"The communalism of a majority is apt to be taken for nationalism."
- Jawaharlal Nehru on January 5, 1961.
IN November 1945 one of the top Congress leaders inaugurated on Marine Drive in Mumbai, just next to the Chowpati Beach, the Pransukhlal Mafatlal Hindu Swimming Pool. It was, and still is, exclusively for the use of Hindus. Its doors remain shut, even in 2013, for Muslims and other communities. No prizes for guessing who that top leader was. There was one and only one top Congress leader who would have done the deed, namely, Vallabhbhai Patel. For long a plaque on the frontage of the premises boldly proclaimed his achievement.
Its implications were lost on none. The astute advocate of the two-nation theory, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was quick to seize on it. In a statement issued on November 18, 1945, from New Delhi, in a rejoinder to Patel’s speech at the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) session, Jinnah said, “As to his other slogans that Hindus and Muslims are brothers and one nation, the less Sardar Patel talks about it [the] better. It does not come with any grace from his mouth, at any rate. For did not Mr Vallabhbhai Patel perform the opening ceremony of swimming bath in Bombay meant exclusively for Hindus? Has he forgotten that some young men demonstrated protesting against his participation in the opening ceremony of the swimming bath which excluded the Muslim brethren even sharing the sea-water” ( The Nation’s Voice , Volume IV, Waheed Ahmad ed., 1947, 3/3).
Neither Jawaharlal Nehru nor C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) would have stooped to this. Nehru had good reason to write in his Autobiography : “Many a Congressman was a communalist under his national cloak” (page 136).
Patel is best judged by the cabal which idolises him today. L.K. Advani : At Ayodhya on November, 19, 1990: “Henceforth, only those who fight for Hindu interests would rule India.” October 2, 1990: “Secular policy is putting unreasonable restrictions on Hindu aspirations.” To the BBC: “It would not be wrong to call the BJP a Hindu party” ( Organiser , August 5, 1989; emphasis added, throughout). On October 17, 1989, The Times of India editorially censured him: “Mr Advani while holding forth on ‘Bharat Mata’, now goes so far as to deny that Mahatma Gandhi was the Father of the Nation” (for details vide the writer’s book The RSS and the BJP , LeftWord, Chapter 4, “The RSS and Gandhi”). The BJP’s affection for Gandhi is a recent and calculated development.
Narendra Modi, an erstwhile protege who ousted Advani from the pedestal, follows the line with greater gusto. “The nation and Hindus are one. Only if Hindus develop will the nation develop. Unity of Hindus will strengthen the nation,” he said in the presence of the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat at a Hindu Samajotsava organised by the RSS in Mangalore. He said: “In Gujarat, an ordinary swayamsewak of the RSS [that is, Modi himself] is toiling to make Gujarat the number one State in the country,” and added that he had “spent his entire life for Hindu Samaj” ( Organiser , February 11, 2007).
Recently in an interview to Reuters, after his succession was all but sealed, Modi was asked, “But do you think you did the right thing in 2002?” He replied, “Absolutely”. He was also asked, “People want to know who is the real Modi—Hindu nationalist leader or pro-business Chief Minister.” Modi amply proved the truth of Nehru’s remark quoted at the beginning of this article: “I am a nationalist. I’m patriotic. Nothing is wrong. I am a born Hindu. Nothing is wrong. So, I am a Hindu nationalist. So, yes, you can say I’m a Hindu nationalist because I’m a born Hindu” ( Indian Express , July 13, 2013). This is the very man who aspires to be our next Prime Minister.
Jaswant Singh aspires to present himself as the “modern” and “secular” face of the Sangh Parivar. He is neither. On June 2, 2008, he released the BJP’s foreign policy resolution in New Delhi. He had only to be asked “Was the BJP happy about Nepal becoming a secular state?” to let loose a highly emotional cry: “As an Indian and believer in “Sanatan Dharma” [Hinduism], I feel diminished …. There are four ‘dhams’ [pilgrimage centres] in India and the fifth, Pashupati Nath, is in Nepal. There is nothing more secular than ‘Sanatan Dharma’…. This is a negative development [in Nepal]” (Neena Vyas; The Hindu , June 3, 2008).
The logic is hard to follow. If India can be a secular state with four Hindu pilgrimage centres, why cannot Nepal be a secular state with one pilgrimage centre? He was clearly not speaking as an Indian but as a Hindu (“I feel diminished”). How genuinely can such people accept India’s secularism, enshrined in its Constitution, when Nepal’s secularism makes them feel “diminished”? The divide between Indian nationalism and Hindu communalism or, as Modi calls it, Hindu nationalism, simply does not exist in their minds. That is why the entire Sangh Parivar hates Nehru and worships Patel. Jaswant Singh asserted in Bombay on July 31, 1990, “The temple of Santosh Mehta is far more important than the temple of Nehru. We have to be idol breakers.” The legacy of Nehru was essentially westernised, he said. Somewhere the essence of India got eroded in the last 43 years, he said, capping it with this brazen falsehood: “ Gai [Cow], Ganga and [the] Gita have now become communal symbols” ( The Times of India , August 1, 1990). Is it any wonder that they idolise also V.D. Savarkar, who was indicted by Justice J.L. Kapur of the Supreme Court for complicity in the conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi (for details vide the writer’s Savarkar and Hindutva: The Godse Connection , chapter 5 on Gandhi’s murder; LeftWord, 2002). Advani got Savarkar’s portrait installed in Parliament House to face that of the man he got murdered.
