Calcutta Notebook


The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA government's decision to allot Rs 200 crore for the construction of a 597 feet high statue of Vallabh Bhai Patel in Gujarat must have bewildered many, because construction of a such a statue of any political leader is unprecedented in Indian history. Patel was a prominent Congress leader and after the transfer of power in divided India, he became the Home Minister. When Gandhi was assassinated, he had no option but to ban the RSS, because he was blamed by some people, particularly by Jayprakash Narayan, for not having made enough arrangements to save the life of Gandhi. Those who have read Maulana Azad's India Wins Freedom and those who have cared to go through the works drawing on the Partition Papers can, however, well understand how his militant Hindu outlook made partition inevitable.

Before the transfer of power, many movements swept India. Among these was the historic naval revolt of Bombay. The rebels agreed to surrender to the national leaders, but what Patel did was to leave their fate to the Britsh Government of India. The Communist Party of India supported the naval uprising, but could not give proper leadership. Patel, at that critical moment declared, ‘‘The CPI is giving a wrong lead to the country. I agree with the Commander-in-chief that discipline must be preserved in the armed forces’’. It is this 'agreement' that led to the killing of many rebels, who had thought that the 'national' leaders would do justice to them.

Samar Sen, at that time, wrote a poem expressing his disgust, the last lines of which runs as follows in the English rendering:
The day in Bombay left behind the
smell of gunpowder;
On the streets drops of blood.
When the staccato sound of rifles came to a stop in the city
The revolutionary leaders assembled at the field to deliver speeches.
The railings of the park tremble at the shouts of the Sardar.
The warships, defeated by bluffs, lie still and motionless at the harbour,
The bayonets, arrogant symbols of the empire, stand on guard here and there
Our freedom, is on its way!
The Cabinet Mission is on its way! Jai Hind

When Patel became the Home Minister of independent India, the Telengana armed peasant struggle led by the Communist Party of India was causing worries to the Nizam Government of Hyderabad as well as to the Nehru Government of India. The army sent by Patel (and Nehru) first occupied Nizam’s territory, and then directed its efforts towards the suppression of the CPI-led armed struggle. Patel reportedly said that he would not allow a single communist of that region to go alive. The Communist Party, however, could not continue the armed struggle and finally withdrew it. Then it participated in the elections, and in the areas where the armed struggle had been going on, the CPI candidates won handsomely, because the poor peasantry voted overwhelmingly for them. Ravi Narayan Reddy, the leader of the core of the struggle, received the highest number of votes in the country—the warrant on him was withdrawn following an agreement between Ajay Ghosh and Jawharlal Nehru. By then Patel was dead, but clearly enough, his target was not only the communists, but also the poor peasantry of Telengana.

Finally, one feat of his durng his tenure as the Home Minister of the interim government formed in 1946 may be mentioned. Nirad C Chaudhury has described this episode in his famous autobiogrphy Thy Hand, Great Anarch. "As soon as he moved into 1 Aurangzeb Road (his official residence-AB) he ordered luxurious furniture from Brooks, the expensive furniture dealers in New Delhi, and without calling for tenders as Government rules required. He also ordered expensive carpets. The bills went to the Government Department concerned.

However, when the League entered the Interim Government and its members took over the financial affairs of the Government, they discovered Patel's taste for luxuries and leaked the information to their newspaper Dawn. It published the news in brief, taunting the Congress on its past insistence on austerity, which had prompted its ruling that no Congress Minister could draw a salary larger than five hundred rupees a month. Now, the paper said, the new carpets for Patel's house alone were going to cost sixty times as much. Strange to say, a categorical statement that the report was false was issued on behalf of him. But it did not proceed from one of his English Permanent Secretaries, Bozman. The next day, Dawn published the full series of notes to prove that its story was absolutely true. Then another statement was issued that the orders were private and the bills had gone wrongly to the Government. I came to know later who finally paid them". Nirad C Chaudhury did not name who had come to Patel's rescue, but he certainly belonged to that class whose interests Patel represented. This very class is now behind Modi. In this sense, Modi's Patel adoration at the expense of the public exchequer is no surprise.

Vol. 47, No. 4, Aug 3 - 9, 2014