Vallabhbhai Patel, remembered as ‘Sardar Patel’ and honoured with the title of ‘the Iron Man of India’, assumes a special place in the history of India’s freedom struggle. Not only was he a fearless and dedicated freedom fighter, but he also equally concerned himself with social service. His unique achievement was his creation of a new, united India or the ‘Bharat’—the India of today—by integrating the erstwhile princely states into the Indian Union within a year’s time.
Vallabhbhai Patel was born at Nadiad in Gujarat on October 31,1875 in the family of an agriculturist, Jhaverbhai Patel who was believed to have fought in the army of Rani Jhansi at the time of the 185 7 revolt. A latecomer to school life, Vallabhbhai completed his matriculation in 1897. A law course, preparatory to the District Pleaders’ Examination, set him up as a country lawyer in Godhra. He gained reputation as a defence lawyer and left for England in 1910 to pursue higher studies in law. He distinguished himself in the Roman law and became a Barrister in just two years instead of three. Coming back to India, he set up legal practice in Ahmadabad.’
It was from 1917 onwards that Vallabhbhai began seriously devoting himself to social service. Elected Municipal Councillor in Ahmadabad and Secretary to the new Gujarat Sabha that went on to aid Gandhi immensely in his Gujarat campaigns, Vallabhbhai now involved himself in the peasant struggle.
In 1918, he started the Kheda or Kaira Satyagraha that demanded the suspension of revenue collection from cultivators as the crop yield was less than 25 per cent—a provision included in the land revenue regulations. Vallabhbhai, who was thus brought in close alliance with Gandhi, encouraged the cultivators to fight in a non-violent and confident manner. The two men played a large part in forcing the government to finally yield to the cultivators’ demands. What awaited Vallabhbhai next was the other great Satyagraha to follow—the Bardoli Satyagraha. It was while fighting for the rights of peasants in Bardoli that the nation saluted him as their ‘Sardar’. Vallabhbhai courageously led as many as 80,000 peasants in this taluka in Surat district to protest against the land revenue hike by 22 per cent or even 50 to 60 per cent. Again here, the government was forced to agree that it would assess the correct revenue to be levied. Vallabhbhai had by this time given up his legal practice and had splendidly transformed the Municipal Committee of Ahmadabad from a local body into a popular representative institution.
Vallabhbhai actively participated in the boycott of the Simon Commission and helped Gandhi and other leaders launch the salt Satyagraha. He became the first national leader to be arrested in March, 1930. Recognising his dedication to the freedom cause, the Indian National Congress made him its President in the March of 1931. When the Congress ministries were set up in 1937, Vallabhbhai guided the provincial governments along Congress policies as Chairman of the
Congress Parliamentary Sub-Committee. He also instructed the ministries to resign in 1939 in protest. Vallabhbhai participated in Gandhi’s individual civil disobedience and he was arrested on November 17, 1940 though soon released on account of his health. But he now participated in the Quit India Movement. Arrested on August 9, 1942, he was imprisoned for about three years this time.
After the Second World War, Vallabhbhai, on behalf of the Congress, explored with the British ways to provide a peaceful and enduring solution where Indian independence was concerned. India gained independence and he was appointed the Deputy Prime Minister of India, with the Home, Information and Broadcasting, and States portfolios placed under his care. Vallabhbhai reorganised the Civil Services by creating categories such as the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Foreign Service. The Hindi language received its due status in the government media. And as Minister of States he integrated 562 States into the Indian Union within just 365 days!