If this cabal of self-confessed Hindu nationalists, as distinct from Indian nationalist, has been consistently lauding Patel, it is because it finds in him a soulmate. He is not praised by himself; significantly he is always pitted against Nehru. That the praise for Patel is invariably blended with a shrill denunciation of Nehru reveals the true purpose: It is to discard Indian nationalism in favour of Hindu nationalism and what goes with Indian nationalism, its secular credo. Nehru stood for both and remains a symbol of these ideals. His legacy must be discarded by our ambitious “idol breaker”. Nehru saw the menace early as former Foreign Secretary Y.D. Gundevia recorded in his enlightening memoirs. He asked the Prime Minister to address officers of the Ministry of External Affairs, at their usual weekly meeting, and meet the juniors especially. The Communist Party of India (CPI) had won power in Kerala. Gundevia began by asking, “What happens to the Services if the communists are elected to power, tomorrow, at the Centre, here in New Delhi?”
“He pondered over my long drawn out question and then said, looking across the room, ‘Communists, communists, communists! Why are all of you so obsessed with communists and communism? What is it that communists can do that we cannot do and have not done for the country? Why do you imagine the communists will ever be voted into power at the Centre?!’ There was a long pause after this and then he said, spelling it out slowly and very deliberately. ‘The danger to India, mark you, is not communism. It is Hindu right-wing communalism.’
“There was some discussion after this. Someone said something about the communist government in Kerala. Someone said something about the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha.… Towards the end he repeated his thesis. ‘The danger to India is not communism. It is Hindu right-wing communalism.’”—A communalism that deceptively masquerades as Indian nationalism as he had noted in 1951 ( Outside the Archives , 1984; pages 209-210).
The Hindutva brigade, having tasted power at the Centre, is now making a desperate bid to return there, if need be, even on the strength of Narendra Modi’s coarse rhetoric, his despicable record on the Gujarat riots and his strident support to the RSS and Hindutva. Vallabhbhai Patel fits admirably as an iconic figure in this scheme.
Nehru and Patel
Nehru was cultured and refined. Patel was coarse to a degree. Nehru had a world view. Patel was ignorant of world affairs. Nehru was great despite his serious flaws and grave failures. Patel was small and mean despite his admirable qualities.
Nehru’s foreign policy was seriously flawed. But what an image he projected to the world for years as Prime Minister of newly independent India. The world was not slow to discern Patel’s true self beneath his considerable achievements. Sir Archibald Nye, the last Governor of the Province of Madras in the last days of the Raj, was deservedly appointed Britain’s first High Commissioner to India. Thanks to an English friend, I was able to peruse the confidential report from the archives which Nye sent to London. It was dated February 15, 1951, two whole months after Patel’s death in December 1950. It ran into five closely printed pages and was a thoroughly professional piece of work, balanced and insightful. Both idolisers and detractors should read it.
Nye was, if anything, full of admiration for Patel’s splendid qualities and big achievements. These bits reveal what even sympathetic sections of the diplomatic community thought of him. “As chief organiser and treasurer of the Congress party, Patel maintained until his death a complete grasp on the party machinery. The latest manifestation of the effectiveness of his control was the success, against the Prime Minister’s known wishes, of the candidate whom he favoured, Purshottamdas Tandon, in the Congress presidential election of September 1950.… Sardar Patel was undoubtedly one of the greatest ‘party bosses’ the world has seen. Although personally honest, he was prepared to use most of the methods of Tammany Hall. His policy of financing the Congress party by Marwari businessmen has been justly criticised and has left a legacy of corruption and graft which is now a serious handicap to the party . Despite considerable humanity and personal charm of manner, he could be quite ruthless in dealing with opponents whenever he conceived that this was demanded by the national or party interests…. His very reputation as a Hindu nationalist stood him in good stead in keeping the Mahasabha and the RSS in check and he had special and secret private arrangements with the RSS leaders .... He maintained close contact with the business world, both Indian and British, and it was to him rather than to the Prime Minister that its leaders normally addressed their representations…. As an orthodox Hindu, he did not disguise his communal sympathies. ” Lord Wavell, the Viceroy, reported to the King on October 22, 1946, that Patel was “frankly communal” ( Transfer of Power, Volume 8, page 772).
Would such a man have brought lustre to India’s reputation in the world? And what kind of legacy would he have bequeathed to a newly independent India in its formative years? What kind of vision would he have projected to inspire our plural society with its composite culture and rich traditions? Patel was, instinctively, pro-industrialists and unsympathetic to labour. His vision was narrow; his concerns were limited. As Nye noted, he was intolerant of dissent. Let alone communists, even the Congress Socialist Party received short shrift from him. He was the quintessential Hindu communalist. Christopher Jaffrelot holds that Patel “displayed his Hindu tradition when he came to Junagadh on November 12, 1947”. He announced that the temple of Somnath would be rebuilt, saying, “The restoration of the idols would be a point of honour and sentiment with the Hindu public” ( The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India , Viking, 1996; page 84).
