Sardar Patel: A Reappraisal – By Jayaprakash Narayan

From Page 9 of Frontline article by Shri A G Noorani

Nehru and Patel

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Nye, was, if anything, full of admiration for Patel’s splendid qualities and big achievements. These bits reveal what even sympathetic sections of the diplomatic community thought of him. “As a chief organiser and treasurer of the Congress party, Patel maintained until his death a complete grasp on the party machinery. The latest manifestation of the effectiveness of his control was the success, against teh Prime Nister’s known wishes, of the candidate whom he favoured, Purushottamdas Tandon, in the Congress Presidential election of 1950…..Sardar Patel was undoubtedly one of the greatest ‘party bosses’ the world has seen. Although personally honest, he was prepared to use most of the methods of Tammany Hall. His policy of financing the Congress party by Marwari businessmen has been justly criticised and has left a legacy of corruption and graft which is now a serious handicap to the party.    (emphasis by Author)

 

There are two allegations in this short paragraph. First, the election of Tandon as Congress President has been dealt with by me in an earlier poet. On corruption, I will quote Jayaprakash Narayan in his own words. JP as he himself admits was a trenchant critic of Patel during those crucial days (1947 – 50). later I will deal with the topic of ‘Corruption in Congress’ elaborately with Rajaji at the epicenter.   

The following is a verbatim extract of Jayaprakash Narayan’s own words (From the Book: Jayaprakash Narayan – Struggle with Values Pages 184 onward)

 

Rajaji once unburdened his heart by publicly confessing to a wrong he has done to Sardar Patel. I find myslef in a similar situation: the dominant feeling within me today is one of self-reproach, because during his life-time, I was not merely a critic but an opponent of the Great Sardar. For his leadership in the struggle for Independence I had great admiration and respect. I also knew that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel loved India with all his mind and heart. To him, everyone from Kashmir to Kerela was his kinsfolk. He worked and lived for the Yogakshema of All Indians.

And yet we Congress Socialist, who wished to see India take to the path of Socialism, considered Sardar a “reactionary” who was and would remain a defender and supporter of Capitalism. Sardar’s reason for displeasure with us was that as a Marxist I criticised Gandhiji’s views and opposed them although I must say that even then I respected him to the point of reverence. To some extent we enjoyed Jawaharlal Nehru’s support. But Nehru never shared the Congress Socialist platform and never lent his support to any important resolutions or amendments that we moved in the Congress Working Committee or the All India Congress Committee.

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I remember an incident which was for me an important and unforgettable experience, India had been partitioned and Sardar Patel was the Home Minister and Minister for Indian States. Congress Socilaists had not yet left the Congress. It was either August or September 1947. Sardar was housed in Birla House, where Bapu was staying. I had also gone there to meet Gandhiji. While coming out of his room, I ran into Sardar, who affectionately put his hand on my shoulder and said: ” The Part that you played in the 1942 Movement has wiped out all differences between you and me.” And added: “what do you Congress Socialists expect the Congress Government to do? I should like to know if you have any specific programme that you want us to follow.”

I realised the seriousness behind the Sardar’s offer. later I discussed the matter with Acharya Narendra Deva, Achyut Patwardhan, Rammanohar Lohia and other colleagues. We formulated a programme in the form of a policy statement and sent it to the Sardar. Copies were sent also to Panditji and the Congress President, Achrya Kriplani; and of course, to Bapu. As far as I remember, some discussions of the document took place in Bapu’s presence. Jawaharlalji did not evince much ineterst. The Sardar was not present, but it was apparent that he found it impractical and academic. later, the matter was discussed with Acharya Kriplani.

But nothing tangible emerged. In retrospect, I can unhesitatingly say that the document was a sample of bookish socialism and had little relation to the burning problems our country was faced with. It did, however, contain some pragmatic and practical suggestions which could be accepted by the Congress Government. But, on the whole, that plan was undeniably bookish and it widened the gulf between the Sardar and us.

So long as the reigns of the country was in the iron hands of the Sardar, the “progressives” – the socialists and Communists as also the Leftists in the Congress – all complained that Sardar patel made it impossible for Jawaharlal Nehru to change the economic and social structure of the country. This I learnt from some responsible Ministers. But with the passing away of the Sardar in 1950, Nehru had 13 to 14 years to prove himself. But apart from some verbal changes in the professed aims of the Congress, little progress was made towards socialism, as is plain for everyone to see. The rich have become richer, the poor poorer and unemployment has mounted. Those who had voluntarily suffered privation and spent their youth behind the bars succumbed to the lure of power and a life of ease and comfort.

Nehru himself chose to shift from 17, York Road (which was by no means a small place) to the palatial house of the erstwhile Commander-in-Chief renamed ‘Teen Murthi’. Nehru maintained that he did so to maintain the “dignity of Sate.”

In a meeting with him in December 1947, I asked Nehru if it behoved the Prime Minister of a poor country to live in a fabulous palace. I reminded him that on his return from a visit to the U.S.S.R., he had written in his book with obvious admiration that the great leader Lenin lived with his wife and sister in a two-room flat in the Kremlin. Nehru repied, rather irrelevantly, that the Rassian Ambassador, who had come to see him a few days back, had arrived in a magnificent limousine flanked by two equally grand limousines. I protested that Russia was now a developed country and a big power but India was still in as early a stage of development as Lenin’s Russia and that pomp and show ill became our national leaders.

But the discussion came to an abrupt end when Nehru recalled a facetious remark by Sarojini Naidu, a born jester, had once humourously remarked that “it takes Birla’s millions to keep Gandhi in poverty.” This naturally silenced me and I never raised the question with Jawaharlal again. But the consequences of that initial mistake can be seen in the ostentatious pomp and grandeur of our rulers which mock at the millions of wretched dwellings in the name of the “dignity of State.”

As compared with the Prime Minister’s mansion, the Sardar’s official residence (No.1, Aurangazeb Road) was modest, though he was not a socialist. If Jawaharlalji had not been so obsessed with the “dignity of Sate”, and had not set the example, the Sardar and his other Cabinet colleagues might have followed Gandhiji’s advice and lived in much smaller houses. The large mansions of British Days could then be utilised for public purposes. The ministerial grandeur of Nehru’s making has had a snowballing effect. It has done immense harm to a poor country and has created an impenetrable barrier between the rich and the poor.

During his tenure, the Sardar kept a watchful eye on the Congress Organisation, the Congress Ministries and also on the ministers’ conduct. He put down with an iron hand whatever corruption he found. His organisational skill was unmatched and he was not unfamiliar  with political manoeuvres. But the starkly immoral means taht have been employed today for office and power were impossible in his days. He was an extraordinary good judge of men. He favoured the deserving ones. The corruption and unabashed pursuit of selfish ends, which have become today, in the words of Vinoba, the accepted social code, he would not have tolerated. He knew the value of office and power but he knew too, the limits of compromise with idealism for the sake of these. Today no limits are recognised.

Nehru too held to the tradition for a few years. But because his hold over the Congress Organisation was not as great as the Sardar’s, he turned a blind eye to the proliferating opportunism, immorality and corruption. Not that he liked them, but he often condoned unethical conduct on the plea that if one was a capable worker or an able administrator, his other faults should be overlooked. Lal Bahdurji, during his short spell of Prime Minstership, strove to remove those who were known to be corrupt.     

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