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Mischief Secular Writers Have Played - Defaming of Sardar Patel

Author: Arvind Singh
Publication: Hindu Vivek Kendra
Date: March 9, 2021

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had little patience for hyperbole. He was at home with practical ideas. Jawaharlal Nehru was an idealist. Patel knew how to help a poor without resorting to theorizing while Nehru had grand ideas to help a poor. They had worked together without influencing each other.

Nehru had charisma, legacy and ideas – a heady concoction to sway the illiterate and the erudite alike. Patel too had them but the quantity was far less and the brew was not good enough to sway the erudite. Class struggle, revolution, proletariat, equality, dialectic, socialism, strategy, annihilation, unrest, economic alliances, feudalism, abolition, agrarian problem, middle path, co-existence, world peace, and such words did not show up in his glossary; though he had a knack to solve the knottiest things.

Much like Gandhi and Nehru, Patel had also passed the law examination from England. But he had his ideas from the land he was born. He never called himself a lawyer but a farmer once he gave up the profession after he accepted Gandhi his guru. And from where a farmer picks up his ideas, if not the soil? When Nehru, fresh from a visit to the USSR, was talking revolution round Patel had accomplished one in Bardoli.

In the thirties, socialists became a vocal chunk in the Indian National Congress. They had the support of Nehru and he pandered in their whims. Congress socialists like RM Lohia, Narendra Dev, Asaf Ali, Jayaprakash Narayan mocked and ridiculed those who did not seem progressive. They did not spare even Gandhi.

Patel was their arch enemy, for he collected funds for the party. So, they accused him of being a friend of capitalists and enemy of progressive forces. After independence the socialists grew tired of Nehru and left the Congress but their hatred for Patel kept up. Now they had the company of communists and liberals.

In ‘secular’ writing Patel comes across a man with obsolete ideas, reactionary, anti-Muslim and a supporter of capitalism. His personality was repugnant, behaviour uncouth and mean. Such a man, they have said, was unsuitable to build a new nation. India needed Nehru’s idealism and suave. It was a gift of providence that Nehru was at the helm, else India would have been a theocratic, puritanical state like Pakistan if Patel had become prime minister.

They belittled his unmatched contribution to India. Liberal historian, Ramchandra Guha, has collected speeches and writings of great leaders in a book called Makers of Modern India. Patel finds no mention in it. The reason Guha gives for the obvious lapse is that Patel did not write books and was devoid of original thinking. If Guha were to write a book on the unifiers of Germany, Bismarck would find no place in it.

Let’s sample some secular writings to know how they have treated the great Sardar, and the biographers of Nehru were unsparingly partisan. The subsequent writers learnt their Patel from these sources.

“Patel was dour and ruthless, unimaginative… blunt in speech and action, cool and calculating… a master of machine politics who revealed in political manoeuvres,” writes Michael Brecher in Nehru - A Political Biography. He had interviewed Nehru whom he found “a man of great charm, generous to a fault, sensitive and aesthetically inclined, impulsive and emotional… disliked political intrigue, lobbing and manipulations… was lonely and solitary… a master of words.”

This book came out after nine years of Patel’s death. Brecher had no benefit to observe Patel but he was sure that, “Patel was utterly lacking in this (speech-making) talent” and “had undisguised contempt” for it. Patel, says Breacher, “rarely toured the countryside and failed to establish rapport with masses.”

Brecher gives three reasons for these characteristics in Patel: “…partly because of his economic outlook, partly because of his personality and partly because his disdain for the crowd.” He calls Patel “a staunch defender of capitalism and an advocate of Hindu primacy and traditionalism; while Nehru “is devoted to the democratic principles Patel revealed a streak of authoritarianism.” (P 390-1)

Brecher has listed only one book on Patel in his bibliography, and that book, a biography of Patel, in fact was sympathetic to him. Brecher has interviewed 96 people for the book and more than sixty of them could be classified as the Nehru worshippers.

MJ Akbar’s Nehru - The Making of Modern India is a big tome. In here, Patel’s picture has the same conceited tone that Brecher had. “Patel was the archetypal right-wing, suspicious of socialism, happier with capitalists… with the propensity of playing Hindu cards… Gandhi rebuked him frequently and once charged him with the ultimate sin of provoking violence against Muslims.” Akbar compares Patel’s view on Muslims with Nehru’s, and finds the latter “a very much an emotional Gandhian on communal matters”. He concludes that Patel lacked foresight but Nehru “was a leader with an international view, he could see as far into the future as into the past.” (p 418)

Akbar’s book came out in 2002, and by that time new biographies of Patel were available. Most readable was Rajmohan Gandhi’s Patel - A Life (1991). Yet, it does not find mention or any other biographies of Patel in his list of 227 bibliographies. The only reference of Patel comes from his six volumes of correspondence covering the period between 1946 to until his death in 1950. Akbar’s book hardly carries footnotes or citation, so, we left wondering whether he used the volumes or just mentioned them to fatten his reference list.

