Understanding Sardar Patel and His Relationship with Various Congress Leaders & RSS/BJP

Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Suresh Sharma

ONE of the tallest freedom fighters and an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is admired not only for his contributions into freedom struggle, but also for integrating India into a united, strong nation.

Like most leaders working together for independence, Sardar Patel also had his own independent thoughts about the approach to the freedom movement and gelled those thoughts well with others to create a winning formula. In general, freedom to express and contribute diverse thoughts was the hallmark of the Congress party.

In present times RSS/BJP are constantly trying to appropriate leaders from other political streams, like Sardar Patel, Dr. Ambedkar, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, etc. They also try to confuse people about relationships among the great leaders, particularly between Patel and Nehru, who worked together, made sacrifices and got India that invaluable freedom.

This note aims at helping the readers understand and appreciate the truth, so that they could make correct opinions and decisions.

RSS/BJP present Sardar Patel and Pt. Nehru against each other. Was it so?

No. RSS/BJP do not have any leader of their own that could match Congress leaders. There is no one among them, who made any worthwhile contributions for the nation. Rather they betrayed the people, when they were needed most, i.e., during freedom struggle. The only way to put itself into comparison with Congress is by appropriating some senior leaders from Congress and by putting one senior Congress leader against another senior Congress leader.

Since Jawaharlal Nehru is the greatest Congress leader after Mahatma Gandhi, who was instrumental in establishing democracy and secularism in India, defeating their designs for Hindu Rashtra. So, they try to place Sardar Patel or Netaji Bose against Pt. Nehru, so that people get distracted from the issue of their own role in history.

Relationship between Sardar Patel and Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel were two towering figures of India’s anti-colonial freedom movement. Both were Mahatma Gandhi’s closest associates and wielded enormous influence on masses and within the Congress Party. They were good friends and personally admired each other. RSS/BJP strategically spread the false information about their relationship, as if their worldviews differed widely that reflected in their contrasting attempts to shape the trajectory of the freedom movement, the Indian Constitution, issues related to integration of the reluctant princely states, and matters relating to combating communal violence.

Did Patel not accept Nehru’s leadership?

It is not true. Patel accepted Nehru to be a prominent leader and his prime minister. For example Patel says on Nehru being chosen as Prime Minister, “…it was in the fitness of things that in the twilight preceding the dawn of independence he should have been our leading light, and that when India was faced with crisis after crisis, following the achievement of our freedom, he should have been upholder of our faith and the leader of our legions. No one knows better than myself how much he has laboured for his country in the last two years of our difficult existence…As one older in years, it has been my privilege to tender advice to him on the manifold problems with which we have been faced in both administrative and organizational fields. I have always found him willing to seek and ready to take it.”– Nehru Abhinandan Granth, Page- 28,29

Was there any difference of political opinions between Nehru and Patel?

Yes. In the first Cabinet formed after independence, Nehru was Prime Minister and Patel was Deputy Prime Minster; both of them had differences on several issues. On 6 January 1948 Nehru wrote to Gandhi mentioning- it is true that there are not only temperamental differences between Sardar and me, but also are differences in approach with regard to economic and communal matters. These differences have persisted for a large number of years, ever since we worked together in Congress. Nevertheless, in spite of these differences, there was obviously a very great deal in common in addition to mutual respect and affection and broadly speaking, the same national political aim of freedom. Because of this we functioned together during all these years and did our utmost to adapt ourselves to each other. (Sardar Patel’s correspondence, Durgadas, Page-8)

Did Patel ever dismiss suggestions of a great divide between the two?

Yes. Patel emphatically dismissed all suggestions of a great divide between the two, as is clear from his statement- “Contrary to impressions created by some interested persons and eagerly accepted in credulous circles, we have worked together as lifelong friends and colleagues, adjusting ourselves to each other’s point of view as the occasion demanded and valuing each other’s advice as only those who have confidence in each other can..” — “Nehru Abhinandan.Grant, Page 29

Did Patel and Nehru maintain respect and love for each other?

Yes. To undo the fallout of an apparent divide within the cabinet, both often had to resort to public airing of statements to the effect that they had abiding love and respect for each other. This has been taken at face value by some historians like Neerja Singh as proof of some ‘fundamental unity between the two’. It is true that despite their immense differences, both Nehru and Patel found a working relationship which endured till Patel’s death. — “Revisiting Nehru-Patel Differences” by Sourav Basu

A Letter written by Patel to Nehru also reveals the truth.

