Frantic "Patelling" !!

By Dr Mukul Pai Raiturkar
30 October 2013 13:56 IST

The Statue of Unity is a proposed 182 metres (597 ft) monument of Sardar Patel that will be created directly facing the Narmada Dam, 3.2 km away at the Sadhu Bet, near Bharuch in Gujarat state of India. It will be double the height of ‘Statue of Liberty’ in America and four times that of ‘Christ the Redeemer’ in Rio de Janeiro.

A consortium of Turner Construction (consultant of Burj Khalifa), Michael Graves and Associates and Meinhardt Group, will supervise the project. It will take 56 months to complete the project, 15 months for planning, 40 months for construction and two months for handing over by the consortium.The entire project (the statute and other buildings including the memorial, visitor centre, garden, hotel, convention centre, amusement park and research institute) would cost about Rs. 2500 crores. The first phase of the project, including construction of the main statue, a bridge connecting the statue to the river bank and reconstruction of the 12 km road along the river banks is estimated to cost cost Rs. 2063 crores. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will lay foundation stone of statue on 31 October 2013, the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

Why this frantic search for Patel? What was Patel all about? What was his contribution to India before and after independence? 

And above all what exactly do I mean by "Patelling"? (my apologies to the Oxford English)

 Sardar Patel was raised in the countryside of Gujarat in a Gurjar family of Dode-Gurjar . He was employed in successful practice as a lawyer when he was first inspired by the work and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. Patel subsequently organised the peasants of Kheda, Borsad, and Bardoli in Gujarat in non-violent  civil disobedience against oppressive policies imposed by the British Raj; in this role, he became one of the most influential leaders in Gujarat. He rose to the leadership of the Indian National Congress and was at the forefront of rebellions and political events, organizing the party for elections in 1934 and 1937, and promoting the Quit India movement.

Patel was intensely loyal to Gandhi and both he and Nehru looked to him to arbitrate disputes. However, Nehru and Patel sparred over national issues. When Nehru asserted control over Kashmir policy, Patel objected to Nehru's sidelining his home ministry's officials. Nehru was offended by Patel's decision-making regarding the states' integration, having neither consulted him nor the cabinet. Patel asked Gandhi to relieve him of his obligation to serve, believing that an open political battle would hurt India. After much personal deliberation and contrary to Patel's prediction, Gandhi on 30 January 1948 told Patel not to leave the government. A free India, according to Gandhi, needed both Patel and Nehru. Patel was the last man to privately talk with Gandhi, who was assassinated just minutes after Patel's departure. At Gandhi's wake, Nehru and Patel embraced each other and addressed the nation together. Patel gave solace to many associates and friends and immediately moved to forestall any possible violence. Within two months of Gandhi's death, Patel suffered a major heart attack; the timely action of his daughter, his secretary and nurse saved Patel's life. Speaking later, Patel attributed the attack to the "grief bottled up" due to Gandhi's death.

Criticism arose from the media and other politicians that Patel's home ministry had failed to protect Gandhi. Emotionally exhausted, Patel tendered a letter of resignation, offering to leave the government. Patel's secretary persuaded him to withhold the letter, seeing it as fodder for Patel's political enemies and political conflict in India. However, Nehru sent Patel a letter dismissing any question of personal differences and his desire for Patel's ouster. He reminded Patel of their 30-year partnership in the freedom struggle and asserted that after Gandhi's death, it was especially wrong for them to quarrel. Nehru, Rajagopalachari and other Congressmen publicly defended Patel.

What was the cause of sour relations between Patel and Nehru ? Their ways differed. Nehru was a democrat and socialist to the core. Nehru was secular to the core. Patel was none of these. Patel was criticized by prominent Muslims such as Maulana Azad as well as Hindu nationalists for readily plumping for partition. Patel was criticized by supporters of Subhas Chandra Bose for acting coercively to put down politicians not supportive of Gandhi. Socialist politicians such as Jaya Prakash Narayan and Asoka Mehta criticised him for his personal proximity to Indian industrialists such as the Birla and Sarabhai families. Some historians have criticized Patel's actions on the integration of princely states as undermining the right of self-determination for those states.

Patel's ways are exemplified by Operation Polo -- the Hyderabad police action -- the Indian Army operation  in 1948 to end the resistance in Hyderabad and assimilate the kingdom into the Union of India. In his book Age of Kali this is what the internationally acclaimed historian William Dalrymple has to say (pp 209-210):

I discovered later that it is in fact possible to make an informed estimate of the numbers killed in the aftermath of the 'police action'. For when reports of atrocities began to reach Delhi, Nehru 'in his private capacity', commissioned an unofficial report from a group of veteran Congressmen made up of two Hyderabadi Muslims who had prominently opposed the Nizam's rule and chaired by a Hindu, Pandit Sunderlal. The team made an extensive tour of the State and submitted their report to Nehru and Sardar Patel in January 1949. The report's findings were never made public, however, presumably because of its damning criticism of the conduct of the Indian army. It remained unpublished until a portion of it, smuggled out of India, recently appeared in America in an obscure volume of scholarly essays entitled Hyderabad: After the Fall.