Prof. Yogendra Malik and V.B. Singh remark that such Congress leaders “as Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Purshottamdas Tandon, K.M. Munshi, Govind Ballabh Pant and several others could easily be called Hindu nationalists” ( Hindu Nationalists in India: The Rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party ; Vistaar Publications, 1994; page 219). Rajaji’s name was rightly omitted from this group.
It is not “communal” to speak up for one’s own region or community. It is very communal to do so exclusively, while deriding the other segment of the nation. President Barack Obama has, at least twice, spoken up for the blacks. On July 20, 2013, he cried in anguish: “When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son…. Another way of saying that is Trayvon could have been me 35 years ago.” Martin, a 17-year-old black was shot dead in Florida by a neighbourhood watchman after an altercation. The jury acquitted him. Obama had earlier spoken up for a black academic who was manhandled by a policeman. As Chief of Army Staff, Colin Powell complained to a congressional committee about the poor representation of blacks in the army. No Muslim Minister or senior official can speak thus without being branded a “communalist”.
In 1964, Muslims of riot-torn Sambalpur held a meeting, not to demand police protection or compensation, but, incredibly, to send cables to the President and members of the United Nations Security Council to tell them that “Kashmir’s accession to India is irrevocable”. They were “nationalists” when they spoke thus, but would have been “communalists” if they had voiced their grievances. An ardent Patelite, Morarji Desai, told a convention on national integration in New Delhi on November 29, 1964: “The Hindu majority is clean hearted and fair minded. I cannot say the same about the majority of Indian Muslims” ( The Hindustan Times , November 30, 1964). He rose to become India’s Prime Minister in 1977. Was he an Indian nationalist or a Hindu nationalist?
None of these men, Patel included, came close to a Congress leader who was a devout and scholarly Hindu, steeped in the Shrimad Bhagwad Gita and the Upanishads —Chakravarti Rajagopalachari. They dislike Nehru not because he was an agnostic but because he was secular. They deliberately ignore Rajaji for the same reason. This devout Hindu was staunchly secular.
The Sangh Parivar faults Gandhi for, in effect, making Nehru Prime Minister. Why does it not censure Patel for plotting in 1949-50 to ensure that India’s first Indian Governor-General did not become India’s first President as well? Patel fought hard to oust Rajaji from the Governor-General’s house and install instead his soulmate, Rajendra Prasad, who had helped him plug the communal line in the Cabinet from 1947 to 1950. Patel described Rajaji to his son Narasimhan as “half a Muslim”. Nehru and Rajaji “held similar views on the Hindu-Muslim question” (Rajmohan Gandhi; Patel:A Life ; Navajivan Publishing House, 1990; page 504).
True to form, Nehru acted impetuously by writing to Rajendra Prasad that he should not contest the President’s office; thus playing into the hands of Prasad and Patel. “What Nehru did not know was that Patel favoured Prasad, and had arranged for a widespread expression of opinion in Prasad’s favour at an informal meeting of the party. So Nehru had to accept defeat and let Rajagopalachari retire” (Sarvepalli Gopal; Jawaharlal Nehru: a Biography ; Volume 2; page 77). Nor was that all. Patel took D.P. Mishra “into confidence and told me that he had advised Rajendra Prasad to reside in Sevagram (Wardha) for some time, lest, being of a gentle disposition, he might allow himself to be persuaded to retire”—a trailer to Chief Ministers sending their MLAs to the hills to protect them from seduction (D.P.Mishra; The Nehru Epoch ; Vikas, 1978; page 159).
Prasad set the pace by objecting to the date for inaugurating the republic on January 26, 1950, on astrological grounds, and proceeded to make a bid for subversion of the parliamentary system itself. Granville Austin, whose history of constitution-making remains unexcelled, records, “President Rajendra Prasad on several occasions attributed to his office enormously greater powers than those given by the Constitution”, a fact of which he was fully aware having sat through the debates as President of the Constituent Assembly—“Had his first attempt to ignore conventional restrictions and to act the part of his own Prime Minister not been foiled, parliamentary government in India would have disappeared before it was two years old” ( The Indian Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation ; Oxford University Press, 1972; page 140).
White papers on StatesWhite Papers on Indian StatessecondThe Story of Integration of the Indian StatesThe Great Divide
Clearly, it is the first phase, the accession and the unification of India, which was crucial. Once in the harem, the princes, demoralised already, needed little coaxing to merge their States. By August 15, 1947, the rulers of all the States—bar Junagadh, Kashmir and Hyderabad—had signed the Instrument of Accession to India (Menon; pages 115-6). Who brought that about? Both the writers describe the process. Menon describes in detail Mountbatten’s efforts from July 28 onwards. He kept Patel informed of them, who, on his part, also did his bit. But it was Mountbatten’s skills and Menon’s legal resourcefulness which truly accomplished the result. The pro-Jinnah Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes, the Nawab of Bhopal, caused a patriotic revolt and, ironically, made India’s task easier.