Dear Jawahar, Looking at our love and affection for each other and the unbreakable friendship of about 30 years, there is no space for formality. Hope my services would be in your subordination for rest of my life. You will get my pure and complete loyalty and commitment for achieving the goals, for which no other man in India has sacrificed as much as you have. Our companionship is unbreakable and that is our strength.

Yours Sardar Vallabhbhai Pate

RSS/BJP says that Nehru did not pay homage to Patel on his death. Is it true?

No. This is just a rumour mischievously spread by RSS/BJP. The truth is that ‘within an hour of Patel’s death on December 15, 1950, Nehru made a statement to Parliament, immediately after which he went to Bombay to attend last rites of his comrade. His statement to Parliament said — “… Early this morning, he had a relapse and the story of his great life ended. It is a great story, as all of us know, as the whole country knows, and history will record it in many pages. But perhaps to many of us here he will be remembered as a great captain of our forces in the struggle for freedom and as one who gave us sound advice in times of trouble as well as in moments of victory, as a friend and colleague on whom one could invariably rely, as a tower of strength which revived wavering hearts when were in trouble … I who have sat here on this bench side by side with him for these several years will feel rather forlorn and a certain emptiness will steal upon me when I look to his empty bench…” –“The divide that never was” by Vidya Subrahmaniam. The Hindu. May 28, 2016.

What did Sardar Patel think about RSS as an organisation?

What Sardar Patel felt about RSS is clear from his attack on it, months before Gandhiji’s assassination, in Jaipur: “We will not allow the RSS or any other communal organisation to throw the country back on the path of slavery or disintegration… I am a soldier, and in my time I have fought against formidable forces… If I feel that such a fight is necessitated for the country’s good, I shall not hesitate to fight even my own son.”

After the removal of the ban on the Sangh, Patel said in July 1949: “I was myself keen to remove the ban and I issued instructions the very day I received Shri Golwalkar’s final letter agreeing to some of the suggestions we made.” He, however, added that “the only alternative to the Congress is chaos” and that he had advised the Sangh “to join Congress and reform it from within, if they think the Congress is going the wrong way.” — Sardar’s letters, mostly unknown – post centenary, Vol.2, pg-20-22 and Vol.3, pg 42-43

After ban on RSS on 4 February 1948, RSS made several requests to government to lift the ban. In response to one of such requests made on 12 November 1948, the Home Secretary, Mr. HVR Iyengar wrote back – “It is not possible to lift the ban”. On this MS Golwalkar issued Ran Naad, which they called ‘Clarion Call’, for the RSS workers to start agitation. Making fun of this call of Golwalkar, Sardar Patel said – “Some people are saying that Sangh is going to organise ‘Satyagrah’ (protest). But those, who have their minds filled with perversion, can never hold Satyagrah. Their Satyagrah can never succeed.” — RSS aur Unki Vichardhara, by Arun Maheshwari

What did Sardar Patel think about involvement of RSS in Gandhi murder?

The first response of Sardar Patel was that the RSS was not directly involved in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, but it created atmosphere that Gandhi was killed. He wrote to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on February 27, 1948, less than a month after Gandhi’s assassination, “…The RSS was not involved at all. It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that hatched the conspiracy… The RSS have other sins and crimes to answer for, but not this one.” He however accused RSS of spreading “communal poison” that took the life of Gandhiji. He also accused them of being guilty of “distributing sweets” after the assassination. Angry with RSS, Patel remained stern towards the banned RSS for months. Actually, this was Sardar Patel who banned RSS, although PM Nehru was generally against a general ban.

Sardar Patel’s thoughts about RSS could be further understood from his response to a request by RSS’ chief, MS Golwalkar, to lift the ban, where he wrote on 11 September 1948:

“….All their speeches were full of communal poison. It was not necessary to spread poison in order to enthuse the Hindus and organize for their protection. As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji. Even an iota of the sympathy of the Government, or of the people, no more remained for the RSS. In fact opposition grew. Opposition turned more severe, when the RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death. Under these conditions it became inevitable for the Government to take action against the RSS… Since then, over six months have elapsed. We had hoped that after this lapse of time, with full and proper consideration the RSS persons would come to the right path. But from the reports that come to me, it is evident that attempts to put fresh life into their same old activities are afoot.”


The author is Director of Jawaharlal Nehru Leadership Institute. The views expressed here are personal.


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