Sardar Patel and the Sangh Parivar

Irfan Engineer

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi wants to collect iron from the farmers and build a monument to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat. Sardar earned the reputation of “Iron Man of India”, or “Bismarck of India” because of his uncompromising nature, his decisiveness and the determination with which he worked to resolve the problems facing the country. Sardar, a practicing lawyer was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. He mobilized the peasants of Kheda, Borsad and Bardoli for non-violent civil disobedience movement to oppose British colonial policies. Sardar played an important role in the movement against salt tax and Dandi Satyagraha. He worked hard during the 1937 elections which brought Indian National Congress to power. He firmly supported Gandhiji during the Quit India movement. He served the country as Deputy Prime Minister after independence and contributed seminally in integrating the princely states into India and that is when he earned the reputation of “Iron Man” and Bismarck of India.

Monuments are built to keep the memories of a movement alive and to inspire people to carry on the good work and remind them about the ideals of the movement. However, oppressors and oppressive rulers too often build monuments to overawe the people and make them submissive. In fact oppressive rulers build monuments with great grandeur that show people how powerful they are and would continue to be so in perpetuity and therefore they should not entertain any other ideas except that of submission to the power of the rulers. While Statue of Liberty is an example of the former, grand religious monuments build by oppressive rulers of hierarchically structured feudal societies come in the latter category. In what category the monument sought to be built by Narendra Modi will come, remains to be seen. The issue that we want to address here is, to build Sadar Patel’s monument is one thing, but will Modi follow the examples set by the Sardar in good governance? Or is the objective of building Sardar’s monument to overawe the people?

The Sangh Parivar in general and Modi in particular misuse Sardar as an icon for two reasons:

1)                  Sardar did not belong to the Nehru-Gandhi family and therefore the Sangh Parivar uses his icon as a proxy to combat Nehru-Gandhi’s contribution to the freedom movement and ultimately to oppose Congress. The Sangh Parivar is compelled to chose a non-Nehru-Gandhi family icon from among the Congress Party as they do not have any icon of their own. The RSS in fact opposed the freedom movement and the “Quit India” call given by the Congress in 1942 and sided with the British colonizers, just like the Muslim League did. In fact the Hindutva icon Savarkar apologized to the Britishers and begged to be pardoned for his mistake of participating in the anti-British activities in early 20th century and for which he was to serve his sentence in the cellular jail in Andamans. Sardar had differences with Nehru but, as we shall see later, they were not as fundamental as between the Sardar and the Sangh Parivar. The Sangh Parivar hopes to exploit these differences and present Sardar as a hero who opposed Nehru.

2)                  Sangh Parivar wishes to colour the Sardar’s successful integration of Nizam’s Hyderabad state into India as an act that showed the “Muslims” their place. However, Sardar was always ready to guarantee the safety and will being of Muslims all over India and this has been recorded by General Roy Butcher, British Commander-in-Chief of Indian Army when the former met the latter in Dehra Dun.

Modi has an additional reason to use the icon of Sardar – he was a Gujarati and Modi wants to project himself sole spokesperson of Gujarati asmita or Gujarati pride. Modi also wants to position himself as the Iron Man like the Sardar. Weaker sections of the society are often misled, particularly during the times when an impression of chaos gains currency, to believe that a determined dictator would lead the nation out of the chaos, on to the path of development, and rein in the oppressive sections that are cause of their misery. Sardar Patel gained the reputation of Iron Man not because he wanted to be a dictator, but because he enforced law impartially and with strong determination.

Sardar and Hindu-Muslim Unity:

Sardar was proud of his Hindu heritage, though not deeply religious. However, his Hinduism was not narrow and he respected other religions. He had accepted the composite character of India. However, he expected the minorities to reconcile to being integral part of the country. He was opposed to the Sangh Parivar’s political goal of Hindu Nationalsim. He publicly declared in 1949, that all talk of a Hindu Raj was a mad idea as it would kill the soul of India. Sardar was brutally frank and transparent in his feelings to a fault. Gandhiji once said about the Sardar “his tongue is studded with thorns”. He did not care if his words hurt. His nationalism however, was inclusive and had no place for narrow parochialism or caste and creed. Gandhiji once said about Sardar, “I know the Sardar… His method and manner of approach to the Hindu-Muslim question, as also to several other questions, is different from mine and Pandit Nehru’s. But it is a travesty of truth to describe it as anti-Muslim. The Sardar’s heart is expansive enough to accommodate all.” Sardar once said referring to the allegations that he had many Musalman friends, “The closer I come to the best of Musalmans, the juster I am likely to be in my estimate of the Muslamans and their doings. I am striving to become the best cement between the two communities. And my longing is to be able to cement the two with my flood, if necessary…  I must proce to the Musalmans that I love them as well as I love the Hindus. It is only after Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan intensified that Sardar’s attitude changed and he began to doubt the bonafides of Muslims.

