Sunday, October 31, 2010

Remembering Sardar Patel

Some years back, I was talking with an NRI friend about Mahatma Gandhi's legacy, not surprising considering that this lady had been associated with the making of Richard Attenborough's Gandhi. When I blamed the Mahatma for foisting on India Jawaharlal Nehru as the first prime minister in spite of eleven of the fifteen Provincial Congress Committees having cast their votes in favour of Sardar Patel, the lady remonstrated that it was Sardar Patel himself, and not Gandhi, who had taken the decision.

She told me that some time in 1946, while her father, a confirmed Gandhi acolyte, was attending on the great man at the Vardha Ashram, Sardar Patel had a heart to heart talk with his mentor. Patel asked Gandhi who was his candidate for about-to-be-freed India's prime minister. Gandhi told him he was his obvious choice. On this Patel requested Gandhi to make Nehru the prime minister and gave out two reasons for his request. He said he could die in a couple of years of old age, he was already seventy one, and chronic illness, but India could not afford to lose the prime minister so early, that would be very unsettling for the fledgling country. Jawaharlal, on the other hand, was fighting fit and much younger at fifty seven. The other reason Patel gave was that he could serve under Nehru but it was not the other way round, Nehru would rather leave the Congress than deign to become Patel's deputy. And Patel felt that the newly born nation would need them both guiding it through the initial years to some safety.

Today, on the 135th birth anniversary of Sardar Patel, I pay my highest homage to that titan of a man, and am grateful to my friend for revealing to me a sacrifice that could have done credit to the Mahatma himself.

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