4A. Sardar Patel: Part-1 of the Extracts

Sardar Patel :

Interesting Extracts

Part-I of Chapter-12 from

Foundations of Misery


If Only Sardar Patel was Prime Minister

“While I usually came back from meeting Gandhiji elated and inspired but always a bit sceptical, and from talks with Jawaharlal fired with emotional zeal but often confused and unconvinced, meetings with Vallabhbhai were a joy from which I returned with renewed confidence in the future of our country. I have often thought that if fate had decreed that he, instead of Jawaharlal, would be younger of the two, India would have followed a very different path and would be in better economic shape than it is today.”

– JRD Tata

~ ~ ~

“Gandhi’s death reunited Nehru and Patel. Their reconciliation not only saved Congress and India’s central government from collapse, but it kept Nehru in power. Without the Sardar’s strength and support Nehru might have broken down or been forced out of high office. Vallabhbhai ran India’s administration for the next two years [before his death] while Nehru indulged mostly in foreign affairs and high Himalayan adventures.”

“The Sardar, as Congress’s strongman was called, was determined to stay and solve whatever problems remained, rather than running away from them. He had long viewed Nehru as a weak sister and often wondered why Gandhi thought so highly of him.”

– Stanley Wolpert, Nehru: A Tryst with Destiny

~ ~ ~

“The Sardar [Patel] always reminded me of the pictures of Roman emperors in history books. There was something rock-like in his appearance and demeanour...The Sardar’s reading of the pulse of India was almost uncanny in its accuracy.”

– Roy Bucher, the Army Chief

~ ~ ~

“Returning from London on the night of May 30, Mountbatten, in his own words, ‘sent V.P.Menon to see Patel to obtain his agreement to six months joint control [with Pakistan] of Calcutta’, which is what Jinnah had been pressing for. The Viceroy recorded Patel’s reply: ‘Not even for six hours!’ Earlier...Jinnah had demanded an 800-mile ‘corridor’ to link  West and East Pakistan. Patel called the claim ‘such fantastic nonsense as not to be taken seriously’. It died a quick and unremembered death.”

– Rajmohan Gandhi, Patel–A Life


(Unlike Nehru, Sardar Patel was very firm in his dealings.)

~ ~ ~

“[Humayun] Kabir [translator and editor of Maulana Azad's autobiography] believed that Azad had come to realize after seeing Nehru’s functioning that Patel should have been India’s prime minister and Nehru the president of India. Coming as it did from an inveterate opponent of Patel, it was a revelation...A year earlier, Rajgopalachari had said the same thing...”

– Kuldip Nayar, Beyond the Lines

~ ~ ~

“...[then] it seemed to me that Jawaharlal should be the new President [of Congress in 1946—and hence PM] ...I acted according to my best judgement but the way things have shaped since then has made me to realise that this was perhaps the greatest blunder of my political life...My second mistake was that when I decided not to stand myself, I did not support Sardar Patel.”

– Maulana Azad in his autobiography, India Wins Freedom

~ ~ ~

“Undoubtedly it would have been better if Nehru had been asked to be the Foreign Minister and Patel made the Prime Minister. I too fell into the error of believing that Jawaharlal was the more enlightened person of the two.”

– C Rajagopalachari ( Rajaji), who had then been pro-Nehru and anti-Patel, two decades after the death of Patel.

~ ~ ~

Kripalani had once commented: “When we are faced with thorny problems, and Gandhi’s advice is not available, we consider Sardar Patel as our leader.”

~ ~ ~

“You know, I never go to Nehru to seek advice or guidance. I take a decision and just present it to him as a fait accompli. Nehru’s mind is too complex to wrestle with the intricacies of a problem. Those who go to him for advice rarely get a lead—and that only serves to delay matters...Nehru does not understand economics, and is lead by the nose by ‘professors’ and ‘experts’ who pander to his whims and fancies...We should have absorbed Kashmir for good and all...I do not know where we are going. The country needs a man like Patel.”

– Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, a close friend and a confidant of Nehru,  quoted in Durga Das’s India from Curzon to Nehru & After


Undemocratic Anointment

Nehru’s own election as the president of Congress in 1946, that led to his becoming India's first prime minister upon independence, was undemocratic. In 1946, Azad’s successor as the Congress President was to be chosen. The choice was critical then because whoever became the Congress President would also have become the head of the Interim Government and the first prime minister of independent India. This was the reason Azad had also desired his own re-election. Sardar Patel, Acharya Kripalani and Nehru were in the race. 12 of the 19 PCCs (Pradesh Congress Committees) had sent in the name of Sardar Patel for the post, and the remaining nominated Kripalani, and additionally Rajendra Prasad. However, none recommended Nehru for the post! As such, Nehru should have been totally out of the race, and Sardar Patel should have been the clear, unambiguous choice.