Odd ideas on States
“When he next came to see the Viceroy, having meanwhile talked with V.P. Menon—and here the two accounts converge—Sardar Patel said, ‘I am prepared to accept your offer provided that you give me a full basket of apples .’ ‘What do you mean?’ asked Lord Mountbatten. ‘I’ll buy a basket with 565 apples’—the computed number of States—‘but if there are even two or three apples missing the deal is off.’ ‘This,’ said the Viceroy, ‘I cannot completely accept, but I will do my best. If I give you a basket with, say, 560 apples will you buy it?’ ‘Well, I might,’ replied Patel” (Hodson; pages 367-8). Thus Patel had outsourced the task of procuring the accessions—the apples in the basket—to Mountbatten and Menon. It is to these men the credit for the unification of India goes . As for Bismarck, one has only to read Jonathan Steinberg’s classic Bismarck: A Life (Oxford University Press, 2011) to realise what he went through to unite Germany and his statesmanship in international politics. It also demonstrates that history need not degenerate into hagiography (See also Henry Kissinger, “The White Revolutionary: Reflections on Bismarck”; Daedalus, summer, 1968; pages 888-924. A priceless volume with essays on Gandhi by Erik H. Erikson, on de Gaulle, Ataturk and others.
Gandhi's assassinationBombay Chronicle
Madanlal Pahwa exploded a bomb at Gandhi’s prayer meeting on January 20, 1948. He had visited Savarkar a week before. On January 30, 1948, Gandhi was assassinated. The conspiracy could and should have been unravelled in those 10 days and Gandhi’s life saved. It was not. He died a martyr’s death. At the very outset, Madanlal confessed to the police that he was “one of a group of killers” not a crazy loner; also that he had “personally met” Savarkar. In seven hours the police “knew they were faced with a plot. They knew how many people were involved…. They had information which, with a little patient effort, would allow them to identify Nathuram Godse” (Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre; Freedom at Midnight, 1976; page 412: They were given access to the police files). They expose the crass negligence of the senior police officials in Delhi (“a puzzling lack of zeal”) and Morarji Desai’s refusal to arrest Savarkar. Patel himself could well have ordered that since Madanlal had mentioned his name on day one . Madanlal made a full 54-page confession, which he signed at 9-30 p.m. on January 24 (ibid, page 418). There was yet time to save a precious life. In contrast, for no reason at all, Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah are accused of neglect for Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s death by heart failure in Srinagar on June 23, 1953.
Justice J.L. Kapur, a former Judge of the Supreme Court, found in his ‘Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Conspiracy to Murder Mahatma Gandhi’ that the investigation into the conspiracy to murder was at no point conducted “with that earnestness or that alacrity which an attempt on the life of Mahatma Gandhi required or deserved. As far as the Commission has been able to see, there was routine interrogation of Madanlal, which went on from 20th to 24th and even then the disclosure was not of any very great one” (Report, Volume 5, para 23.253). The Delhi Police “made no use” of other information either (para 23.256). The Judge concluded: “The officials of the Delhi Administration and the Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs were evidently ignorant of the conspiracy to murder. It was the duty of the police to have given them proper information. That is not to say that the officers themselves did not show any indifference because one would have expected that when a thing like a bomb is exploded at a meeting of Mahatma Gandhi, the whole Administration would become alert and become anxious to find out what exactly had happened and not leave it to the sweet-will of the police officials to give them that information. The anxiety of the officialdom in New Delhi to take any intelligent interest in the investigation of the bomb case is not indicated by any tangible evidence” (para 23.259).
Nor is there any evidence of such interest by the Minister in charge, the Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel. The paragraph directly raises the issue of ministerial responsibility. It is of two kinds—constructive (for the gross neglect of officials) and actual, for personal neglect. In this case, both are attracted. Patel told Nehru on February 27, 1948, “I have kept myself in daily touch with the progress of the investigation regarding Bapu’s assassination case” (Durga Das (Ed.) Sardar Patel’s Correspondence (SPC) ; Navajivan Publishing House; Volume 6, page 56). Similar industry, expended assiduously, before the murder by this accomplished criminal lawyer would have saved the life of a man whom he loved all his life. He owed a duty to do so personally , given the importance of the person who was targeted. Patel was responsible for contributing to the foul atmosphere by wooing the RSS in January 1948, a lapse which JP noted (see box).
Patel and 'Quit India'Pilgrimage to FreedomIndia Wins Freedom,Congress Responsibility for the Disturbances of 1942-43
On June 15, 1947, Sir Chimanlal Setalvad wrote in The Times of India : “The cherished boon of a united India had fallen into the lap, but they [the Congress] by their own want of political window threw it out and made it beyond their reach.” He was alluding to the Congress’ sabotage of the Cabinet Mission’s Plan of May 16, 1946, for a united India based on three groups of provinces, which the Muslim League accepted. Patel wrote to Munshi the very next day noting jubilantly that “an authoritative pronouncement in clear terms has been made against the possibility of Pakistan in any shape or form”. Munshi correctly understood its import: “It was evident that Sardar was prepared to pay a price for averting the partition of the country, and was willing to share power with the Muslim League.” This lay at the heart of the Plan. By June, the Congress wrecked it and Patel pursued course until March 1947.
