Vallabhbhai was the fourth of the five sons and a dughter of Ladba and Zaverbhai of Karamsad. His remarkable journey began at a young age. At his school Vallabhbhai organised a student revolt against a corrupt teacher. His dream was to become a Barrister. He went to England in 1910 and attended Middle Temple where he topped the bar examination. He was called to the Bar in 1913. He returned the same year, skipping the Continental tour, never to leave India till his death in 1950, at the age of 75.
He was a successful criminal lawyer in Ahmedabad where, in 1915, he took the first step towards public life when he joined The Gujarat Sabha. In 1917 he was elected a member of the Ahmedabad Municipality of which, by 1924, he became its President.
Vallabhbhai was inspired by Gandhiji and his philosophy and started his political journey by joining the Gujarat Provincial Conference in 1917, joining the Kheda Satyagraha as Gandhiji’s deputy in 1918, leading the Indian National Congress (INC) to a thumping majority at the Municipal election in 1920 and leading the Nagpur Flag Satyagraha and Borsad Satyagraha.
His extraordinary organising skills shown itself during the heavy Gujarat floods of 1927. As the President of the Municipality, he initiated a fund-raising drive and mobilised an army of volunteers to move supplies to the affected areas. He brought relief to the people much before any official assistance could arrive which, when received, was not required. It was truly a first for India – an organisation for Indians by Indians.
In 1928 he resigned from the Ahmedabad Municipality to lead the Bardoli ‘no tax’ campaign, to fight the unjust tax increase imposed despite several years of drought. That was his defining moment and revealed that in every fight his objective was the same, Power for India, which earned him the title of Sardar.
Sardar was one of the most vocal supporters of Quit India Movement. He was the trusted lieutenant of Gandhiji. He was first arrested and jailed in 1930. He spent, over the next 16 years, nearly half his time in jail. In the final years of the freedom struggle he was actively involved with Gandhiji and other leaders in strategizing and negotiating the path to independence.
His masterpiece contribution, as India’s first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, was convincing and merging nearly 560 princely states and colonial provinces into states which is today’s India. His strong action prevented Junagadh from joining Pakistan and convinced the Nizam of Hyderabad to join the Union of India.
Although he is known as The Iron Man of India his nature and greatest achievemens are best summed up by his contemporaries:
“I was warned before I came to India that `I should meet my match in a very ‘tough guy’; Sardar Vallabbhai Patel: but when we met I came to the conclusion that he could not be quite as tough as the act that he put on. He is so very apparently hard and firm and unyielding, and I think he is like that because he does’nt want the world to know what a very warm heart beats behind that rugged exterior, and I regard him as one of the greatest friends I have made here and am sad that he can’t be with us tonight.”
at the Farewell Banquet Government House.
New Delhi, June 21, ‘48
“If there is today an India to think and talk about is very largely due to Sardar Patel’s statesmanship and firm administration. Yet we are apt to ignore him.”
President Rajendra Prasad, May 1959
“Undoubtedly it would have been better if Nehru had been asked to be the Foreign Minister and Patel made the Prime Minister”.
C Rajgopalalachari (Rajaji), the last Governor-General of India, in 1970
The Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, was posthumously awarded to Sardar in 1991, four decades after his death. It was accepted by Bipinbhai Dahyabhai Patel, Sardar’s grandson. The award was brought home to Karamsad by the late Bipinbhai and donated to the Sardar Patel Trust