Reportedly, Gandhi did tell Nehru that no one had nominated him, expecting him to go by the majority; but, Nehru let it be understood that he would not play second fiddle to anybody. A disappointed Gandhi apparently gave into Nehru's obduracy and prevailed upon Sardar Patel and Kripalani to step down in favour of Nehru. This is how Nehru became the Congress President, and thereafter the head of the Interim Government, and later the first PM. If Nehru were genuinely a democrat, he should have refused the position and prevailed upon Gandhi to go by the wishes of the overwhelming majority.

Somebody asked Gandhi why he did so. Reportedly, Gandhi’s reason was that while Nehru would not work under Sardar Patel, he knew that in the national interest he could persuade Sardar Patel to work under Nehru. What Gandhi said amounts to this: that Sardar Patel, even though senior and more experienced, and backed by majority, was patriotic enough to work under Nehru in the national interest, if so prodded by Gandhi; Nehru, junior, less experienced, and not backed by a single PCC, wanted only to become PM, and was not patriotic enough to work under Patel, in the national interest, even if persuaded by Gandhi!

... ... ...

Dr Rajendra Prasad had stated: “Gandhi has once again sacrificed his trusted lieutenant for the sake of the glamorous Nehru.” 1946 was not the first time Gandhi had ridden rough shod over Sardar to promote Nehru. It was a case of déjà vu—there was a similar case in the thirties. On account of differences between Nehru and Patel on the issue of socialism, the selection of the Congress president for the next annual session had assumed critical importance. Incidentally, Patel, Rajagopalachari and Rajendra Prasad were opposed to socialism. If only they had led India after Independence, rather than Nehru, India would have been a prosperous first-world country long ago. That time too Patel had a majority backing, but Gandhi intervened to accord another term to Nehru, and persuaded Patel to withdraw in his favour. That was yet another example of the great democrat Nehru getting undemocratically elected—knowing very well what the wish of the majority was.

Integration of the Princely States

“...Whatever may be said about Mountbatten’s tactics or the machinations of Patel, their achievement remains remarkable. Between them, and in less than a year, it may be argued that these two men achieved a larger India, more closely integrated, than had 90 years of British raj, 180 years of the Mughal Empire, or 130 years of Asoka and the Maurya rulers.

“...He [Sardar Patel] was impervious to Mountbatten’s famous charm, describing the new Viceroy as ‘a toy for Jawaharlalji to play with—while we arrange the revolution’...

“...For Patel’s part, he realised immediately that Mountbatten, with his own semi-royal status and personal friendship with many of the princes, was uniquely suited to help India achieve its aim of leaving no state behind.”

– Alex Von Tunzelmann, Indian Summer

~ ~ ~

222 or about 40% of the 562 states, covering an area of about 22,000 square miles, were in just one region in Saurashtra in Gujarat state—Kathiawar. Sardar Patel’s role in consolidating these 222 states was described by Nehru as “a great step forward...one of the most notable in contemporary Indian history...a far-sighted act of statesmanship...”

~ ~ ~

...Thus, with the withdrawal of paramountcy, the Princely States were to become independent... 562 independent States! That would have meant ominous prospects of civil wars, military takeovers, and total chaos—more terrible than what happened during the partition! ...That may well have been the objective of the British. Else, why could they not have so arranged that the Princely States too had to either go to India or to Pakistan depending upon their contiguity and other factors. The Paramountcy could have been inherited by the succeeding dominions. But, British wanted it to lapse, and create difficulties for India. They wanted India to remain divided into as many parts as possible. In fact, Sir Conrad Corfield, the pro-princes and anti-India head of the powerful Political Department of British-India, had lobbied in London and had left no stones unturned to ensure that the “lapse of paramountcy” was incorporated in The Indian Independence Act 1947, so that the Princely States had the third option—that of independence.

However, they had not factored in what Sardar Patel was capable of. Says Leonard Mosley in The Last Days of the British Raj: “Sir Conrad Corfield and other defenders of the Princes were, however, being a little too optimistic. At the very moment that they breathed the heady air of victory something came out of the blue and floored them. The blow came from the clasped hands of those two able political operators, Sardar Patel and VP Menon. When the Congress Party had decided to form a States Ministry they picked Patel as the obvious man to head it. Their mood was belligerent. They despised the Princes and they resented the British for lapsing paramountcy. They hoped and expected that the strong man of the Party would roll up his dhoti and wade in with sound, fury, and effect. Patel was far too wily a negotiator to do such a thing, particularly since he had the measure of Sir Conrad Corfield and admired him as a skilled and dangerous adversary. This was, he decided, no time for flailing fists and loud cries of screaming rage and fury. The blow must be subtle, unexpected, and must leave no unnecessary bruises...”

