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Biography

Early life

Born on 31st October 1875 in the village of Nadiad in Gujarat, Vallabhbhai Patel was the fourth in a family of six children. Growing up in Karamsad under the care of his mother Ladba, he often joined his father Jhaverbhai, a farmer, in tilling the land. His father is said to have fought against the British in the army of the Rani of Jhansi in the Uprising of 1857. By the time Vallabhbhai was born, Jhaverbhai had settled into a quiet life of a peasant tilling the ten acres of his ancestral land that belonged to him. Vallabhbhai's mother Ladba was said to have been a very competent woman with a lovely voice. She gathered the children together in the courtyard every evening to sing devotional songs and narrate stories from the epics to them.  

Successful Lawyer

Passing his matriculation exams at the age of 22 in 1897, Patel desired to go to Bombay for further studies. However in order to shoulder his responsibilities toward his family, he decided to take up a job in a local lawyer's office where he had access to law books. Reading at home, he passed the District Pleader's Examination within a period of two years.

Moving to the town of Godhra in 1900, Patel set up his legal practice there. Just as he was beginning to settle down, the Plague swept over vast areas of Gujarat and Patel himself contracted the disease while nursing a friend. Overcoming these hurdles and moving out of Godhra, he set up his practice in the town of Borsad where his brother Vithalbhai resided. There, he quickly ascended the ladder of success and soon became one of the most sought after criminal lawyers. 

Turning Point

In 1917, Patel was a successful barrister at the peak of his career. Dressed in fashionably cut suits, his days were busy defending his clients in the courtroom and the evenings were spent in the elite company of the members of the Gujarat Club in Ahmedabad where Patel enjoyed playing bridge and smoking his cigars. This proud and successful lawyer did not think much about a man called Gandhi who suddenly appeared to be in the limelight after having returned from South Africa. Patel called Gandhi a 'crank' when he first heard of his methods of ahimsa and satyagraha and scoffed at his ideas. 

Vallabhbhai Becomes Sardar

Patel had shed his persona of an English speaking wealthy barrister dressed in suit and hat and adopted khadi following in the footsteps of Gandhi. Soon after this transformation in 1918, Patel took the plunge into a life of public service, starting with the peasants' campaign in Kheda. The British administration had refused to entertain petitions from the peasants to defer the payment of tax in the area despite a failed crop. Gandhi was asked to lead the struggle and he picked Patel to be his second in command for the campaign. Joining his companions like Narhari Parikh, Mohanlal Pandya and Abbas Tyabji, Vallabhbhai Patel gathered villagers for a statewide revolt urging them to refuse payment of taxes.The Kheda campaign met with great success with the administration finally giving in to the peasants' demands. Patel became instantly a hero in the eyes of the peasants of Kheda.

Satyagraha for Freedom

The Quit India Movement was launched by Gandhi in 1942 as an all-out campaign of civil disobedience to compel the British to leave. While some leaders in the Congress initially did not agree with the proposal, Sardar Patel was of the view that an all-out rebellion would galvanize the people of India and force the British to concede that continuation of the colonial rule found no support in India.

At the urging of Gandhi, the All India Congress Committee approved of the campaign on 7th August 1942. Patel though suffering from ill health appealed to the masses to refuse paying taxes and participate in civil disobedience. Speaking to a large crowd of over 100,000 people gathered at Gowalia Tank in Bombay, Patel called for mass protests and a shutdown of civil services. For his role in the protest, Patel was arrested on 9th August 1947 and imprisoned with the entire Congress Working Committee from 1942 to 1945 at the fort of Ahmednagar.

Realising the dream of Independence

In early 1947, British Prime Minister Clement Atlee announced that Britain would withdraw from India. It was a historic moment. In a statement made in the House of Commons in February 1947, Atlee said that His Majesty's Government wished to transfer power to responsible Indian hands by June 1948. The appointment of Lord Mountbatten as the New Viceroy in place of Lord Wavell was also made. Making a statement in June 1947, Lord Mountbatten advanced the date for the transfer of power from June 1948 to August 1947.

To Patel and several others who had toiled to see the hour of freedom, the sweet dream of independence was finally within grasp. But the fruits of their labour were coming at a heavy price. Partition of India into two nations was looking increasingly unavoidable and though Patel had initially dismissed Jinnah's idea of Pakistan as a 'mad dream', he realised that he was going to have to swallow the bitter pill. 

Integration : His Greatest Legacy

When the East India Company sunk its teeth into the Indian pie, the nawabs and rajas of Indian states were seen as strategic allies. The Company forced treaties upon the rulers of these states by which the Company was recognised as the paramount power. With the withdrawal of the British in August 1947, this paramouncy would lapse and the rulers of these Indian states would be free once again. About two fifths of the territory of India comprised Princely States. Some like Hyderabad and Kashmir were larger than several European countries. Others were tiny fiefdoms or jagirs comprising no more than a few villages. Together, there were 565 such states that were given the freedom to join either India or Pakistan or remain free after the midnight hour of 15th August, 1947. 

The Twilight Years

At the time of Independence, Patel was 72. Before he took up the task of Accession and Integration of the Princely States, his health had begun deteriorating and he had been advised to take complete rest. Yet, as a member of the first Cabinet of free India, he readily took charge of three ministries - Home, States and Information. In addition to this, he was also Deputy Prime Minister of India. During this period, whenever Nehru travelled abroad, Patel also shouldered the responsibility of being Acting Prime Minister. When V.P. Menon, Secretary of the States Department conveyed to Patel at the time of independence that having achieved the dream of freedom, he would have liked to retire, Patel said to him that this was no time to rest or retire as the young nation needed his services. Patel too kept aside concerns of advancing age and ill-health to rise to the challenge of building a strong independent India. 

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The main task before India today is to consolidate herself into a well-knit and united power....

ભારત સમક્ષ મુખ્ય કાર્ય એ જ છે કે તે પોતાને એક સુસંબદ્ધ મજબૂત તથા અવિભાજ્ય સત્તામાં એકત્રિત કરી મજબૂત બનાવે....

भारतासमोरील आज सर्वांत मोठं कार्य म्हणजे स्वत:ला संघटित करणे आणि देशात सुसूत्रता आणून अखंडशक्ती निर्माण करणे होय!

Young men and women are to build up a strong character. A nation's greatness was reflected in the character of the people. If it was sullied by selfishness, such a people could not prosper or achieve great things. Selfishness had its place in life as everyone had to look to his own needs and that of his family, but it could not made the be-all and end-all of life.

જુવાન પુરુષો અને સ્ત્રીઓએ એક મજબૂત ચારિત્ર્યનું ઘડતર કરવાનું છે. એક રાષ્ટ્રની શ્રેષ્ઠતા તેનાં જનસમુદાયના ચારિત્ર્યમાં પ્રતિબિંબિત થાય છે. જો તેને સ્વાર્થવૃત્તિનું કલંક લાગ્યું હોય તો આવા લોકો સફળ થતા નથી કે મહાન વસ્તુઓ પ્રાપ્ત કરી શકતા નથી. સ્વાર્થવૃત્તિનું જીવનમાં એક સ્થાન હોય છે કારણ કે દરેકને પોતાની જરૂરિયાતો અને તેના પરિવારની જરુરિયાતો સંતોષવાની જરૂર પડતી હોય છે, પરંતુ તે કઈ સર્વેસર્વા કે જીવનનું બધું અંતિમ નથી.

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