‘Man of steel’: India’s hero
The President of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, Ashwin Trikamjee, commemorated the birth anniversary of the nationalist hero, the first deputy prime minister of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, at the Indian Consulate offices in Durban on Wednesday.
SARDAR Vallabhbhai Patel was known in India as the “Man of Steel”. He was born in Nadiad, a small village in Gujarat. His father was Jhaverbhai Patel, and his mother Ladbai.
Jhaverbhai was a poor farmer and his country and freedom were as dear to him as his own life.
Once, as a child, Vallabhbhai suffered from a boil in the armpit. There was a man in the village, who used to cure boils by touching them with a hot iron. The boy went to him and the man heated the iron rod until it grew red. But he hesitated, seeing at the boy’s tender years.
“What are you waiting for? The iron will grow cold. Hurry up, brand the boil,” said the boy angrily.
The man was even more frightened. The boy picked up the glowing rod and burnt the boil. Those who watched him were shocked and screamed. But there was not even a trace of pain in the boy’s face.
This amazing boy was born on October 31, 1875 (this is the date generally accepted).
The elders were filled with pride and joy at the fearlessness of the little boy and the younger ones loved and admired him. By nature, he rebelled against injustice and showed a genuine interest in the welfare of his companions.
A teacher at his school used to sell books, which pupils needed. He used to force all pupils to buy books only from him. Vallabhbhai thought that this was wrong.
He spoke to his companions and saw to it that not a single pupil attended classes. For the whole week, the school could not work. The teacher had to correct himself.
His cherished ambition was to become a barrister. But, in order to realise this ambition, he had to continue his studies in England and he did not have enough money to even join a college in India.
In those days, a candidate could study in private and sit for an examination in law. Vallabhbhai’s brother, Vithalbhai, was also a lawyer. He attended coaching classes before entering himself for the examination.
But Vallabhbhai did not even attend coaching classes. He borrowed books from the lawyer of his acquaintance and studied their judgments. Occasionally, he attended courts of law and studied their judgments. He passed the examination.
He had no facilities when he practised law. He borrowed money from his friends and hired a room in a town called Godhra. He furnished it with a couple of chairs and mats for those who wished to squat on the floor.
In a short time, Vallabhbhai made a name as an eminent lawyer. By then, he was married and had two children – a daughter, Manibehn, and a son, Dhayabhai.
As Vallabhbhai wished to become a barrister, he was saving money and making preparations to go to England. He wrote a letter to a travel agency. By chance, it fell into the hands of Vithalbhai.
He told Vallabhbhai: “I shall go to England first, you can go later.”
Without the slightest hesitation, Vallabhbhai agreed and allowed Vithalbhai’s wife to stay with his family. His (Vallabhbhai’s) wife had also died and he refused to remarry.
Vallabhbhai went to England and studied with a single-minded devotion. He stood first in the Barrister-at-Law Examination.
Returning to India, he set up practice as a barrister at Ahmedabad. Day by day, his fame and influence grew. The elder brother, Vithalbhai, said: “You look after the family, I shall work, for the country.”
“Yes,” said Vallabhbhai. He spent his leisure hours playing cards in a local club and dressed like an Englishman. He was not interested in politics. He sometimes laughed at Satyagraha (non-violent nonco-operation) and service to the country as dreams of crazy fellows.
Gradually, the spell of Gandhiji spread all over Gujarat. It changed Vallabhbhai’s life, too. Gandhiji attended the political conference at Godhra. He and Vallabhbhai met at that time and soon became friends.
Gandhiji entered his home and was like a father to Vallabhbhai’s two children.
In 1918, heavy rains destroyed the crops in Gujarat and the farmers in Kaira District were particularly in distress. The government demanded the payment of the revenue taxes to the last pie. The farmers turned to Gandhiji as their refuge. Gandhiji said: “I need someone who will assume the entire responsibility for this struggle.”
“I shall be responsible,” said Vallabhbhai.
He infused the peasants with courage, saying: “Why are you afraid of the English? If the people are united, no government can do anything.”
He gave up his Western clothing and began to dress like the poor and humble a peasants.
So, finally, the government had to yield. The taxes were remitted. In June 1918, the farmers celebrated their victory. They invited Gandhiji and presented him with an address.
Gandhiji said: “The credit of this victory should go to Vallabhbhai Patel. You are fortunate to be led by such a great hero.”
Vallabhbhai lived up to his ideals and eventually gave up his practice as a barrister and founded the Gujarat Vidyapeetha, to educate the children to grow up to be patriots.
In 1923, the rains wreaked havoc in Gujarat. Scores of people lost everything, but Vallabhbhai came to their rescue. His efforts brought 2 000 volunteers together. They supplied food and clothes to those that had been severely affected by floods and looked after them.
But their services were still needed. Hardly had the floods subsided when a terrible famine broke out. The farmers had no oxen and no seeds. How were they to till the land?
Vallabhbhai drew the attention of the government to the sufferings of the people. He argued that the government collected taxes from the people, and therefore, it was the duty of the government to help them in their distress. So forceful was his demand that it spent 15 million rupees to help those in the famine-stricken areas.
As the years progressed, all of India knew of Vallabhbhai as the Sardar (chief).
His fiery words provoked the British government. It sent him to prison twice in 1930. But this only increased his influence.
He was elected President of the Karachi Session of the National Congress, which met in 1931. In his speech, Vallabhbhai declared in unmistakable words, “Swaraj (independence) is our goal. There cannot be the slightest modification of that goal.” The government was even more infuriated, and sent him to prison again. He was freed only in 1934.
While imprisoned, he got copies of the Bhagavad-Gita and the Ramayana through the authorities of the prison. He studied and pondered on them every day.
Elections to the legislatures of provinces were held in 1937. The Sardar was the chairman of the Congress Parliamentary Board. He unhesitatingly took to task any minister who did wrong.
In 1942, the Congress called on the British to quit India. It started what came to be known as the Quit India Movement or the Chalejav Movement.
The government jailed all the important leaders of the Congress, including Vallabhbhai. All those leaders were released after three years.
Freedom dawned on August 15, 1947. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru became the first prime minister of Independent India and Vallabhbhai became the deputy prime minister. He was in charge of Home Affairs, Information and Broadcasting and the Ministry of States.
Vallabhbhai, a man of remarkable foresight, died on December 15, 1950, at the age of 75.
Prime Minister Nehru had said: “His name will live for ever in history. He is the architect of modern India. He was a wise counsellor in the hour of trial, a trustworthy friend and a mine of courage and inspiration.”
He was known as the Man of Steel. Tenderness was very much alive in his nature but, when necessary, he could be dominating.
It is 143 years since this hero, the Sardar, was born. Let us remember him with reverence.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala and BJP chief Amit Shah witness a fly-past by the Indian Air Force at the inauguration of Statue of Unity on the occasion of Rashtriya Ekta Diwas – the birth anniversary of the country’s first Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, at Kevadiya, in Narmada District, Gujarat, on Wednesday.