“Nobody likes the division of India and my heart is heavy. But the choice is between one division and many divisions. We must face facts. We cannot give way to emotionalism and sentimentality. We have 75 to 80 percent of India, which we can make strong with our own genius. The (Muslim) league can develop the rest of the country” – Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on Partition.
Such a practical, compassionate and down-to-earth opinion on a very sensitive subject like Partition! But what Patel, Gandhi and any other leader did not anticipate is the scale of the riots that eventually took place due to partition. The character and leadership of a responsible statesman is tested during tough times and handling the crisis of Partition of India, was as tough as it could get.
Fortunately, India was in the hands of the son of its soil – Sardar Vallabhai Patel, who played an important role in both getting Independence and securing independence.
Perhaps the younger generation doesn’t understand what it takes to fight and negotiate with a powerful entity. While Gandhi appealed to the conscience of the Britishers through his Satyagraha and Non-violence, Vallabhbhai Patel focused on creating and nurturing a powerful & organized resistance, conforming to the non-violent principles articulated by Gandhi and united the masses of various castes, religions, etc.
Be it organizing the mass agitation of the people of Gujarat and encouraging them not to pay any taxes to the British Government as a protest against hiking of taxes during famine, or be it organizing the masses to fight for the right to hoist the Indian flag at public ceremonies during the British rule. Guess what happened? In both the cases, British Government called him for negotiations, and accepted his demand!
Of course, he was arrested for three years from 1942 to 1945 for being among the organizing forces of the Civil Disobedience/ Quit India movement. This movement was fierce and convinced the Britishers that they no longer enjoyed the popularity of the people they came to rule. Of course, the war and the subsequent weakening of British forces only made it worser.
Ultimately India did get Independence, but was torn into two pieces. But fortunately just two pieces – The 565 Princely states that were in the Indian territory could decide if they want to accede to India, Pakistan or be Independent. It could have been worse!
At this time, it seems Gandhi said to Patel, “The problem of the states is so difficult that you alone could solve it”. How right was he? It took Patel’s flamboyant diplomacy to convince almost all the states to fall in line. All the tricks in the book were used – Lobbying, Meeting the princes at social gatherings, calling them to Delhi for a dialogue, invoking their patriotism, making them understand that people want to have a united India, and yes – the threat to use force.
The master negotiator, who had earlier won accolades even from British officials for his style of diplomacy did not have much problems in getting the consent of almost all the rulers of the princely states. Almost all, because three big states were still out of the cohesion – Jammu & Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad.
While J&K was ‘personally’ handled by Nehru, the soldiers of Indian union occupied Junagadh without much problems. A plebiscite held in the region confirmed that more than 99% of the people wanted to accede to India. Perhaps only the King had a different opinion!
It took a full scale battle to bring Hyderabad province under the union. It seems Vallabhbhai Patel ordered forces to march into Hyderabad in his official capacity as the Deputy to the Prime Minister (and acting PM), when Nehru was on a tour to Europe. Fortunately for us, that was a timely tour!
Its easy to stall any negotiation by creating a I-win You-lose check mate. But it takes a real leader to instill the confidence even among opponents to achieve a Win-Win result. The difficult struggle for Independence created such leaders of character, caliber and dedication like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. He was rightly referred to as the ‘Iron Man’ of India.
The Government of Gujarat is trying to build the tallest statue on earth – The Statue of Unity, which is actually a statue of Sardar Vallabhai Patel as he was the person who united India. I wish them all the best in their endeavor.