Remembering Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

On the occasion of the 139th birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, which is being celebrated as Rashtriya Ekta Diwas, I am re-posting the childhood story of the Iron Man of India. It is said that the seeds of greatness are sown in childhood. The Sardar’s story amply bears this out.

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‘Mr.Agarwala is late again today,’ said a boy in the classroom of Nadiad High School in Gujarat.

‘What do we do while we wait for him to come?’ asked another boy.

‘Why don’t we sing a song? I’m sure Mr.Agarwala wouldn’t mind if we sang instead of disturbing other classes,’ Vallabh said.

They all agreed and began singing. Just then, Mr.Agarwala came in and was not at all pleased by the sight and sound of the class!

‘Who gave you permission to sing? Do you think this is a music class?’ the teacher thundered.

Vallabh got up. ‘No sir. We know it is the English class, but would you rather that we cried till you came?’ he asked his teacher boldly.

‘How dare you speak to me like that? Leave the class immediately!’ said the teacher.

Vallabh got up quietly, picked up his books and gave his class a piercing glance before leaving. That was the cue for the boys. As one, they all got up and marched out after their unspoken leader. Mr.Agarwala looked on helplessly.

Later, Vallabh was summoned by the Principal Mr.H.M.Bharucha.

‘Mr.Agarwala tells me that you not only answered him back insolently but also instigated the entire class to walk out.’

‘Sir, Mr.Agarwala never comes to class on time. So we decided to sing instead of making a racket and disturbing other classes!’ he replied.

The Principal had never encountered anyone who spoke up so boldly.He also understood that Vallabh had a valid point to make. But as the Principal, he could not to let the students get the better of the teachers.

‘I want you to apologise to Mr.Agarwala for your rudeness,’ he said  and was completely unprepared for Vallabh’s reply:

‘Sir, it is Mr.Agarwala who should apologise to the class for not only habitually coming late, but also scolding us for singing. We have not done any wrong.’

Mr.Bharucha realised the righteousness behind Vallabh’s statement and let him off, with only a warning that time.

Vallabh was very strong willed and did exactly what he knew was right, ready to face the consequences of his speech and action. This nature of his got him regularly in trouble with teachers. When he was in the Baroda Government High School, it happened again, this time with his maths teacher. One day, the teacher got stuck while solving an algebra problem and finally managed to do it wrongly.

‘Sir, that is not the right way to solve the problem,’ pointed out the ever honest Vallabh.

‘Oh, is that so, master? Why don’t you come and solve it and sit on my chair?’ he asked most sarcastically. But Vallabh took him at his word.

He went to the blackboard and solved the problem correctly and then proceeded to sit on the teacher’s chair. He was sent to the Principal Mr.Narvane for his impudence.

‘Why did you do it?’ he asked Vallabh.

‘Sir, I only obeyed the master. He asked me to solve the problem and sit on his chair and I did!’ replied Vallabh simply.

Mr.Narvane was tired of the complaints against Vallabh and threatened to throw him out of school. But before he did, Vallabh himself left to go back to his old school in Nadiad. But his fight for justice did not stop.

One of the teachers had a stationery business and forced the students to buy stationery items from his shop, at rates higher than the market.

‘Why should we pay more for the same items?’ Vallabh asked his fellow students.

‘But he makes us buy from him. What can we do?’ the boys asked helplessly.

‘We must protest against this injustice!’ said Vallabh. He then proceeded to organise a strike of the students. Day after day, they stayed away from class to protest. After a week, the Principal promised to put a stop to the practice and the students went back to class.

This might give the impression that Vallabh was always protesting against authority and picking up quarrels with his teachers. But that was not the truth. He only stood up for what was right and fought for justice. There was a time when he stood for his teacher too, when he felt that he was being wronged.

Mr.Chinoobhai,  his school teacher stood as a candidate in the Municipal elections of Nadiad. The other candidate was Babubhai, a wealthy bania (trader) of Nadiad who openly ridiculed the school teacher for his audacity to stand against him.

‘Master, I would advise you to withdraw your name from the race. You don’t even have the means to canvass and are sure to lose!’ he told the teacher.

