Somnath Temple and Sardar Patel

The famous temple of Somnath is situated in western India on the Arabian Sea coast of Gujarat. It is believed that between Antarctica – the South Pole, and the point where current temple is situated, there is no land.
This peninsula was once famously known as Kathiawad after Kathi Durbar rulers who ruled part of this region. At the time of Independence most of Kathiawad was divided into numerous princely states. In 1950, two hundred seventeen of such states were merged to form Saurashtra. In 1956 Saurashtra was merged with Bombay state. Today when bigger states are divided into smaller ones, it is hard to believe that once smaller states were merged to form bigger state.

Somnath Temple

Somnath Temple

Later on, in 1960, Bombay was divided into two on linguistic lines and thus formed Gujarat and Maharashtra.

This high number of princely states in Saurashtra itself, reminds me of Sardar Vallabh bhai Patel. We are grateful to this steel-will man to give boundaries to our imagination of a strong and united India.

I ask Rachit, “Do you know Sardar Patel, the first deputy Prime Minister and the first Home Minister, is known as the Iron Man of India?
It reminds Rachit of a catalogue of books which he got from his school only a few days before our trip. At that time he had pestered me to buy at least one from it. His favorite among it was a comic titled Iron Man.
He promptly replied, “Papa I wanted to know more about this Iron Man and that was the reason I was insisting to buy that comic.”
I could not resist smiling at his innocence and the nearly perfect correlation.

A few years back, I read Freedom at midnight– written by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. This book brilliantly captures the political and the social scenarios of our country around 1947. It vividly and vibrantly depicts why Mahatma Gandhi is rightfully a Mahatma – tallest among all the world leaders of 20th Century.

On 1st January 2000, I was in Grenoble, France. A French stranger stopped me on a street and asked, “Are you from India?”
On confirmation, he told me, “In the ongoing voting for the Man of the Century I have voted for Mahatma Gandhi. Though Einstein is leading the vote, but I strongly feel it should be none other than Mahatma Gandhi”.
Such voting do not carry much meaning to me. I did not even participate in that on-line survey. But in the far west, if I am stopped by a stranger and admired for being from Mahatma’s land, I owe my veneration and admiration to this great man.

“Freedom at midnight” is centered on Mahatma Gandhi and Mountbatten. It discusses Nehru, Jinnah and even the eccentric royalties of that time, but remains mum on Sardar Patel. My worst fear is that the later generations will read this well-merited and well-researched book, but as there are no such equally well acclaimed book on Sardar Patel, his daunting contributions may fade.

Though the two authors did not write much about Sardar Patel, it appears even they were impressed by his character. Even sparse lines Sardar Patel got to his credit show his strong personality. The two authors described him as follows.
“In a land in which man talked constantly, threw their words around like sailors flinging away their money after three months at sea, Patel hoarded his phrases the way a miser hoarded coins. His daughter who had been his constant companion since his wife’s death, rarely exchanged ten sentences with him a day. When Patel did talk however people listened.
Patel was Indian from the uppermost lump of his bald head to the calluses on the soles of his feet. His Delhi home was filled with books, but every one of them was written by an Indian author about India. He rose faithfully at 4’o clock and was in bed just as regularly each night at 9:30. The first waking hours of each day Patel spent on his toilet, doing the bulk of his reading, thirty newspapers sent to him daily from every part of India.”

The tall - Sardar Patel

The tall – Sardar Patel

Among the three main national leaders of free India, for me, Mahatma Gandhi was a Humanitarian, Pandit Nehru a Statesman and Sardar Patel a Nationalist and a strong administrator.

In 1947 there were around five hundred and sixty-five princely states in India. British Government gave these states, right of self-determination – to join India, or Pakistan or to remain Independent.

As a home minister, Sardar Patel was entrusted with the task of holding talks with these principalities. He was considered an anti-monarch. He had personally led an agitation against the Thakur of Rajkot in 1939 and had famously proclaimed addressing a huge crowd, “A state cannot survive, whose Raja wastes money, while his subjects die of starvation”. The princely states had a reason to be wary of him. However, Patel managed to win them over. He invoked patriotism of India’s monarch. He proposed favourable terms for merger but did not rule out force. He assured feudal lords dignity and their purse. And warned them that political leaders succeeding him and Nehru might impose stiffer terms. He put in use his integrity of a leader who kept his promises. All this worked out as by 15th August 1947, all except Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad and the principalities surrounded by Pakistan, decided to join and strengthen India.

I will like to quote Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and the author of “Patel a life”, as how he viewed this charismatic leader.
“This tough man smiled at the world and at gloomy moments helped others to laugh. He never hesitated to step aside for others – for his brother Vitthal when the latter wanted to use his passport and ticket to London, and years later for Jawaharlal Nehru, when Mahatma Gandhi desired that Nehru should sit on a chair to which Patel seemed entitled. Incidentally, in the elections of Congress presidency in 1946 – Gandhiji asked all sixteen state representatives of congress to elect the right person as the congress president and the future first Prime-Minister. Sardar Patel’s name was proposed by thirteen state representatives out of sixteen. Gandhiji was surprised; he expected Nehru’s name. He requested Patel to back Nehru for the position. Patel accepted Gandhiji’s request and gave up his claim in Nehru’s favour.

This strong man before whom Rajas and Maharajas trembled and to whom rich man gave large funds for India’s national movement, did not allow a rupee to stick to his fingers and he saw to it that his children, a son and a daughter, lived simple lives during and after their father’s lifetime. His strength of character, the sharpness of his mind, his organizing skills, and all his energy were offered up for achieving the freedom of India under Gandhi’s leadership and after independence for India’s consolidation.”

Descriptions of my travel to this region of Saurashtra and two destinations of my current trip – Somnath and Junagadh are incomplete without Sardar Patel’s mention. The nation is proud and indebted to Sardar Patel, but Gujarat has special affection to this son of their soil and has remembered Patel more than any other state.

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