~ ~ ~

Expansion of India’s geography by about 40% and consolidation of its post-independence stability through the integration of the Princely States demanded great foresight, sharp mind, deep wisdom, high-level diplomacy, sagacity, boldness, guts, readiness to act and timely action—thankfully for India, Sardar Patel answered to that rare combination of qualities and requirements. Nehru just did not have it in him to accomplish all that; he would have flinched from even attempting it; and had he taken the plunge, he would have made a royal mess of it. Like Durga Das writes in India from Curzon to Nehru & After: “VP Menon gave me details of these prolonged talks. Mountbatten was just flattering the old man[Gandhi], he said. He is doing business with Sardar and has Nehru in his pocket. Sardar is playing a deep game. He, in turn, is flattering Mountbatten and using him to net the Princes...”

~ ~ ~

Apart from, "I thought he [Nehru] wanted to make the Maharaja [Hari Singh of J&K] lick his boots..."; Mountbatten had made another observation: "I am glad to say that Nehru has not been put in charge of the new [Princely] States Department, which would have wrecked everything. Patel, who is essentially a realist and very sensible, is going to take it over...Even better news is that VP Menon is to be the Secretary."

~ ~ ~

Durga Das writes: “All were agreed on one thing: While Gandhi was the architect of India’s freedom, Sardar [Patel] was the architect of India’s unity.” And Nehru? That's what we are trying to understand, by focussing on the 1946-1964 period.


Writes C Dasgupta in ‘War and Diplomacy in Kashmir 1947-48’: “In an effort to head him [Sardar Patel] off from this course of action [military action in Junagadh], Mountbatten suggested lodging a complaint to the United Nations against Junagadh’s act of aggression...Patel observed that possession was nine-tenths of the law and he would in no circumstances lower India’s position by going to any court as a plaintiff. The Governor-General asked him whether he was prepared to take the risk of an armed clash in Kathiawar leading to war with Pakistan. The Deputy Prime Minister [Sardar Patel] was unmoved. He said he was ready to take the risk...”

~ ~ ~

Writes V Shankar, private secretary of Sardar Patel, in his book, My Reminiscences of Sardar Patel Vol.1: “...But he [Sardar Patel] had to contend with two important factors, one of them being Lord Mountbatten...Sardar had to be particularly patient because very often Lord Mountbatten succeeded in enlisting Pandit Nehru’s sympathies for his point of view...He was convinced that, in this matter of national importance, police action could not be ruled out in the case of Hyderabad and that the threat of its accession to Pakistan must be removed at all costs. As regards Junagadh he was not prepared for any compromise and finally succeeded in evolving and executing his own plans despite Lord Mountbatten’s counsels against precipitating matters or his suggestion of a plebiscite [under UN auspices] ...He [Sardar] remarked with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Don’t you see we have two U.N. experts—one the Prime Minister [Nehru] and the other Lord Mountbatten—and I have to steer my way between them. However, I have my own idea of plebiscite. You wait and see...’”

~ ~ ~

Sardar planned and executed the Junagadh operation so well that the Nawab fled to Pakistan on 26 October 1947 leaving the state to Shahnawaz Bhutto, who, facing collapse of the administration, invited India on 7 November 1947 to intervene and left for Pakistan on 8 November 1947. The Indian army moved in on 9 November 1947, and Sardar Patel arrived to a grand reception on the Diwali day of 13 November 1947.

A plebiscite was held in Junagadh by India. It was conducted not by the UN, but by an ICS officer, CB Nagarkar, on 20 February 1948, in which 99%—all but 91 persons—voted to join India. Sardar was not gullible like Nehru to allow himself to be made a fool of by letting Mountbatten have his way, refer the matter to the UN—which Mountbatten had suggested for Junagadh and Hyderabad too—and allow domestic matters to be internationalised, like that of J&K, and be exploited by Pakistan and the UK.


V Shankar writes in My Reminiscences of Sardar Patel Vol.1: “Hyderabad occupied a special position in the British scheme of things and therefore touched a special chord in Lord Mountbatten...The ‘faithful ally’ concept still ruled the attitude of every British of importance...all the other rulers were watching whether the Indian Government would concede to it a position different from the other states...Lastly, on Hyderabad, Pandit Nehru and some others in Delhi were prepared to take a special line; in this Mrs Sarojini Naidu and Miss Padmaja Naidu, both of whom occupied a special position in Pandit Nehru’s esteem, were not without influence...Apart from Lord Mountbatten’s understandable sympathy for the Muslim position in Hyderabad, shared by Pandit Nehru, in anything that concerned Pakistan even indirectly, he was for compromise and conciliation to the maximum extent possible...Sardar [Patel] was aware of the influence which Lord Mountbatten exercised over both Pandit Nehru and Gandhiji; often that influence was decisive...Sardar had made up his mind that Hyderabad must fit into his policy regarding the Indian states...I know how deeply anguished he used to feel at his helplessness in settling the problem with his accustomed swiftness...”

