SPEECH BY SHRI K.R. NARAYANAN, PRESIDENT OF INDIA ON THE OCCASION OF UNVEILING OF THE STATUE OF SARDAR VALLABHBHAI PATEL (SPEECH 14-Aug-1998)
New Delhi, friday, August 14, 1998
In the oversimplified images of Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel the former is often described as a visionary and a dreamer, and the latter as a pragmatist and a doer. But Nehru was a visionary with a sense of the immediate and the practical, and the Sardar was a pragmatist with a vision of the future. They complemented each other in the freedom struggle as well as in the building of India after independence. Their close co-operation in spite of some important differences in outlook were crucial for the destiny of India and an example to be emulated even in the more complex circumstances of the nation to-day.
If Nehru laid the foundations of modern India building up its economic, industrial and scientific infrastructure and trying to forge the emotional unity of India, Sardar Patel transformed India into a Union out of the patchwork quilt of Provinces and Princely States. He could be called the Bismarck of India; who unified the nation not by `blood and iron`, but merely by his iron will and astute statecraft. It is now well-known that Winston Churchill thought of breaking up India into a Hindustan, a Pakistan and, as he told Lord Wavell, a `Princes-stan`. But as Mahatma Gandhi wrote to the Sardar prophetically in 1939: `The problem of the states is so difficult that you alone can solve it`, he frustrated the Churchillian strategy of Balkanizing India. It is worth recalling in full what the Sardar told the Princes of India on assuming charge of the newly-created States Department, and I quote:
`We are at a momentous stage in the history of India. By common endeavour, we can raise the country to a new greatness, while lack of unity will expose us to fresh calamities. I hope the Indian States will bear in mind that the alternative to cooperation in the general interest is anarchy and chaos, which will overwhelm great and small in a common ruin if we are unable to act together in the minimum of common tasks. Let not the future generations curse us for having had the opportunity but failed to turn it to our mutual advantage. Instead, let it be our proud privilege to leave a legacy of a mutually beneficial relationship which would raise this sacred land to its proper place amongst the nations of the world and turn it into an abode of peace and prosperity.`
A little later Patel had warned the newly independent nation: `Our hard earned freedom could disappear by the states` door`.
The story of the integration of the States into the Union of India is a fitting dramatic epilogue to the struggle for our independence. The arguments and methods adopted by the Sardar were manifold and effective. When the Dewan of Travancore, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, held out the argument that no one could negotiate a merger of the State with India as Travancore was ruled `in the name and on behalf of the tutelary deity, Sri Padmanabha`, the Sardar snapped with a twinkle in his eye `Is that so? Then please tell me how could Travancore`s rulers allow Lord Padmanabha to become subservient to the British Crown?`
President Rajendra Prasad, paying a tribute to Sardar Patel wrote in 1952: `That there is an India to think and talk about is very largely due to Sardar Patel`s statesmanship and firm administration`. Indeed, as the first Home Minister of India he gave leadership to the civil service system that was to administer India ever since. Once he told the Members of the Constituent Assembly/Provisional Parliament who were impatient with the civil service that without their loyalty and dedication he saw chaos all around and said: `Do not quarrel with the instruments with which you want to work. It is a bad workman who quarrels with the instrument. Nobody wants to put in work when he is criticised and ridiculed in public`. He gave leadership and moulded the bureaucracy to his purpose.
Sardar Patel was not just an iron man, but a man with a social vision and sensitive to the social problems of India and the social aspirations of the people. In the thick of the freedom struggle he never lost sight of social change and the cause of the down-trodden. On one occasion early in his political career he declared `social change is more valuable and difficult than fighting the Government`.
During the Bardoli satyagraha that brought Patel to the centre-stage of the nationalist movement, he adopted the Gandhian technique for practical action. He understood the importance of the mobilisation of women to the national cause. He ensured women`s involvement in the Bardoli satyagraha movement. He used to discuss with women representatives and seek their consent before launching the agitation. K.M. Munshi observed that women had associated in large numbers with the struggle of the peasants of Bardoli, and the `Times of India` reported about the admiration and respect of the women of Bardoli for Vallabhbhai Patel`s struggle in Bardoli.
Sardar Patel was committed to the fight against untouchability launched by Mahatma Gandhi. At the Kathiawad Political Conference of 1922, that demanded the abolition of untouchability, there occurred an incident which revealed the attitude of the Sardar on this question. A volunteer at the Conference led the untouchables to a separate enclosure which was meant for them. Seeing this Sardar Patel joined them in the separate enclosure, and when his turn came to address the Conference he delivered his speech standing in the enclosure which became centre-stage of the event. Patel`s gesture had electrified the audience at the Kathiawad Political Conference.
Throughout his selfless and glorious political career Sardar Patel fought against the subjection of our country to imperialism and of our people to evil social customs and practices. By erecting a statue of his, we would not have completed our duty to one of the great liberators of India. What is more important, and what he would have expected us to do, is to be Indians first and foremost and not dwindle into provincials as we tend to do. Friends, I have great pleasure in joining you all to pay homage to the memory of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, a great leader who had worn out his life in the service of the people of India.
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Bureau, Government of India.