The report, entitled On the Post-Operation Polo Massacres, Rape and Destruction or Seizure of Property in Hyderabad State, makes grim reading. In village after village across the state, it meticulously and unemotionally catalogued incidents of murder and mass rape, sometimes committed by troops, in other cases committed by local Hindu hooligans after the troops had disarmed the Muslim population. A short extract, chosen at random, gives the general flavour:

"Ganjoti Paygah, District Osmanabad:There are 500 homes belonging to Muslims here. Two hundred Muslims were murdered by the goondas. The army had seized weapons from the Muslims. As the Muslims became defenceless, the goondas began the massacre. Muslim women were raped by the troops. Statement of Pasha Bi, resident of Ganjoti: the trouble in Ganjoti began after the army's arrival. All the young Muslim women here were raped. Five daughters of Osman sahib were raped and six daughters of the Qazi were raped. Ismail Sahib Sawdagar's daughter was raped in Saiba Chamar's home for a week. Soldiers from Umarga came every week and after all-night rape, young Muslim women were sent back to their homes in the morning. Mahtab Tamboli's daughters were divided among Hindus, one is in Burga Julaha's home... "

And so on, for page after page. In all, the report estimates that as many as 200,000 Hyderabadi Muslims were slaughtered in the aftermath of the 'Police Action': an astonishing figure which, if true, would turn the 'police action' into a bloodbath comparable to parts of the Punjab during Partition. Even if one regards the figure of 200,000 dead as an impossible exaggeration, it is still clear that the scale of the killing was horrific. Although publicly Nehru played down the disorder in Hyderabad, claiming to the Indian representative at the United Nations that following the Nizam's officials deserting their posts there had been some disorder in which Hindus had retaliated for their sufferings under the [Muslim] Razakars [militia], privately he was much more alarmed. This is indicated by a note Nehru sent to Sardar Patel's Ministry of States on the 26th of November 1948, saying that he had received reports of killings of Muslims so large in number 'as to stagger the imagination' and looting of Muslim property 'on a tremendous scale' - all of which would seem to confirm the general tone of Pandit Sunderlal's report.

Sunderlal Report was suppressed in India but published abroad. The Executive Summary of the Sundarlal Report can be accessed at this link -

After this Hyderabad incident, Nehru was fed up with Patel. He did not allow Patel to execute a similar maneuver to incorporate Goa in the Indian Union -- a decision that was very good from Goa's point of view.

Thus Patel, though a Gandhian, had only a few Gandhian ways. But like all the reactionaries of all time, Patel commanded a lot of clout in Indian National Congress -- mainly from those who could not understand Gandhi and Nehru's idealism and philosophy or from those who were too conditioned by Hindutva to accept anything else or from those who feared him.

Because of Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose and other reactionary forces within the INC, Gandhi had to do a lot of tight rope walking. Gandhi kept Bose away from INC Presidency but could not keep Patel away from Home Ministry of the liberated India -- for the simple reason-- he was killed before that. Thus Gandhi could save India from Bose but not completely from Patel. I say save India from Bose because Bose was the person who went to meet Hitler in his bid to replace the British rule in India with Nazi rule.
Patel's soft corner for Hindutva faded somewhat when Gandhi was murdered. Patel held the RSS propaganda machine responsible for the murder. I am reproducing here a letter by Patel to the then Sarsanghachalak Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar :

Aurangzeb Road,
New Delhi,11th Sept. 1948

Brother Sri Golwalkar, 

Received your letter dated 11th August. Jawaharlal has also sent me your letter of the same date.

You are very well aware of my views on the RSS. I have expressed these thoughts at Jaipur in December last month at Lucknow in January. The people had welcomed those views. I had hoped that your people also would accept them. But they appear to have no effect on the RSS persons, nor was there any change in their programmes. There can be no doubt that the RSS did service to the Hindu Society. In the areas where there was the need for help and organisation, the young men of the RSS protected women and children and strove much for their sake. No person of understanding could have a word of objection regarding that. But the objectionable part arose when they, burning with revenge, began attacking Mussalmans. Organising Hindus and helping them is one thing but going in for revenge for its sufferings on innocent and helpless men, women and children is quite another thing.

Apart from this, their opposition to the Congress, that too of such virulence, disregarding all considerations of personality, decency or decorum, created a kind of unrest among the people. All their speeches were full communal poison. It was not necessary to spread poison and enthuse the Hindus and organise for their protection. As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the valuable life of Gandhiji. Even an iota of sympathy of the Government or of the people no more remained for the RSS. In fact the opposition grew. Opposition turned more severe, when the RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death. Under these conditions it became inevitable for the Government to take action against the RSS.

