In our series of historic personalities in India, today we pay tribute to one of India’s most esteemed leaders who is often fondly referred to as the “Bismark of India” and India’s ‘Iron Man’! An important freedom fighter, he is known to have united a broken up nation by consolidating many of the small kingdoms/ rulers during India’s freedom struggle.
Son of a simple farmer Jhaverbhai Patel and Laad Bai, as a child Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel was known to be extremely hardworking and intelligent. His father despite his weak financial conditions sent him to school at N. K. High school, Petlad. After he finished his high-school examination in 1896 he studied hard at home to prepare for the District Leader’s examination passing with flying colors.
While he started his own practice of law in Godhara, which flourished, after the death of his wife in 1909, he left for England at the age of 36 to fulfill his dream of becoming a barrister. There he completed a 36 month course in just 30 months topping the course, after which he returned to India.
Though on his return to India his ambition was to expand his practice and provide his children with modern education, he won the election to become the Sanitation Commissioner of Ahmedabad in 1917 on the urging of his friends.
Impressed with Gandhi’s fight for the oppressed farmers in Champaran, Patel addressed the public in Borsad in September 1917, encouraging Indians across the country to sign Gandhi’s petition demanding Swaraj from the British. Later he became he Secretary of the Gujarat Sabha (a public body) which later became the Gujarati arm of the Indian National Congress.
Patel now vigorously fought against the Veth (a custom where Indian peasants were forced to serve British officers and civilians without payment; a refusal to do so meant imprisonment or fines) and organised relief efforts during the famine and plague in Kheda. When the British authorities turned down the exemption from taxation for the Kheda peasants during this time, as Gandhi could not fight a full scale battle on their behalf on account of his activities in Champaran, Patel took up the cause giving up his lucrative career and ambition.
With supporters he began touring village after village encouraging villagers to support a statewide revolt by refusing to pay taxes, emphasizing it be done with unity and non-violence. When the British began to seize properties, Patel organized volunteers to assist villagers, helping them hide their valuables and protect themselves. The revolt from the poor peasants finally evoked sympathy amongst many, leading the British Govt. to negotiate with Patel and suspend taxes for a year, even cutting back the rate.
After his success in Kheda, he supported Gandhi’s Non–Cooperation Movement encouraging Indians to wear Khadi and throw out English clothing. He worked extensively against untouchability, the caste system, alcoholism, and women empowerment. Elected Ahmedabad’s Municipal President in 1922, 1924 and 1927, he was instrumental in providing drainage and sanitation systems across the city, organizing relief efforts due to the massive flooding in Kheda in 1927, as well as taking up the causes of teachers in schools established by nationalists.
In 1923, he led a satyagraha in Nagpur against a law banning the raising of the Indian flag, while in 1928, he again took on the British about the taxes levied in Bardoli, when the area suffered from a severe famine. His continuous struggle for the farmers and his victory in Bardoli, won him the title of Sardar (meaning ‘Chief’ in many languages).
Considering him anti-government he was arrested several times by the British, yet he continued with his freedom struggle participating in the Salt Satyagraha, the Quit India Movement, requesting people refuse to pay taxes and participate in civil disobedience, shutdown of all civil services, and mass protests.
Of the many achievements, he is most remembered for unifying India’s 565 semi-autonomous princely states which argued about becoming independent rulers after the British left India. Indian Territory then divided into three parts, that under control of the British, states under rule of hereditary rulers, and lastly regions colonized by the Portuguese and French. Here Sardar Patel worked tirelessly encouraging them to think of the future of their people, dissuading them from forming independent states, and joining hands with India as a nation. While many Congress leaders failed to convince local rulers, Sardar Patel determined efforts led to the country being united, giving him the title of ‘Iron Man’ for his courage and determination.
Apart from this amazing feat, many historians also remember him for his untiring efforts of bridging the caste divide, and building trust between communities.
After the 1946 election for the Congress presidency, though Sardar Patel’s name was proposed by 13 states representatives out of 16, Patel respected Gandhi’s request of not becoming India’s first Prime Minister, taking up the position of Home Minister instead.
Conferred a Bharat Ratna in 1991, today as we pay tribute to India’s first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister who was instrumental in the political integration of India, we remember Nadiad the birthplace of the great leader also famous for its humanitarian services, prestigious institutes and universities and many important hospitals such as Mahagujarat Hospital, Civil Hospital Methodist Mission Hospital, Muljibhai Patel Urological Hospital etc.
The land of laureates, some prominent personalities associated with this city apart from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel include Govardhanram Tripathi the author of ‘Saraswatichandra’, Zaverilal Yagnik, Mansukhram Shivaram, Balashanker, Phoolchand Master, Rasakavi Raghunath Brahmbatt, Dinsha Patel, Dharmsingh a prominent industrialist and Member of Parliament, Pujya Mota, a spiritual leader and many more.
While the Santram Mandir is famous for its carvings, it is also important for its public service such as providing free medical care, caring for beggars and sadhus etc. The Santram Mandir also runs a physiotherapy centre, an eye clinic and various other charitable organizations
For visitors here also of interest is the 700 year old Sri Raxeshwar Mahadev temple, the 110 years old Methodist Church and Methodist mission hospital, the 200 years old Shree Mota Narayandev Temple and the Bhairav Temple the oldest temple here apart from the Badhir Garden, Amba Ashram, Mai Mandir, and BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir, Sri Narayan Temple, Goswani Temple and many more.