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 large funds 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 or financial 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.
(Author of Patel: A Life , Navajivan, Ahmedabad, and
Visiting Professor in History for Fall 2001, UCLA)
Pictures of Sardar Patel
Time Magazine Article
Chronology of Sardar Patel
Bibliography and Reference Materials