Wherein lay his much vaunted statesmanship? Statesmanship lies in reaching out to the rival, curbing one’s emotions, to reach a fair accord. Patel was calculating in his tactics. His strategy was governed by his strong emotions. The much-touted letter to Nehru on China, dated November 7, 1950, was drafted by Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai and written to Nehru at his instance. It said laconically, “The policy in regard to McMahon Line”, without defining it. It was silent on Aksai Chin. All the maps in the two White Papers on Indian States (1948 and 1950) correctly show the boundary from the trijunction with China and Afghanistan all the way to the trijunction to Nepal to be “undefined”. Nehru would have been denounced had his Ministry published them.
Patel’s behaviour towards colleagues could be devious. C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar, the autocratic Dewan of Travancore, whom Nehru detested, was Patel’s friend because both were Hindu revivalists. On August 16, 1942, C.P. met Viceroy Lord Linlithgow, who recorded, “Sir C.P. gave me an interesting piece of news. He had, he said, been coming through Bombay on his way to see Sir Stafford Cripps on behalf of the princes last spring, when he had met Vallabhbhai Patel, who said that the whole Cripps Mission was neither more nor less than a carefully organised stunt on the part of Nehru designed to get himself into the front of the platform and become Prime Minister of India; that the moment he had realised that this was the case he had vowed that he would torpedo the whole scheme and that there was reason to believe, in C.P.’s opinion, that Mr Patel more than anyone else was responsible for the obstinacy of Mr Gandhi’s antagonism and fixed determination to destroy it.” ( TOP , volume 2, page 723). Patel knew that C.P. would carry the tale to the Viceroy.
Patel was constantly at loggerheads with his colleagues when they were together in prison, as Nehru’s jail diary records. Muslim Congressmen were openly distrusted and disliked. M. Asaf Ali’s Memoirs (G.N.S. Raghavan (ed.) Ajanta, 1994) is a neglected document. An entry in his diary on January 27, 1944, records that Patel “seems to consider everyone who does not agree with his point of view a sort of delinquent.… Patel & Co. have, time and again, spoken in a manner rather ironical, indicating that (Dr Syed) Mahmud, I and (less marked) Maulana (Azad) don’t come up to their mark” (pages 314-5).
Against AzadThe Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi,The Muslims of India: A Documentary Record
However, addressing a huge public meeting in the same city only a few days later, on January 6, 1948, Patel impugned Azad’s patriotism and also invited the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS to join the Congress, simultaneously in one and the same speech. Only a rank communalist would have spoken thus.
These extracts from an authentic record reveal him for what he truly was. He raked up the past with venom and vehemence. Patel knew how utterly demoralised Indian Muslims were . He asked the Muslim Leaguers in Pakistan: “Have they ever looked at the Muslims living in Hindustan? Have they ever sympathised with them”. This did not prod him to do the same for them himself nor deter him from attacking them. “I want to ask the Indian Muslims only one question. In the recent All India Muslim Conference why did you not open your mouth on Kashmir? Why did you not condemn the action of Pakistan. These things create doubt in the minds of the people. Those who are disloyal will have to go to Pakistan.” From then on Kashmir became a loyalty test for Muslims.
Invitation to RSS
“I appeal to the Hindu Mahasabhaites to join the Congress. No good will be served by remaining aloof. If you think that you are the only custodians of Hinduism, you are mistaken. Hinduism preaches a broader outlook on life. There is much more of tolerance in Hinduism than is interpreted.
“I appeal to the RSS to use their wisdom and work judiciously. I ask them not to be rash and tactless. Do not be aggressive…. Those who are disloyal will have to go to Pakistan. Those who are still riding on two horses will have to quit Hindustan.
“In the Congress those who are in power feel that by virtue of authority they will be able to crush the RSS. By ‘danda’ you cannot suppress an organisation. Moreover, ‘danda’ is meant for thieves and ‘dakus’. Using of “danda” will not help much. After all, RSS men are not thieves and dacoits. They are patriots . They love their country. Only their trend of thought is diverted. They are to be won over by Congressmen with love.” ( For a United India: Speeches of Sardar Patel ; Publications Division; pages 64-69 for the full text). Patel cannot escape responsibility for fouling the command atmosphere. Entry of these elements would have strengthened him against Nehru in the party and the Cabinet, changing the secular complexion of the polity . He took a bold step by getting the Congress Working Committee to pass a resolution on November 10, 1949, authorising the entry of RSS men into the Congress. “He took advantage of Nehru’s absence abroad” (Jaffrelot notes, page 90). It was a dishonourable manoeuvre on the part of one who claimed to be straightforward. The resolution was rescinded on November 17, 1949, promptly on Nehru’s return, to Patel’s deserved humiliation.
