How cordial was Sardar’s relation with Nehru?

Sonika Nahata11 Nov 2013
Most of us know Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as the ‘Iron Man’ who single-handedly convinced the more than 500 princely states of erstwhile India to merge into the Republic of India and become one with the nation. A man of immense learning and high values, his contribution to the Indian freedom struggle can neither be forgotten nor can it be undermined. However, Sardar’s name in the annals of Indian history post-independence seems to have dwindled at the hands of the successors of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, posing to be ardent admirers of the Sardar legacy but more occupied with the promotion of their own familial ‘sacrifices’.

A glaring example is the colliding of the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel and the death anniversary of Mrs Indira Gandhi on October 31 every year. While the scions and sycophants of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty do not miss a photo opportunity in order to garland the few statues of Sardar Patel, yet the main attention is to dedicate the day to Mrs Gandhi’s heroic deeds.

The on-going current debate about the not-so-cordial relationship between Sardar and Nehru holds some ground by the very fact that while Sardar was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, 41 years after his death, Mrs Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi were given the same much earlier. Wasn’t this done at the behest of the ruling family’s preferences? Which country in the world will forego the opportunity of honouring the very man who gave their nation its very sovereign identity? However, sadly, India managed to do so.

Narendra Modi has once again reminded the nation the treatment meted out by the Dynasty to Sardar Patel. Remember, it was Nehru who called him “communal” in a famous Cabinet meeting (read ‘The Story of an Era Told without Ill Will’ by MKK Nair).

Sardar Patel understood and recognised the threat to India from both China and Pakistan. He also had a far greater understanding of the real intentions and leanings of friends and foes, who he knew will not leave a single opportunity to drub India.

Sardar therefore wanted India to become not only self-reliant, but also resolve all disputes with the newly formed Pakistan through mutual dialogue. He was totally opposed to taking the ‘Kashmir issue’ to the UN. If only Nehru had listened to the sane advice of Sardar half of India’s current border problems with Pakistan and China would have never come up.

As perhaps the future Prime Minister of India, Modi will have to fight the Chinese aggression and the seasoned Pakistani terrorist proxy war. Nehru had simply developed an unreasonable and faulty inherent trust on both China and Pakistan that they will never be perpetrators, and also on the global bodies like the UN to solve India’s disputes. That none of them came to India’s rescue is now history. Hence, an important politician like Modi, who is going to have a considerable say in Indian politics from now onwards, obviously will look to Sardar Patel’s ideology and policy formation exercise to counter one of the biggest threats that India is facing currently.

As far back as in 1950, on November 7, Sardar, in a letter to Nehru, warned him of false promises by the Chinese. He wrote:

The Chinese Government has tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intention. My own feeling is that at a crucial period they managed to instil into our Ambassador a false sense of confidence in their so-called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means. There can be no doubt that during the period covered by this correspondence the Chinese must have been concentrating for an onslaught on Tibet. The final action of the Chinese, in my judgement, is little short of perfidy.

Sardar went on to suggest measures to arrest such future problems too. In the same letter he wrote:

I am…giving below some of the problems which, in my opinion, require early solution and round which we have to build our administrative or military policies and measures to implement them.

a) A military and intelligence appreciation of the Chinese threat to India both on the frontier and to internal security.

b) An examination of military position and such redisposition of our forces as might be necessary, particularly with the idea of guarding important routes or areas which are likely to be subject of dispute.

It is a foregone conclusion that Nehru did not pay heed to Sardar’s advice; his trust in the Chinese was so horribly betrayed that it ended only with his own demise in 1964. And today every day the Chinese troops keep on making inroads into Indian territory. It seems that Nehru never understood the importance of ‘nipping a problem in the bud’. In fact, just before his demise, Sardar Patel, speaking at the Nashik conference, warned everyone “that since China has occupied Tibet, India must be very very careful with China… they are not a trustworthy neighbour.”

Going by MKK Nair’s book, the relationship between Sardar and Nehru were definitely not cordial. But apart from the now ill-famous Cabinet meeting wherein Nehru called Sardar a communalist, there are many other instances as well. For instance, Balraj Krishna, who authored Sardar’s biography, told The Pioneer that at Sardar’s death, Nehru was opposed to Rajendra Prasad’s travelling to Mumbai to pay his last respects. But the President was adamant and did travel to Bombay. Nehru too attended the funeral, but it was C Rajgopalachari who delivered the funeral oration. Nehru did not support Sardar’s efforts to renovate the Somnath temple as well. When the temple was finally renovated, at its inauguration, the then President, Rajendra Prasad, remained present, but Nehru couldn’t find time (or inclination) to come over.

Modi’s pick on the current ruling regime for ignoring the wisdom and far-sightedness of Sardar Patel and indulging in glorification of the dynastic tradition is absolutely justified. While one gets to hear of crores of rupees being spent in celebrating the birth and death anniversaries of members of the Nehru-Gandhi family, there is hardly any mention of most of the other freedom fighters, some of whom had made the supreme sacrifice for the country. India’s prosperity, growth and development have been compromised to a large extent simply because since Nehruvian times Sardar’s advice and his in-depth understanding of the workings of international arena were ignored. Result – our basic attention today is occupied in saving India’s borders (which too is unfortunately compromised ) and deploying unit after unit of the country’s defence forces. The sufferers? The current generation. People like you who are reading this article and people like me who wrote it.

It’s time really to embrace the Iron Man’s legacy and cast away the cobwebs of dynastic familial worshipping. No wonder, Modi, a student of political science, has been able to establish a direct connect with Sardar. The attempts to undermine his ideology started by Nehru and carried on by his successors, succeeded for many decades; but as the saying goes, truth shall prevail, and truth is prevailing.

It is also interesting to see that the moment Modi began to speak about Sardar’s contribution to the making of India and Sardar’s ideology as the saviour of India, the ruling regime suddenly woke up to the fact that Sardar was the man who unified the country and also was a member of their own party.

Their reported new-found allegiance to the Sardar is more out of fear that a political rival will run away with the ideology of a person who belonged to their party, while they will simply become the laughing-stock as not being capable enough to recognise the immense contribution of Sardar Patel. So from near oblivion for nearly five decades, the ruling regime is making all efforts to resurrect Sardar’s image as an important member of their party and more significantly they are all out to prove their reverence towards him!