NATIONAL LEADER OF THE WEEK SARDAR VALLABHAI PATEL

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
(October 31, 1875 – December 15, 1950)

SARDAR VALLAB BHAI PATEL

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is a historical figure who moves you to tears. Mostly these are tears of joy, for he achieved a thrilling Indian unity. Yet some are tears of pity, for the Sardar suffered and sacrificed much.

This man of steel learnt early to be tough, for he was born as a middle child in a family of impoverished peasant proprietors. As Vallabhbhai would himself recall, his parents’ hopes seemed centered on the eldest two sons, Soma and Narsi, and their affection on the youngest two, Kashi and the only daughter, Dahiba. The ones in the middle, Vallabh and Vithal, were remembered last when clothes or sweets were to be distributed, and at once when a chore had to be done. The rough schools he went to as a boy, and the courts where he defended alleged criminals, also contributed to Vallabhbhai’s mental muscle and stern appearance.

Yet this tough man smiled at the world and at gloomy moments helped others to laugh. Also, he did not hesitate to step aside for another –for his older brother Vithal when the latter wanted to use his passport and ticket to London, and, years later, for Jawaharlal Nehru, when Mahatma Gandhi desired that Nehru should sit in a chair to which Patel seemed entitled. And this strong man before whom rajas and maharajas trembled, and to whom rich men gave largeFUNDS for India’s national movement, did not allow a rupee to stick to his fingers, and he saw to it that his children, a son and a daughter, lived simple lives during and after their father’s lifetime.

His strength of character, the sharpness of his mind, his organizing skills, and all his energy were offered up for achieving the freedom of India under Gandhi’s leadership, and after independence for India’s consolidation. We admire a man who rises to a political orFINANCIAL peak, but are moved by one whose sole purpose in life is the strength and wellbeing of his compatriots. And we are moved even more when we discover that next to the steel in his soul is a tenderness for colleagues and a readiness to accept whatever results God ordains.

In successive phases of his life, Vallabhbhai Patel showed the defiance of the oppressed, a trial lawyer’s brilliance, the daring to give up a flourishing career, the discipline of a soldier in freedom’s battles, the strategies of a General, indifference as a prisoner of the Raj, the generosity of the strong, the firmness of a patriot, and the farsightedness of a statesman.

If times are depressing or daunting, Sardar Patel reminds us of India’s and Indians’ potential. When times are good, we can think of him with glad gratitude. Yet knowing about him is not enough. We ought to study him. We will be encouraged when we do.

Rajmohan Gandhi
(Author of Patel: A Life , Navajivan, Ahmedabad, and Visiting Professor in History for Fall 20

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