The next in line is BN Pandey’s Nehru. This one has the most extensive bibliography of all. Yet, only two books, the one mentioned in Brecher’s and the other cited in Akbar’s. Pandey is not as blunt and crude as Brecher and Akbar were on Patel but he gives a polemical touch to his portrayal of Patel. He writes that Patel “had rural background which conditioned him to see harmony rather than inherent discord between classes… he was deeply rooted in Indian tradition and remained so throughout his life. He had faith in Indian values and Hindu gods. Hence he was self-contained spiritually and socially.”  Pandey claims that Patel did not “experience deep inner conflict”, and did not “search for new attachments or for a synthesis between conflicting values.” Patel accepted Gandhi, Pandey claims, “only as (his) political leader and not as (his) spiritual mentor... (his) need for Gandhi was limited.” (102-3)

The last in the line is an article from the communist stable, Frontline, and the author is AG Noorani. The article has a definitive title - Patel’s communalism—a documented record. Like Brecher, Noorani pits Patel against Nehru to draw the point. “Nehru was the unequalled idol of the masses at home and the symbol of India’s resurgent nationalism all over the world. Patel, ever parochial, was the party boss with a firm grip on the party machine, which was ensured by his skills as a fund collector… Nehru was cultured and refined. Patel was coarse to a degree. Nehru had a world view. Patel was ignorant of world affairs. Nehru was great despite his serious flaws and grave failures. Patel was small and mean despite his admirable qualities.” (13 December 2013)

Patel’s contemporary had a different view of him. The British officials who should have a grudge against him painted a friendly picture of him. Theirs Patel was humane, caring and humorous.

Mahadev Desai: On close association with Vallabhbhai and after watching his smile and his laughter, his anger and his impatience, one cannot but be reminded of Tilak Maharaj.

Lord Mountbatten: He had a delightful sense of humour… with a twinkle in his eye.

JB Kriplani: He was pragmatic and practical… it is generally believed that Vallabhbhai was a harsh and difficult man to deal with. This is far from the truth. The foreign negotiators… found it easy to deal with him.

Sir Roy Bucher:  So many people, myself at one time included, thought that the Sardar was quite devoid of humour. We were wrong. I was quite fond of him. (Roy was the last British C-in-C of the India army)

Pyarelal Nayyar: He was too big to be merely anti-anybody as such. His was an essentially human approach. At one time he was criticized as being reactionary. But his critics soon found that he was more revolutionary than they. At Bardoli he made a revolution while they had only been talking of one. (Secretary of Gandhi after Mahadev’s death)

HJ Kania: those who had occasion to know him closely realized… he was soft when human equations had to be considered, consistently with the major principles of life. (Kania was the first Chief Justice of India)

It is not a mystery why the secular writers have missed those accounts. They have built his image on hearsay and prejudices. They chose to rely on those accounts which would confirm their biases. One such account is from Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, one of Nehru's favourite socialists.

The young generation revolts against the old order. That is what old Sardar is railing against. It is an order in which power is threatened and his creed mocked. He is of the band of conservatives…who would turn their back upon the rising golden light and try to envelop themselves in the vague security of mediaeval twilight.

Later these socialists turned against Nehru decorating him with the same adjectives they had for Patel. But very few had courage to confess the mischief on Patel. Jayaprakash Narayan who had once led the charge against Patel admitted that he was in the wrong.

During his lifetime I was not merely a critic but an opponent of the Great Sardar… we Congress Socialists, who wished to see India take to the path of Socialism, considered the Sardar a reactionary who was and would remain a defender and supporter of Capitalism… To some extent we enjoyed Jawaharlal Nehru’s support.

Nehru never did nothing to dispel the wrongful notion of his colleague because he was the spirit behind it. Journalist Frank Moraes in his autobiography Witness to An Era says Nehru stayed with her sister Krishna when he was in Bombay. Journalists thronged the place in the evening. Moraes writes that Nehru used to be very candid of his views in describing his colleagues in the party.


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