Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was known as the ‘Iron Man of India.’ An advocate he was born on October 31, 1875, in a farmer’s family at Nadiad in Gujrat. His father Zaverbhai had fought against the British and served in the army of the Rani of Jhansi. The sons learned patriotism from their father. Vallabhbhai and his brother used to go to the fields with their father and on the way their father used to teach them simple mathematics. Their father imbibed in them values like honesty and fearlessness. His mother too was an influence on him and instilled great religious values in him. Vallabhbhai showed leadership and determination early in life.
He wanted to study law in England. But he did not have the means as his family was very poor. His brother too was a lawyer. He had attended classes before the examination, but Vallabhbhai studied on his own, read law books. Sometimes he attended court sessions and studied the cases carefully. He learned more from observing lawyers. He then gave the examination and started his practice from a small room. Vallabhbhai soon earned himself a name as a prominent lawyer. Later on, he went to England and studied and passed the barrister at law Examination. On his return to India, he set up his practice in Ahmedabad. Vallabhbhai met Gandhiji at a political conference and was greatly influenced by him. He gave up his western-style attire and worked in the national movement led by Gandhiji.
In 1918 when heavy rain destroyed crops in Gujrat, the farmers of Kheda district were greatly disturbed. They had to pay the taxes in any circumstances. They approached Gandhiji to help them, Gandhiji delegated the responsibility to Vallabhbhai Patel. Under his leadership, the farmers launched a ‘NO TAX’ campaign, but on peaceful lines. Patel was with farmers and even started dressing like them. Vallabhbhai dressed in a Dhoti, Kurta, and cap. He encouraged the farmers to stand firm. They needed him and did not budge despite the government seized their land, crop, and cattle. Eventually, their determination won out and the government was faced to give up its demand for the taxes.
During the non-cooperation movement, Patel gave up his practice as a barrister which earned him thousands of rupees. He asked the people not to co-operate in any way. He set up the Gujrat Vidyapeeth to educate children and asked them not to send their children to government-run schools. Patel as a follower of Gandhiji also took to Satyagraha and spinning the charkha and boycott foreign goods. In 1923 the government ordered that the tricolored flag should not be carried on any of the roads in Nagpur where the government officers lived. The people decided to disobey this order. They were offended, “why should we not display our flag in our country”. Vallabhbhai Patel was called upon to guide them. Satyagrahis from all over the country poured in. The agitation went on for about three and a half months. Eventually, the government had to withdraw the order, and the satyagraha ended in a victory for the people.
Mahatma Gandhi was very pleased with his disciple and called him ‘Sardar’ which means leader. From that time he came to be known as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
In 1942 the congress called on the British to ‘Quit India’. Many leaders were jailed including Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. They were released after 3 years but this too did not deter them. Patel declared that they would not let anything come in the way of India’s freedom. Finally on the 15th of August 1947 when India became free, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister. Sardar Patel’s greatest achievement was the integration of the princely states with the rest of India. At the time of Independence, they were given the option of joining India or Pakistan or to remain separate (independent). Sardar Patel was foresighted and he felt that the future of India lay in the consolidation of these princely states. He pleaded to them to maintain the unity of the country to make laws together as one nation. Hence he initiated the ‘Instrument of Accession’. According to this, issues like Defense, External Affairs, Transport, and communication, etc. were completely in the hands of the Indian government while the rest other powers were in the hands of the princely states. The rulers on the Indian side of the border signed the instrument and merged their states with India. Sardar firmly dealt with troublesome states like Junagadh and Hyderabad which though on the Indian side wished to join Pakistan or remain independent. Overall the integration of the princely states with the Indian Union took place peacefully.
Saradar Vallabhbhai Patel was known as the ‘Man of Steel’, the Iron man of India, a man of few words, a dominant personality but cautious by nature. On his death in Bombay in December 1950, Jawahar Nehru the then Prime Minister of India stated that he was the Architect of Modern India. He left behind him a united India, he is remembered with reverence, and his qualities are greatly admired. The Statue of Unity was built in Gujrat in his honor.