Such an approach had its impact on the working of the Cabinet, as Sarvepalli Gopal recorded. “In performing this duty, his first as the leader of free people, Nehru could not rely on the unqualified support of his Cabinet. Some of the members, such as Azad, John Matthai, [Rafi Ahmed] Kidwai and Amrit Kaur, were with him, but they carried little influence with the masses. The old stalwarts of the Congress, however, such as Patel and Rajendra Prasad, with the backing of the leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, believed not so much in a theocratic state as in a state which symbolised the interest of the Hindu majority. Patel assumed that Muslim officials, even if they had opted for India, were bound to be disloyal and should be dismissed; and to him the Muslims in India were hostages to be held as security for the fair treatment of Hindus in Pakistan. He, therefore, resisted Nehru’s efforts to reserve certain residential areas in Delhi for Muslims and to employ Muslims to deal with Muslim refugees. Even more non-secular in outlook than Patel was Rajendra Prasad, the meek follower of Gandhi but untouched in any real sense by the sprit of Gandhi’s teachings. One-sided action, he wrote to his Prime Minister, could not bring the desired results but would in fact lead to most undesirable and unexpected consequences. There was no use in bringing in the army to protect the Muslim citizens of Delhi if the Hindus and Sikhs were expelled from the cities of Pakistan” (Gopal; Volume 2, pages 15-16).
Nehru chided Mohanlal Saxena, Minister for Rehabilitation, who had ordered the sealing of Muslim shops in Delhi and the United Provinces: “All of us seem to be getting infected with the refugee mentality or worse still, the RSS mentality” (ibid, page 77).
In a confidential note to Cabinet Ministers on September 12, 1947, Nehru asked, “Are we to aim at or to encourage trends which will lead to the progressive elimination of the Muslim population from India, or are we to consolidate, make secure and absorb as full citizens the Muslims who remain in India? That, again, involves our conception of India; is it going to be, as it has been in a large measure, a kind of composite state where there is complete cultural freedom for various groups, but at the same time a strong political unity, or do we wish to make it, as certain elements appear to desire, definitely a Hindu or a non-Muslim state? If the Hindus think in terms of any domination, cultural or otherwise, over others, this would not only be against our own repeated professions, but would naturally displease other and smaller minorities in India” (S. Gopal and Uma Iyengar (Eds.) The Essential Writings of Jawaharlal Nehru ; Oxford University Press, 2003; Volume I, page 165).
Nehru’s letter to G.B. Pant on April 17, 1950, was a cri de coeur : “I have felt for a long time that the whole atmosphere of the U.P. has been changing for the worse from the communal point of view. Indeed the U.P. is becoming almost a foreign land for me. I do not fit in there. The U.P. Congress Committee, with which I have been associated for 35 years, now functions in a manner which amazes me. Its voice is not the voice of the Congress I have known, but something which I have opposed for the greater part of my life” (ibid, page 181). These documents reveal the contrast and explain why the Sangh Parivar hates Nehru and idolises Patel.
Riots and insensitivitySPC
To Rajaji, Patel wrote on August 21, 1946, about Bengal. “There is a complete breakdown of safety and order but there is nobody responsible to check the thing. However, this will be a good lesson for the League, because I hear that the proportion of Muslims who have suffered death is much larger ” (ibid, page 49). A very comforting and civilised reaction to bloodshed.
Nehru was shaken by the Bihar riots (“a definite attempt on the part of Hindu mobs to exterminate the Muslims”, ibid, page 165, vide his detailed report to Patel, pages 168-170). Patel was, of course, unmoved. Prof. B.B. Misra writes: “The Bihar riots tended to shake even the confidence of nationalist Muslims in the ability of the Congress to ensure the protection of Muslim life and property. That was a considerable gain to Jinnah” ( The Indian Political Parties ; Oxford University Press, 1976, page 603).
Any complaint against Muslims, however unverified, sufficed to make Patel fly off the handle. Sample this. “The cowardice of the Hindus in those parts is disgraceful but I am not prepared to absolve the state of its share of responsibility. The present dawn is new but the traditions of the state have always been to prosecute the Hindus in any quarrel of a communal nature between the Hindus and Muslims, in which the state always takes the side of the Muslims. The police have generally harassed the Hindus by arresting and extorting money on such occasions and therefore they have not taken courage to defend themselves. It is the duty of the state to protect their subjects from such inexcusable intolerance and violence as also train the people in the art of self-defence.”
Savarkar or Golwalkar could not have improved on this. In his letter of August 26, 1946, he was referring not to a Muslim state, but to the State of Baroda, whose Dewan was Sir B.L. Mitter, one of the first to rebel against the Nawab of Bhopal (Chopra (Ed.), Sardar Patel; Muslims and Refugees ; Konark; 2004; page 34). Partition only intensified the hate. It was present well before that, as Asaf Ali and others noted.
“One fact is indisputable. Many Muslims in India have helped for the creation of Pakistan. How one can believe that they can change overnight? The Muslims say that they are loyal citizens. Therefore, why should anybody doubt their bona fide? To them, I would say: ‘Why do you ask us? Search your own conscience!’” This was said on January 3, 1948 (ibid, page 128). Would the Pakistanis have been justified in posing similar questions to the Hindus who had opposed, very rightly, the very establishment of their new country?
The refugee questionThe Long PartitionSPC
It was always “the people’s” opinion that Patel claimed to represent even in this incredible refrain to Nehru on September 2, 1947: “People are openly clamouring as to why Muslims are allowed to go about in peace openly in the streets of Delhi and other towns. ” He carefully left the alternative unsaid; only to pose another question: “Why there are any Muslims at all in the police and the civil administration, and are indulging in similar other demands” ( SPC ; Volume 4; page 318). Elementary human rights were to be denied, apparently. Nehru’s Note for the Cabinet on the Delhi disturbances, dated September 18, 1947, was emphatic on the right to return. “As soon as normality is restored arrangements should be made for Muslim residents of Delhi, who are at present in various camps, to return to their houses in Delhi city. To begin with, security arrangements should be made in those areas of Delhi city where such Muslim residents reside.… It should be clearly understood that the houses vacated by Muslim evacuees continue to belong to them and that ownership and property in them cannot pass to another” (ibid, page 342).
