Saturday, November 28, 1998
By Illa Vij
SARDAR VALLABHBHAI PATEL was one of the greatest men of his generation, possessing immense determination and intellect. He did what he felt was right, regardless of what people thought or did.
Vallabhbhai Patel was born on October 31, 1875, in Karamsad village in Gujarat. His parents were not very well-to-do. He joined the village school at the age of six and passed the matriculation examination at the age of 22! He began learning English after the age of 17. The teachers found it difficult to suppress his inquisitive nature. From the very beginning he was disciplined, obedient and determined to do the right.
He qualified for the Bar and later went to England from where he returned as a barrister. He earned the respect of his colleagues and family. By the time he was 35 years of age, he had established himself as an able barrister and was well-known for handling criminal cases. When Mahatma Gandhi returned from Africa, Patel was not very impressed by him. He was influenced by Gandhi only when he came in close contact with him. He realised the strength of Mahatma Gandhi and with unflinching loyalty, remained by his side, till the latter died.
In the year 1917-1918, there was a severe famine in Gujarat. Crops failed and cattle died in large numbers. The government did little to help the famine-hit, while tax collectors continued to harass the poor farmers. Gandhi and Patel decided to advise the farmers not to pay taxes and instead face suffering, if required. That is how, satyagraha started in India. Soon after this, Patel gave his up law practice and began working full- time with Gandhi.
During the struggle for Independence, Patel faced many challenging situations. The most significant one was at Bardoli in 1928. People of Bardoli, a village in Gujarat, were to follow the practice of non-payment of government taxes. Patel, as a lawyer, knew that while a government had the right to collect taxes, it had no right to change the rate of tax arbitrarily. Besides the new tax proposed was illegal. Peasants of Bardoli were prosperous and many of them did not want to have a clash with the government. It was a different task for Patel to convince the people that they had to make sacrifices for a good cause and be ready to face prosecution if required. Patels efforts were so effective that all the peasants of Bardoli refused to pay the taxes, and they were even ready to face the consequences. Finally, the government had to relent and the new tax was reduced. After this incident, Gandhi began calling Patel Sardar Patel.
Later, Patel was unanimously elected president of the Indian National Congress. As a leader when he spoke, his speech was short yet full of depth. He did not believe in any superfluous promises and commitments. His speech had strength and meaning. During the fight for freedom, he had to spend many years in jail. The hardships in the jail affected his health but he never showed any resentment or resistance. He happily sacrificed for his country.
In 1946, when an interim government was formed by Indians, Patel was given the charge of the Home Department and the Department of the States. When India finally got her freedom, he became the Deputy Prime Minister and also continued to hold the charges previously given to him. When India became independent, there were 562 separate states ruled by princes. Patel decided that all princes should give up their powers. In about a years time most of the Princes agreed to give up their powers. When the Nizam of Hyderabad refused to comply to the request, Sardar Patel was compelled to move the Army into the state. Thus, Hyderabad too became a part of the country. With the death Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on December 15, 1950, the country lost yet another leader of incomparable strength and courage.
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