A mild mannered person, the teacher might have withdrawn had not Vallabh heard about it. He, along with the other friends of the teacher convinced him not to withdraw. ‘We will canvass for you sir,’ said Vallabh.

When the teacher didn’t take back his nomination, the Babubhai began intimidating him.

‘Okay since you refuse to see reason, I’ll make a wager. The loser will shave off his moustache!’ he announced publicly. When Vallabh heard of this, he went to the bania’s house with several of his friends.

‘I accept the challenge on behalf of my master,’ he said. Babubhai and his cronies laughed aloud.

After that Vallabh went to the school teacher’s house. ‘Sir, I am going to collect an army of students to canvass for your victory and then we will pull off Babubhai’s moustache!’ he told him. The teacher was apprehensive, but didn’t protest.

‘It is a challenge to the honour of our school. We should see that our master wins with a thumping majority. We have to work hard for his victory!’ Vallabh told the students.

Ever ready to follow their leader, they all worked day and night and went from house to house to canvass for their teacher. Vallabh gave speeches about their candidate. The people of Nadiad were impressed by the sincerity of the students and decided to vote for the teacher, ignoring the bania’s bribes and false promises. The teacher won the election, much to the chagrin of Babubhai. He now desperately hoped that Vallabh wouldn’t remember his challenge to shave the loser’s moustache but he hoped in vain.

Once the results were declared, Vallabh, accompanied by his friends and a barber promptly reached the Babubhai’s house. He read out the terms of the wager to the assembled public. The bania, who was hiding behind locked doors, was made to come out and his moustache was shaved off ceremoniously in the presence of everyone.

Vallabh thus successfully silenced him and upheld the honour of his teacher and school.

 

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 Little wonder that this righteous student grew up to be known as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Iron Man of India, who unified the country by bringing the hundreds of royal kingdoms under the Indian Union, even using force against the Nizam of Hyderabad to put down an armed rebellion. He was adept at using persuasion to achieve the goals even as he stood firm in his convictions and beliefs. He never compromised on his principles while discharging his duties as the first Home Minister of Independent India.

(Adapted from the original ‘The Righteous Schoolboy’, written by Thangamani for The  Children’s World)

(Image courtesy: photogallery.indiatimes.com)

40 comments

  1. Nice to read about these incidents, which throws a light on the great man”s character. It is rightly said that “child is the father of the man”

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    1. I think our children should get to see the men and women behind the great people, so that they can be inspired to emulate them. Unfortunately, our history books only list the achievements and failures.

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  2. Never too late to catch up on such inspiring posts, Zephyr!

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    1. Thank you, Rahul.

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  3. What a wonderful story! wish we had more leaders like him now! incidentally, we were thinking so much about him during our recent rajasthan trip when our guides were talking about the kinds and their idiosyncrasies that we were wondering how Sardar Patel would have managed to get around their collossal egos! now, after reading this story, i guess a piece of the puzzle fits!

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    1. He would have put all the minnows in our polity in their places and not allow them to shoot their mouths off like so many buffoons, to begin with. He would have also cracked the whip and got them working at governance for a change! We can at least dream can’t we? 😀

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  4. Very interesting post. I recently got into an argument with a friend of mine on whether Patel would have been a better PM than Nehru. The discussion was actually about who the best PM we have ever had is, which turned out to be Nehru Vs Patel one. I can’t say I am on Nehru’s side but I somehow feel this is still hypothetical. Anyways, as you said, may be I haven’t read the true history. Would love to read more about both of them to get clearer on this. This post has done its bit towards that.

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    1. As I replied to one of the comments, it was just as well that Sardar Patel was the HM and thus was able to take strong and hard decisions without fear or favour to unite the country. To some extent the Prime Minister has to be a poltician too. Look at the country today. We have an administrator who is a disaster as the PM and a weak willed politician who is worse as the HM. Maybe we did have the best possible combination then…I don’t know. But the fact remains that while Nehru and his family are deified, the other stalwarts are forgotten and shoved to the corners of history in India, with the result that coming generations would read only about one family as being the architects of modern India.