Patel would have none of it, as he wrote to Nehru on May 4, 1948: “Reports have reached me of considerable discontent both amongst the public, in general, and refugees, in particular, in regard to our failure to prevent the inflow of Muslims from Pakistan” ( SPC , Volume 6; page 319). This flew in the face of a Cabinet decision of March 4, 1948, as Nehru reminded Patel: “You will remember that we came to the conclusion two or three months ago that the areas in Delhi city which are now predominantly Muslim should be reserved for Muslims” (ibid, page 261).
By December 1948, Patel was demanding that “a part of East Pakistan be carved out and handed over to India for rehabilitation of refugees” (Chopra, page 271). The limit was reached in a staggering suggestion to Nehru on October 15, 1950. Nehru replied on October 27: “You suggest that we might have to consider giving a clear indication to the Pakistan Government that if this immigration continues we would have no alternative left except to send out Muslims from West Bengal in equal numbers.
“It is perfectly true that this continuing migration is a tremendous problem for us and I cannot suggest an obvious remedy. It is largely due to deteriorating economic conditions and the Pakistan Govenrment is hardly capable of improving these conditions. But I am quite clear in my mind that any suggestion about Muslims being sent from West Bengal to East Bengal would lead to disastrous consequences. Even an indication of this would injure our case very greatly without in the least affording us relief from the migration.
“A suggestion of this kind was made some time back by Bidhan Roy [Chief Minister of West Bengal] and I wrote to him rather strongly on the subject. I felt that such an idea would completely put an end to a stand we have taken as a secular state and it would create communal trouble all over India and the great gain to us of the Hyderabad affair would vanish. Every Muslim in India would feel an alien and in effect we would have established a Hindu state. Our world position, which is high at present, would suffer irretrievably. Every action that we have taken in the past, every declaration that we have made will be judged from a new standpoint and we shall be condemned and isolated. Our enemies would of course say that they were right, throughout, our friends will remain silent in a shame-faced way. All kinds of new problems and difficulties would arise and the consequences in every direction will be bad. Then again how would one pick out Muslims, who are undoubtedly citizens of India, to be sent to East Bengal? None of them will want to go voluntarily and we would have to employ force. Neither international nor domestic law could justify this pushing out of our own citizens to a foreign country which does not want them” ( SPC , Volume 7, pages 670-671).
It is dishonest to characterise this as a “knee-jerk reaction” in order to wipe out the brazen exposure of a vicious mind. It was in character and fitted into his entire outlook. The suggestion had figured in a long, considered letter of October 19, 1948, which covers five pages of Volume 7 of SPC (pages 258-262): “I am beginning to wonder whether a clear indication to the Pakistan Government that, if this immigration continues on account of deterioration of conditions in East Bengal, we would have no alternative except to send out Muslims from West Bengal in equal numbers, would not goad them into some salutary action.” That such a hideous thought should cross his mind at all is amazing. How were the victims of his wrath to be selected en bloc from the border areas? If so which? Or were they to be selected by drawing lots? To think that a man with such views should be exalted as he is these days. Or that the Congress should have held him up as an example to emulate rather than “neglect” him, as an apologist complains.
Apart from Baldev Singh and Rajendra Prasad, Chief Ministers like G.B. Pant (U.P.) Ravi Shankar Shukla (Central Province) and B.C. Roy (West Bengal) shared his outlook and joined the drive to exclude Muslims from the Services. “The sooner we issue instructions to provincial governments to take action for disarming the Muslim element [in the Special Army Constabulary], the better,” Patel wrote to Defence Minister Baldev Singh on October 7, 1947 ( SPC , Volume 4, page 518). Such moves, during the immediate aftermath of Partition persisted long after, despite Nehru’s repeated protests to the Chief Ministers, and account for the sad conditions now. The Minister for Supply, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, did not write to Nehru but to a kindred spirit, Patel, to vent his spleen. On July 17, 1948, he made an interesting proposal for a united front to Patel: “It is of utmost importance that in spite of political differences between party and party , a general atmosphere of stability and confidence amongst Hindus should be steadily promoted.” Would he have dared to write thus to Nehru? “By allowing strong pockets to be created in different parts of India we shall be sowing the seeds of our own destruction.” Patel replied on July 18, 1948: “As regards Muslims, I entirely agree with you as to the dangerous possibilities inherent in the presence in India of a section of disloyal elements” ( SPC , Volume 6, page 324).
