritative biography of Sardar Patel writes,” Vallabhbhai told the Mahatma that “not a single pie would be taken from the treasury of Junagadh” or the Government of India’s resources. The two agreed that India’s government was “not a theocratic one” and did not “belong to a particular religion”. It was “secular” and temples should not be built or rebuilt by it.”( Patel A Life by Rajmohan Gandhi, page number, 438_439). The article by A Raja doesn’t tell about this praiseworthy change in the outlook of Sardar Patel.
Sardar Patel had indeed asked RSS to “amalgamate with the Congress”. And looking it from today, it may be seen and rightly as an error on his part. But to think that Sardar was nurturing communalism is wrong. He had given the similar offer of the merger to Muslim League too, in 1937 Elections, which was as communal in pre-partition days as its Hindu counterpart after Independence. Sardar could have thought under his and Jawaharlal Nehru’s influence, RSS would shed some of its narrow mindedness, but when Jawaharlal Nehru returned to India, RSS didn’t join the Congress, so Sardar accepted again Nehru’s point of view.
The opinion of Sardar Patel about RSS and Hindu Mahasabha after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination proves without a doubt that he was an opponent of the RSS. He had given RSS a choice to eschew communalism, respect Constitution and the national flag, and to restrict itself as a cultural organisation. Sardar throughout his life kept his words and he used to get baffled if someone broke his trust, if RSS would have done it, during his lifetime, Sardar would have come hard against them.
The episode of Purushottam Das Tondon and J B Kripalani is another topic raised by A Raja, Patel had a mind of a joint candidate but he was disheartened by Nehru’s choice of candidate, JB Kripalani.
The fight for Patel was to have a check on Nehru. Rajaji and Maulana Azad who were as committed to Secularism as Nehru sided with Patel in this fight. If that would not have been the case, Patel would not have let every resolution including on communal question passed unanimously in Nashik session of the Congress.
It would have been easy for him to pressurise Nehru and get his resignation, but he knew that though the party was with him, people were with Nehru.
The last point raised by A Raja is about Science, Jawaharlal Nehru indeed had much more of standing on this issue because he was visionary. But Patel had his own merits of being the best organizer, administrator and reconciler.
The binary of Nehru and Patel is not only created by the right, but it is also a goal of left to separate both the inseparable leaders. At last, A Raja raises an issue about Bills passed after Sardar Patel’s death, we don’t know what stand Sardar would have taken, the same way we don’t know how good Prime Minister Sardar Patel would have been.
Sardar Patel had once said to Jawaharlal Nehru, “Our combination is unbreakable and therein lies our strength” (Nehru Patel Agreement within Differences, Select Documents and Correspondence, Edited by Vidya Shankar, page number 16). Nehru stated Times of India, 14 February 1949, P1) “there was hardly a day or night when he (Nehru) did not take counsel from the Sardar”. (Times of India, 14 February 1949, P1).
So, instead of dividing them, we should appreciate both men’s remarkable qualities and values they stood for. We need to learn from these ‘inseparable’ men how to have mutual respect despite having differences on several issues.
Author runs a website called Nehruvian.