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      1. True. He is the best HM we have ever had. Agree with you on deifying Nehru’s family. At least he deserves all these to some extent. I don’t like that when it is done to any of his family members including Indira Gandhi. I think, it is his family members who made it a point to exaggerate his legacy for their survival, which in turn resulted in belittling of others’ contribution. So, yes, I will note down this point – there is a need to reverse it or bring out the forgotten part now. 🙂

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        1. That would be the day when our children get to read history as it is — not doctored and mutilated to suit the whims and fancies of the party in power. Till then, people like us should keep educating the children. All the best!

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  5. delhizen · · Reply

    A very interesting story Chithi.. I seriously wonder will our children ever get to learn about the true leaders and value their scarifies?

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    1. Nice to have you back Sunshine! You need not worry about anyone remembering leaders like him. They already have forgotten him and others and so there is no way the next gen will get to know about their contribution to the country.

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  6. Pity that the media conveniently forgot to commemorate one of our greatest leader’s birthday and chose to tom tom about Mrs Gandhi instead.

    I am glad you shared these inspiring snippets from his life.

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    1. Media only highlights what it is paid to do so. Do you think anyone would have paid them to show Sardar or the celebrations (if any) of his birth anniversary?

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  7. Wow! This is an amazing post and what an amazing man Sardar Patel was. I’ve read about his political achievements but did not know about his personal life. Thanks for sharing! I loved it. When I read about the self-righteousness of Gandhiji, Nehru and Patel, my heart cries with grief at the present state of affairs.

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    1. Future greatness always shows up in the childhood of great people. So was the case with Sardar. I did not touch upon the poverty he grew up in and how he quit studies to help his father in the farm. His life is fascinating and he is a role model for the younger generation. I wish publishers came out with his story for children to motivate them. You can see from the younger brat’s comment how Sardar’s story shaped his thought processes during his high school.

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  8. I am pleasantly surprised with the vignettes. I assure you, they are a treat and I’d love to have more.

    I believe that motivated educationists (?) have tried to relegate the critical role played by the indomitable leader to obscure corners by modifying the History. Truth be told, M.K.Gandhi is not the only founding father of this nation.

    On the flip side, M.K.Gandhi does appear to be the founding father of the current regime of the corrupt politicians. Congress, or whatever it was, died with the birth of India. Fatal deification of Nehru and subsequently his clan has turned out to be a mistake of existential proportions.

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    1. A nation is not built by one person, or for that matter by one family 🙂 It is sad that the contributions of the many many leaders have not got the same attention as a few of them, notably of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Another sad thing is that Lal Bahadur Shastri is scarcely remembered since his birthday falls on the same day as Mahatma Gandhi. So also Sardar’s birth anniversary falls on the same day as the assassination of Indira Gandhi. So the channels and newspapers were full of the latter and nothing was mentioned about Sardar except for the mandatory half page ad by the I&B Ministry. To top it all, the Congress and BJP are fighting to show that Sardar was theirs. Both don’t know that he belonged to the Indian National Congress which as you have pointed out, died in the 60s. Fortunately Sardar did not live to see the day.

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  9. AlkaGurha · · Reply

    What an interesting story…and how we need strong willed leaders like Vallabhbhai with vision and fortitude.

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    1. We indeed need leaders of his stature today.

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  10. Here is Manju’s Comment sent via email:

    Hi Zephyr,

    Great post! I did not know these stories about Vallabhbhai Patel as a student. I have only read about his work in social and political spheres.

    Yes, I too, wish we had a leader like him today. Our country sorely needs an Iron Man like Vallabhbhai Patel!

    -Manju

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  11. Simply breathtaking encounters. I had missed on these aspects of his childhood.
    I wish to add here, he had written a strong letter to Nehru Ji in 1950, on the consequences
    Of China. He had warned of any nearness to them will be a disaster.

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    1. When a leader is courageous and steadfast in his beliefs and principles, he can take the right decisions even if they seem unpopular. Sardar was known for his non-appeasement policy towards various sections of society and hence he had the courage to carry forward his work.

      btw, your comment was incomplete as the last sentence was left hanging. I edited it to round off the sentence. Hope you don’t mind 🙂

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  12. I was wondering where you were going with the story (and I actually thought it was one of your stories a la the independence day one) but loved the way it ended. Didn’t know all these about Vallabhai Patel and I blame our educational system partly; we are forced to read so much about the “family” but precious little about the real heroes.