Patel freely used the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) to spy on his colleagues within the Congress, like Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, and the Congress Socialist Party (CSP). On February 6, 1948, he sent to Nehru a “copy of a secret report” by the I.B. on the CSP. It was tailored to his purposes by accusing them of plotting for his ouster from the Cabinet. The CSP had “decided to exploit the situation created by this tragedy (Gandhi’s assassination) to gain power both in the Congress organisation and [in] the Government” ( SPC , Volume 6; pages 33-34). That was his ploy to blunt J.P.’s censures on Patel’s neglect which cost Gandhi’s life. There were “Communist cells inside government itself”, the Swadeshi McCarthy warned Nehru (ibid, page 445). It was time to float “a parallel organisation which may for all intents and purposes be recognised as a genuine Trade Union Congress”. What was non-genuine about the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), which the highly respected N.M. Joshi supported? (ibid, page 94) The Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) was floated to subserve Congress interests. The tactics to be followed were indicated to V.V. Giri on December 17, 1945. “Either capture AITUC by peaceful and decent means or start a rival TU Congress which would straightaway be recognised by the government and all pretensions of the representative character of the rival Communist organisation be destroyed.” How the birth of a rival could destroy the powerful AITUC was not explained. The modus operandi was plain—official patronage ( SPC ; Volume 2).
Patel and KashmirThe Brotherhood in Saffroninter alia
To Patel, Kashmir was “a Hindu State, situated in Muslim surroundings”, an odd way to describe its overwhelmingly Muslim population ( SPC , Volume 1, page 4). As for Nehru, “After all he is a Hindu and that a Kashmiri Hindu” (ibid, page 3). These letters, respectively, of June 19, 1946, and June 16, 1946, written in confidence, reflected his mindset. On Partition, he plumbed for the RSS to procure the State’s accession to India as a matter of course. In the first letter he poured scorn on Sheikh Abdullah (“supposed to be very popular”). The pattern was set. The Sheikh mattered not; only the Maharaja did. On July 3, 1947, even before the Radcliffe Report on the Punjab boundary was out, assigning Gurdaspur to India, Patel wrote to R.C. Kak, the Prime Minister, to assert that Kashmir had “no other choice’’ but to accede to India. On the same day he pressed the ruler, Hari Singh, to accede (ibid, pages 32-33).
Throughout his tenure as Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Patel consistently supported the ruler against the people’s tribune, Abdullah, even to the point of overlooking the ruler’s threat on January 31, 1948, to secede from India (ibid, page 162; “withdrew the accession”).
He defended the RSS when Nehru complained of its activities there (ibid, pages 134-136). Patel turned a blind eye to the massacre of Muslims in Jammu, for which Hari Singh was culpable. He relied on four props—Hari Singh, his Deewan, the communal minded Mehrchand Mahajan and the I.B. Chief, B.N. Mullik. Patel suborned Mullik’s professional integrity to make him tailor his reports (“Bribes and Spies”, Frontline , November 29, 2013).
At a rally in Kolkata on New Year’s Day, 1952, Nehru said, “Just imagine what would have happened in Kashmir if the Jan Sangh or any other communal party had been at the helm of affairs [in 1947]…. Why would they [the people of Kashmir] live in a country where the Jan Sangh and the RSS are constantly beleaguering them. They will go elsewhere and they will not stay with us’’ ( Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru , Volume 17; pages 77-78).
They would have done precisely that if instead of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel was Prime Minister of India. It was Gandhi and Nehru’s secularism which moved Sheikh Abdullah, not Patel’s pro-Hindu outlook.
As in Kashmir, so in Hyderabad. Patel turned a blind eye to the massacre of Muslims documented in the report by Pandit Sundarlal and colleagues. He disowned the report and was rude to its authors ( SPC , Volume 9, page 244, vide the writer’s article on the report, “Of a massacre untold”, Frontline , March 16, 2001. For more details vide the writer’s book The Destruction of Hyderabad , Tulika Books, 2013). He hand-picked, to Mountbatten’s dismay, an obsessively communal K.M. Munshi to serve as India’s Agent-General in Hyderabad. Nehru and Patel went to Hyderabad separately after “the police action”, a quaint expression for a military effort by a Lieutenant-General, three Majors-General, a whole armoured division and the Air Force. This was not police action, this was war conducted by a powerful, organised army. It is dishonest to call it a police action. Nehru was gracious to the shattered Nizam. Patel was rude and plied him with taunts about the past. They were administered in a detailed charge sheet when he called on the Nizam in Hyderabad. A polite five-line letter of greetings by the Nizam to Patel after his visit added insult, this time in writing, calling on the defeated Nizam to show “sincere repentance”. Mean vindictiveness could not have gone further.
What does the entire record reveal but a man who was rabidly communal in his outlook? The dislike of Muslims hardened over time into antipathy towards them. A hostile Vallabhbhai Patel became an anti-Muslim leader in cahoots with elements who were after their blood, the RSS and the Mahasabha. All this was overlooked and a pocket-version of the Great Patel and Bismark emerged. Simultaneously, the process of denigration of Nehru picked up speed. Nehru foresaw the danger early enough. He told Wavell on July 14, 1945, that “some of the Congress Hindus were anti-Muslim and that the psychological factors were important” ( TOP , Volume 5, pages ). This fitted Patel to perfection. For all his claims to fairness, the communalist in him could never be concealed. As Meredith wrote: Passions spin the plot: /We are betrayed by what is false within . This is truer still of those in the BJP and the RSS who came after him. They have his flaws; none of his gifts.