Jayprakash Narayan and even Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia felt that Sardar was Hindu in his political motivation. However, after Gandhiji’s assassination by follower of Hindutva ideology – Nathuram Godse, Sardar mellowed down considerably and went out of his way to assure Muslims that he was their true friend. His differences with Nehru gradually smoothened. Sardar supported the Nehru-Liaqat Pact between Pakistan and India wherein both countries guaranteed the safety and security of their respective minorities, guarantee them freedom of conscience and agreed to set up minority commissions in their countries.

After the Muslim representatives in the Constituent Assembly gave up their demand for separate electorates, the Sardar cautioned Hindus that it was a sacred trust which the minorities had placed in the majority community and that they should honour it in letter and spirit. He also warned “that a discontented minority is a burden and a danger, and that we must not do anything to injure the feelings of any any minority so long as it is not unreasonable”. He also said, “It is upto the majority community, by its generosity, to create a sense of confidence in the minorities, and so also it will be the duty of the minority communities to forget the past and to reflect on what the country has suffered owing to the sense of ‘fairness’, which the foreign rulers thought was necessary to keep balance between community and community.” “It is for us who happen to be in a majority to think about what the minorities feel and imagine how we would feel if we were treated in the manner in which they are treated.”

Sardar exerted all his prestige to include right to propagate as one of right to freedom of religion alongside right to profess and practice religion, in spite of strong opposition from the representatives of the right wing followers of the majority community. Sardar also exerted himself to include the rights of minorities to conserve their distinct language, script or culture and right of the linguistic and religious minority to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

Sardar’s handling of communal riots:

When riots broke out in Delhi in 1947, true to his uncompromising nature and decisiveness, Sardar was for strong action, irrespective of the consequences, or even toll of lives that might be taken in the process. Sardar would countenance even some collateral damage to innocents in order to take deterrent action against murderers, looters, robbers and those involved in setting properties afire. Had the Sardar been called to handle 2002 riots in Gujarat, he would have deployed army within hours and certainly would not have handed over the charred bodies of those burnt in Sabarmati Express to Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders to be taken out in procession or to conduct the post mortem on those bodies in full public view. Modi’s Govt. further allowed the demolition of Vali Gujarati’s dargah to ground and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation immediately flattened the ground and built a road on it. Modi did not visit any relief camp for the victims of riots. In sharp contrast, Sardar promptly visited the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin where there was panic and a feeling of insecurity among thousands of Muslims who had taken shelter in the Dargah. Sardar spent about 45 minutes in the precincts, visited the holy shrine and went round with the attitude of veneration. After making due inquiries from the inmates, Sardar left only after arranging for their safety, but only after warning the police officer in-charge that he was responsible for the safety of the inmates.

In East Punjab, the Sikhs were in the war path; there was blood in their eyes. Sardar rushed to these places personally on September 30, 1947 and pleaded with them not to bring dishonour and disgrace to India. He added, “Butchery of innocent and defenceless men, women and children does not behove brave men.” He appealed to themto maintain peace and “break the vicious circle of attack and counter-attack, retaliation and counter-retaliation.” His words had desired effect and Muslim refugees from East Punjab were given safe passage to West Punjab. Whereas Modi’s Govt. justified the 2002 Gujarat riots by quoting action-reaction doctrine and postponed imposition of curfew even as the charred bodies were being brought in a procession to Solan Hospital and the emotionally charged mob had gathered.

Sardar won over the Nawab of Chhatari in his letter dated 25th October, 1947 by assuring that the minorities would be protected in the country. He assured him that India would never become a religious state. The idea itself was abhorrent to him and the Congress, despite the bitterness that partition had created and the communal poison spread by the Muslim League all around. However, with the hard headed Nawabs of Hyderabad and Jumagadh, Sardar did not hesitate to use force to integrate the state into India, however, after winning over the Muslim commoners who supported the use of force to integrate the state.

There is another incident that we would like to state here briefly due to lack of space though it requires detailed treatment. Sardar was, like Nehru, very disturbed when the miscreants smuggled the statues of Lord Ram inside Babri Masjid, and advised the Chief Minister of UP Govind Vallabh Pant to meet the unilateral use of force by force as was his wont and further stated that unilateral action based on an attitude of aggression or coercion could not be countenanced. He was clearly on the side of Muslims in the dispute when he wrote to Pant on 9th January 1950 reminding him that Muslims were just settling down to their new loyalties. The Sangh Parivar on the other hand were for aggression and use of unilateral force when they demolished the Babri Masjid.

From the above it is clear that Sardar’s views do not support the Sangh Parivar and Modi’s politics has been in sharp contrast to the vision of Sardar who stood for secular India and propounded composite nature of Indian nationalism. That is why Sardar not only banned the RSS after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, and lifted the ban only after imposing certain strict conditions to bring it into the mainstream and after extracting the promise that RSS would be active only in the cultural field. The RSS did not comply with the condition and with their promise given to the Sardar. One is therefore suspicious about motives of building a monument for the Sardar – it is certainly not to follow his ideals but awe and fool people and make them more submissive to fake iron men of the Sangh Parivar.


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