Political thinkers of modern India have thought of State and State-individual relationships in a variety of ways and the concept of ‘Integral Humanism’ seems to be the cornerstone of Indian political thought. Intellectual discourses have been written about Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Gandhi and Nehru but Patel has often been ignored. In the evolution of the Indian political thought process, Vallabhbhai Patel stands out, says Sikata Panda in her book ‘Political Ideas of Vallabhbhai Patel’. The book enquires into his political values taking into account Rights and Liberty on the one hand and Equality and Justice on the other.
Sardar Patel dominated the Indian political scene from 1917 to 1950 and dedicated himself to the freedom struggle and reorganised the Indian National Congress. After Independence, he managed sensitive portfolios such as Home and the States. Following the Partition, he restructured the bureaucracy and integrated the princely States. Patel laid the foundation of political democracy by being an important member in the drafting of the Indian Constitution. Thus, he emerged an astute leader and a sagacious statesman acknowledged as the ‘Iron Man’ and a founder of modern India.
Importance of Vallabhbhai Patel The book traces the life of Patel in a succinct manner. Patel was born on October 31, 1875 in the influential Patidar community as the fourth child to Ladbha and Jhaveribhai. Married at an early age, he matriculated and cleared his law examination much later. He became a successful lawyer from Godhra and then Borsad, but he decided to go to London and become a barrister.
To quote Patel, “I came from a middle class family. My father lived a humble and pious life and died in the temple he loved. He had no means to enable me to fulfill my ambitions. I realised finally that if I wanted to go to England. I had to earn money for myself. I, therefore, studied very earnestly for the law examination and resolved firmly to save sufficient money for a visit to England.” He finished his LL.B from the Middle Temple, England in June 1912 in a record two-and-a-half years and returned to India with ‘a lot of confidence, cynical attitude and a rational mindset’.
Despite tragedies in the domestic front, he went ahead to work in the public domain. Vallabhbhai Patel admitted: “No doubt, my practice is flourishing today. I am also doing something big in the Municipality. But, my practice may or may not be there tomorrow. My money will be blown tomorrow, those who inherit my money will blow it .Let me leave them a better legacy than money.”
He was attracted by Gandhian policies of non-violence, spirituality, discipline, moral strength and became part of the all-India freedom struggle and participated in movements against the British exploitative policies. He reorganised the Congress Parliamentary Board as its Chairman and helped the party accept the Cabinet Mission Plan and ultimately form the interim government in 1946.
After Independence, as Deputy Prime Minister under Jawaharlal Nehru, he managed the departments of Home, States, Information and Broadcasting. He played an active role as the Chairman of the Committees for Fundamental Rights, Minorities and Provincial Constitution and provisions like the Right to Private Property, Privy purses for Princes and Constitutional guarantees for the Civil Services were incorporated. As a member of the Partition committee, he helped the allocation of the liabilities and dividends between India and Pakistan. His role was commendable, and in Junagarh, Kashmir and Hyderabad he had to use force; in all the other cases his negotiating skill could integrate the princely States.
His health was steadily declining and in 1948, he had a heart attack immediately after the death of Gandhi and finally he succumbed to another massive heart attack on December 15, 1950.
Political ideas and values The book further analyses, Patel’s pattern of political values, his concept of Nation-State and his role as a nation-builder. The scheme does merge in an unambiguous process to bring out the thought process of Patel. The numerous responses to various issues that were contentious are discussed such as rights, liberty, equality and justice.
As a fiery champion of fundamental rights and liberty, he was convinced that these values were essential pre-requisites for the development of the individual and a nation. He always raised his voice on several issues against exploitation and criticised the high-handedness of authority, the exploitative revenue policy of the Government and maladministration in the Princely states.
He not only criticised the arbitrary policies of confiscation of movable and immovable properties, but also insisted on guarded regulations on land reforms and nationalisation of key industries. His efforts to reform the Hindu religion and protect the people of other faiths reflected his longing for the right to religion. He encouraged the duly elected authority to bring restrictions through various legislative measures to freedom for all. Thus, his political value system was a fine synthesis of liberalism, conservatism and welfarism.
His vision of State was in tune with the pattern of his political values. In his concept, the State was founded and held together by a high sense of nationalism and patriotism. Individual liberty was to be in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution, to create a Nation-State, he pressed for the emancipation of backward communities and women and bring about Hindu-Muslim unity through the Gandhian constructive programme and skillfully utilised the higher castes for social integration and political mobilisation. Thus, he strengthened the plural basis of the nation-state by bringing electoral participation as effective political mobilisation. He saw a nation as ‘democratic in structure, nationalistic in foundation and welfarist in spirit and function’.
As a nation-builder, he was a key leader in the framing of the Constitution, consolidated the nascent state by integrating the Princely states and reorganising the bureaucracy. Sikata Panda concludes: “Liberal-democratic ideology with due emphasis upon conservatism, pragmatism, welfarism and nationalism seems to characterize the mindset of Vallabhbhai Patel which is perfectly in tune with Integral Humanism.”
The book is written after evaluating and analysing his earlier biographies, official records and documents, his private papers containing innumerable letters and speeches and many more issue based works.
Researched and written in a lucid style, it will further the understanding of Patel. Further, more than anything else it remains largely a hagiography on Patel.