Since then, over six months have elapsed. We have hoped that after this lapse of time,  with full and proper consideration the RSS persons would come to the right path. But from the reports that come to me, it is evident that attempts to put fresh life into their same old activities are afoot. I once again ask you to give your thought to my Jaipur and Lucknow speeches and accept the path I had indicated for the RSS. I am quite certain that therein lies the good of the RSS and the country and moving in that path we can join hands in achieving the welfare of our country. Of course, you are aware that we are passing through delicate times. It is the duty of every one from the highest to the lowliest in this country to contribute his mite, in whatever way possible, to the service of the country. In this delicate hour there is no place for party conflicts and old quarrels. I thoroughly convinced that the RSS men can carry on their patriotic endeavor only by joining the Congress and not by keeping separate or by opposing. I am glad that you have been released. I hope that you will arrive at the proper decision after due consideration of what I have said above. With regard to restrictions imposed upon you I am in correspondence with the CP Government. I shall let you know after receiving their reply.



Patel's action of banning the Rashtriya Swayawsevak Sangh was indeed an action of a visionary as was confirmed later in the Kapur commission report in 1964, where Justice Kapur concluded: "All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder Gandhi by Savarkar and his group." -- the think tanks of VHP- RSS nexus. Nathuram Godse, Apte and four others were their foot soldiers.

Patel's biggest mistake was revoking the ban on RSS when Savarkar, Golwalkar, T.R. Venkatrama Shastri and a few others went up to him crying that if ban was lifted they would work exclusively for "cultural" causes of the Hindu society.  Shastri drafted and submitted the RSS constitution where it was made explicit that RSS would never participate in any political activity ever.

Now what is "Patelling"? This is a word that I have taken the liberty to coin. It signifies the misappropriation of leaders of Indian Freedom Struggle to suit the political purpose of the current RSS of which BJP has become only a fringe group. Sardar Patel is one example. Lokamanya Tilak is another. There are many others.

The bottom line is it is necessary to learn from history. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. I generally do not miss a chance to revisit history, although I do not get entangled in it. History, whether white, grey or black must not impact one's ability to see life, in the present, in all its colors.

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Dr Mukul Pai Raiturkar

Dr Mukul R Pai Raiturkar is a consultant pediatrician & neonatologist practicing in Margao. He is the co-convener of Ami Goenkar, an organisation of secular young Goans working towards a novel approach to religious-political issues of Goa. Son of veteran Goan freedom fighter Mr Ravindranath Pai Raiturkar, he exudes unshakable faith in a liberal, secular and free spirited democracy of India.

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One question that haunted me after reading this article is that should not there be any basic decorum before maligning our iconic leaders. Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Rajaji, Azad, Tilak or Ambedkar- all represented ideologies that at various times clashed with one another. I agree it is necessary to debate, discuss, analyse their thoughts and ideologies without idolizing them. However, allegations based on frivolous sources just to support our own line of thinking may be grave injustice to many of those whose sacrifices are unmatched.

1. A loyalist to Patel’s ideology would contest the statement ‘Nehru was a democrat and socialist to the core. Nehru was secular to the core. Patel was none of these.’ This section from Wikipedia “Patel was criticized …. Those state” itself warns that ‘This section needs additional citations for verification’. So making sweeping allegation based on unverified sources just to suit your own lines of thought is a very disdainful attempt to malign an iconic figure.

2. Nehru hater would question inferences based on Dalrymple’s writings and may use a recent Swaminathan Aiyar’s article

Here is some relevant cut and paste "Nehru, on proclaiming Indian victory in Hyderabad, had announced that 'not a single communal incident' marred the triumph. What action did he take on receiving the report? He suppressed it, and at Patel's urging cancelled the appointment of one of its authors as ambassador in the Middle East. No word about the pogroms, in which his own troops had taken eager part, could be allowed to leak out. Twenty years later, when news of the report finally surfaced, his daughter banned the publication of the document as injurious to national interests."

3. Person indifferent to Gandhi would question the statement ‘Gandhi could save India from Bose but not completely from Patel’ as it would make Gandhi looks like a dictator who would get rid of all the opponents who differed with his means though agreed on most part with his goals. Moreover, a Nehru hater would say the first prime minister was chosen by Gandhi against democratically accepted Patel just bolsters this claim.

4. Bose sympathiser would question your statement ‘Bose was the person who went to meet Hitler in his bid to replace the British rule in India with Nazi rule.’ Bose went to Hitler, may have tried to use Hitler against British. His actions and means can be debated, but his mere action of visiting a Nero does not make him unacceptable.

Basically the article is nothing different from what Rajiv Dixit had been doing to malign Nehru; many of the accusations are not verified and easily refuted.

Blindly idolizing leaders is bad but defaming them based on hearsay is worst.

- Chetan Prabhu Desai, Paingin/ Toronto | 02 nd November 2013 21:22


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