~ ~ ~

Very tactfully, Sardar Patel waited for Mountbatten to first go from India for ever, which he did on 21 June 1948—lest he should interfere in the matter. Patel’s most formidable obstacle lay in Mountbatten and Nehru, who had been converted by Mountbatten to his point of view—not to let Indian Army move into Hyderabad. Had Gandhi been alive, perhaps Nehru-Gandhi combine would not have allowed the action that Sardar took—Gandhi being a pacifist.

Sardar Patel had fixed the zero hour for the Army to move into Hyderabad twice, and twice he had to postpone it under intense political pressure from Nehru and Rajaji. They instead directed VP Menon and HM Patel to draft suitable reply to Nizam on his appeal. While the reply to Nizam was being readied, Sardar Patel summarily announced that the Army had already moved in, and nothing could be done to halt it. This he did after taking the Defence Minister, Baldev Singh, into confidence! Had Sardar Patel not showed such determination and guts, and had he not ignored the tame alternative suggested by Nehru and Rajaji, Hyderabad would have been another Kashmir or Pakistan!

~ ~ ~

In ‘My Reminiscences of Sardar Patel’ writes V Shankar: “...the decision about the Police Action in Hyderabad in which case Sardar [Patel] described the dissent of Rajaji and Pandit Nehru as “the wailing of two widows as to how their departed husband [meaning Gandhiji] would have reacted to the decision involving such a departure from non-violence.”

~ ~ ~

Meanwhile, a fanatical Muslim organisation, Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, headed by one Kasim Razvi had been fomenting trouble. They came to be known as the Razakars. At the instance of Kasim Razvi, Nizam appointed Mir Laik Ali, a Hyderabadi businessman, who had also been a representative of Pakistan at the UN, president of his Executive Council. With this the Hyderabad Government came virtually under Razvi. Razvi later met Sardar and Menon in Delhi to tell that Hyderabad would never surrender its independence, and that Hindus were happy under Nizam; but if India insisted on a plebiscite, it is the sword which would decide the final result. Razvi further told Sardar Patel, “We shall fight and die to the last men,” to which Patel responded, “How can I stop you from committing suicide?

~ ~ ~

On the use of force by India to settle the Hyderabad issue, V Shankar writes in My Reminiscences of Sardar Patel, Vol-1: “The entire staff for the purpose had been alerted and the timing depended on how long it would take for Sardar to overcome the resistance to this course by C Rajagopalachari, who succeeded Lord Mountbatten as Governor General, and by Pandit Nehru, who found in C Rajagopalachari an intellectual support for his non-violent policy towards Hyderabad..” Shankar quotes Sardar's response to a query, "Many have asked me the question what is going to happen to Hyderabad. They forget that when I spoke at Junagadh, I said openly that if Hyderabad did not behave properly, it would have to go the way Junagadh did. The words still stand and I stand by these words.” Shankar further states in Vol-2: “The situation in Hyderabad was progressing towards a climax. Under Sardar's constant pressure, and despite the opposition of Pandit Nehru and Rajaji, the decision was taken to march into Hyderabad and thereby to put an end both to the suspended animation in which the State stood and the atrocities on the local population which had become a matter of daily occurrence.”

In a Cabinet meeting on 8 September 1948, while the States Ministry under Sardar Patel pressed for occupation of Hyderabad to put an end to the chaos there; Nehru strongly opposed the move and was highly critical of the attitude of the States Ministry. However, Sardar Patel prevailed.

~ ~ ~

Sardar Patel’s daughter’s “The Diary of Maniben Patel: 1936-50” states: “About Hyderabad, Bapu [her father, Sardar Patel] said if his counselling had been accepted—the problem would have been long solved...Bapu replied [to Rajaji], ‘...Our viewpoint is different. I don’t want the future generation to curse me that these people when they got an opportunity did not do it and kept this ulcer [Hyderabad princely state] in the heart of India...It is States Ministry’s [which was under Sardar Patel] function [to make Hyderabad state accede to India]. How long are you and Panditji going to bypass the States Ministry and carry on...Bapu told Rajaji that Jawaharlal continued his aberration for an hour and a half in the Cabinet—that we should decide our attitude about Hyderabad. The question will be raised in the UN...Bapu said, ‘I am very clear in my mind—if we have to fight—Nizam is finished. We cannot keep this ulcer in the heart of the union. His dynasty is finished.’ He (Jawaharlal) was very angry/hot on this point.”

~ ~ ~

Writes Kuldip Nayar in ‘Beyond the Lines’: “...Reports circulating at the time said that even then Nehru was not in favour of marching troops into Hyderabad lest the matter be taken up by the UN...It is true that Patel chafed at the ‘do-nothing attitude of the Indian government’...”