Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) was the first Chancellor of unified Germany. Known as the 'Iron Chancellor', the world acclaimed statesman unified small splinter German states to create a strong and prosperous nation. Taking the cue, the 'London Times', after independence of India stated that Sardar Vallavbhai Patel, the first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of free India, was equal to ten Bismarck. And rightly so, because as against Bismarck's 36 states, the Indian Bismarck unified 535 diverse princely States spread over an area at least ten times larger than Germany, integrating those into the newly formed Union of India smoothly within a least possible time frame. The geographical entity and identity of modern India which we are proud of today was possible largely because of his iron will and no-nonsense approach. Unfortunately, modern Indian political history, probably influenced by vested interests of the power that be, has failed to analyze the far reaching contributions of a leader like him.
Born into a poor peasant family of Gujarat on October 31, 1875, the sincere young boy passed his school leaving examination with flying colors but could not pursue further higher education immediately for lack of financial resources. In the meantime, as per the prevailing tradition of those days, he married. Then after appearing in a special test he became a "Mukhtiyar", a lower level lawyer, in Godhra, Gujarat. As the adage goes, 'the morning shows the day', the intelligent and hard-working young man became highly successful in his profession and could save enough money to enroll himself in the famous Middle Temple College, England to study law. In 1912, he completed his Bar-at-Law with first class first position with an award of 50 pounds from the institution. It was no mean task for a poor and simple village boy of a colonized country to achieve that distinction.
Coming back to the country, Patel became a full time lawyer in Ahmedabad. Fame and money followed. He built a palatial house that has now been converted to his memorial. But as the fate would be, he lost his dear wife during his heydays. To avoid his sorrow, he dedicated himself to sincere social works. In 1917 he came into contact with Mahatma Gandhi who was then spearheading the nonviolent independence movement of India and subsequently became his trusted lieutenant. He was jailed by the British administration for a number of times. He also became the chairman of Ahmedabad Municipality twice and laid the foundation of the modern city.
In the mean time, he organized and led a few successful movements and services, like, abolition of the inhuman "Begari" system, plague and famine relief and rehabilitation at Ahmedabad, etc. On account of his great organizing acumen he emerged as a highly acclaimed leader of fame, nationwide. He was then chosen to be the President of Karachi session of Indian National Congress in 1931. His dedicated and selfless services to his people continued with active participation in the national freedom struggle. In recognition of his great organizing capabilities Gandhi conferred him the title 'sardar'. After independence, went on to become the first Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Minister in Nehru's cabinet. It is a suppressed historical fact that most congressmen wanted Patel to be the first premier of free India. But for some shrouded logic Gandhi put his foot down to make Nehru the PM instead. Had the history been otherwise, the things probably would have been very different today.
Before the proclamation of independence of India, the British PM Clement Atlee and the Viceroy Lord Mountbatten had a series of deliberations with the Congress, the Muslim League and the Sikh community and decided to divide the areas under direct British control into India and Pakistan. Sardar Patel was totally opposed to the move. During that time there were more than 500 semi-independent vassalages outside direct British control. Those were free to join either India or Pakistan. Only a handful joined Pakistan and the rest were systematically and smoothly integrated into the Union of India through treaties of accession by Patel as the Home Minister. But two rulers, the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Nawab of Junagarh wanted to join Pakistan against the will of the subjects and geographical non-contiguity. But Patel cowed them down. For a contiguous geographical map of the country the Indians will ever remain indebted to the great Statesman.
For some mysterious reason PM Nehru never allowed his Home Minister to handle the Kashmir issue and against his and Dr Ambedkar's advice included the controversial Article 370 in the constitution. Patel cautioned Nehru stating that 'he would repent his decision'. It's not known if Nehru ever repented for it, but we Indians were repenting and paying for the gross irregularity for long seven decades till it's been abrogated only recently. This indomitable leader left for his heavenly abode, rather early, on December 15, 1950 creating an irreparable vacuum in the political landscape. Only after long 40 odd years of his death he was conferred with 'Bharat-Ratna', posthumously. Fortunately, a statue of the ironman of India at an island of Narmada river, Gujarat (tallest in the world), has been built by the Indian engineers as the rightful homage to one of the greatest sons of the country. Named 'The Statue of Unity", it depicts the tallness of the great leader. It's indeed a befitting recognition of his incomparable contributions to the country. The birth anniversary of the "Bismarck of India" is observed as National Unity Day. May his steely-determination and iron-will continue to inspire us to become a strong united nation to claim our rightful place in the comity of nations.
(This article is dedicated to pay sincere homage to the great son of India whose birth anniversary falls on October 31. The author of the column is a former Vice President of Reliance Defence & Engineering Ltd., Gujarat. Presently, he is a freelance writer, management consultant and professional trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)