    On that note, I remember reading about Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Lal Bahadur Shastri as a kid and that shaped a lot of my ideals and thoughts.

    Awesome post, as usual!

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    1. the family is the biggest in the industry today — the industry of politics. Your children would surely be reading about the leader of farmers aka Rahul Gandhi instead of the original one — Lal Bahadur Shastri! That’s the kind of times we are all living in today. Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar was an amazingly forward thinking social reformer who did so much for women’s education and upliftment. I am glad you got to read him as a kid.

      I just visited your blog and was amazed at the change. The last time I did, it looked different. How come?

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      1. A country is bigger than just one family (or even city/state, for that matter) – sadly, that is lost on the powers that be! What you said on Lal Bahadur Shastri is not far fetched at all, given how it is now claimed that Rajiv Gandhi sowed the seeds for economic liberalization and not P V N, although the current PM was the architect of the whole deal… Not sure what/whom to place the blame on

        WRT my blog, this was my first (original) blog which got tired of updating and started a new one, only to come back to this one 🙂 So you see that it looks different from the one that you saw before. Talk of wavering minds!

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        1. We can blame ourselves for the state of affairs we are in. Millennia of being ruled by kings and emperors we need them in a democratic set up too. So we have the ruling family which has its safe seats to get its family members elected for ever and ever to rule the country. Just imagine, centuries hence kids will be reading about the Gandhi dynasty that ruled over India just as the Gupta Dynastry, mughal dynasty, et al. And when you are rolling in money, in Swiss banks or otherwise, you can buy all the channels out and have a gala time promoting the heirs. I am a in a bad mood, please excuse my rant 🙂

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          1. There is really nothing to excuse and you echo my sentiments 100% 🙂 The part that I am completely baffled about is the media but as you said “money talks” loud and clear.

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  13. What an inspiring story, Zephyr. I think one needs a leader like him at all times, and more so in times like today where just about every communal, casteist, linguistic, regional, separatist and chauvinistic forces seem to be gaining the upper hand.

    In my opinion, no political leader, past or present, can measure upto him. I only hope that one day we will get a leader like him in the near, and not distant, future.

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    1. He achieved what he did by being impartial and a non-appeaser. For him India was paramount and whatever was ripping it asunder had to be controlled and unified into the whole. As they say in Tamil, vilayum payir mulayil theriyum…’ so was he an upright student too.

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  14. I was born and brought up in Gujarat. Any Gujarati noble man is our hero – so said my Grandfather.

    He used to tell us so many stories about Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, how he deserved to be the PM post freedom and such else. I don’t even remember all the stories of him, but I knew he was a very bold student and always stood up for justice.

    We need more of such men/women.

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    1. On hindsight, it was good that he was the Home Minister, else we would still be struggling with the egos of the maharajas, whom he firmly brought under the Indian Union as the Home Minister. Just imagine what would have happened had it been the other way round and the portfolios had been interchanged? We certainly need more such men and women. Come on young people! Stand up and be counted!

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  15. I still remember reading his biography when I was in 12th class. That book shaped a good part of me into what I am. An inspiring man for centuries, and truly the Iron Man of India. Not someone who wore a super hero costume; but someone who won the hearts of India with nothing but firm resolution and the will to do greater good for the country. I tend to think at times, where we would be now had he been the prime minister and not Nehru.

    An amazing tribute to one of our greatest leaders.

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    1. I know. I had heard so much about him from you back then 🙂 Glad that he shaped your thoughts and not the other one, whose autobiography you had read too, remember? 😀 Thank God for big mercies like that one 😀

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      1. I Know whom you are talking about! 😛

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  16. Such an inspiring man. I wonder where such honesty, integrity will power disappeared, are there any like him?

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    1. In times of general loss of values and principles, people like Sardar are scarce and difficult to find. But let us not lose hope. There might yet be a saviour out there somewhere waiting to be found as Magiceye says. 🙂

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  17. Indeed!
    Wonder why we dont find leaders like him anymore? Maybe we are not looking hard enough?

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    1. Or maybe politics has become such a murky thing that it drags even the good ones into it and destroys their goodness.

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