Patel the Saviour

Selection of national holidays or days of official celebration represents a very peculiar mind-set. The recent directive by the University Grants Commission (UGC) that all colleges and universities have to observe Vallabh Bhai Patel's birthday is no different. First of all, the UGC's principal function is to decide on the amounts of funds to be allocated to educational institutions, and it has no business in issuing such sermons. There are other points as well. After the assassination of Gandhi, Patel, the then Home Minister of India, banned the Rashtriya Sawayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the organisation at present guiding the Modi-Shah combine. If students all over the country ask the government about this ban, how should it reply? They have obviously no reply. Of course, had Patel refused to ban the RSS, he could not have remained the Home Minister, because just in the wake of Gandhi's assassination, he was accused of deliberate neglect regarding Gandhi's security. At the condolence rally held at the Ramlila Maidan, Jayprakash Narayan openly accused Patel, and Dr P C Ghosh also raised the point. If Patel's extreme Hindutva has endeared his name to Modi, it should at least be admitted by the latter that the former preferred to retain his position in the cabinet rather than being a favourite of the RSS by refusing to take any action against it.

Patel's (and Nehru's) part in bringing about the partition of the country is well-known to all sincere students of that history, although those who consider themselves Hindus first and Indians second refuse to study the relevant facts in their obstinate belief that M A Jinnnah was responsible for the partition. Those who are familiar with the history of the historic naval revolt that terribly shook the British raj are also informed of his treacherous role in drowning the revolt in blood. As per Phanibhusan Bhattachaya's (Bhattacharya played a prominent part in the revolt) account, Madan Singh, one of the leaders of the revolt, called out before the last fight, "See our national leaders, they are traitors. See them, see them." If Madan Singh's feelings represent the true realisation of the situation, Patel was certainly the prime traitor; this can be corroborated by other accounts. Samar Sen, the founder-editor of this journal, in one of his oft-quoted poems, referred to this treachery in these words, "The ships, defeated by bluffs, lie motionless at the port". Clearly, Patel was more interested in suppressing the mutineers than in fighting the British. Finally, one may refer to his desire to enjoy a luxurious life style at the government's expense during the period of the interim government of 1946, and his mendacity after the truth got exposed. One has only to look at two pages of Nirad C Chaudhuri's Thy Hand, Great Anarch (Ibid, pp 833-34) in order to know the fact of the matter. Again, Bengalis, to whom Subhas Bose's name is a hallowed one, cannot easily forget that Patel played a key role in ousting Bose from the Presidentship of the Indian National Congress and finally from the party itself.

Any Indian, even Indians with typically middle class values, may legitimately ask, "If a name is added to the list of those whose birthdays are to be celebrated, why not Bhagat Singh or Khudiram Bose or some such person who laid down his life in the struggle for freedom instead of displaying a vulgar eagerness for transfer of power?" With Modi or the present education minister, there is palpably no answer. They can only justify themselves by saying, "Of the Congress leaders of those days, he was most passionately anti-Muslim, anti-dalit and anti-communist. So we have to revere his name because we are determined to follow the legacy left by him".

Vol. 50, No.20, Nov 19 - 25, 2017