After the brutal lynching of a dentist in Delhi’s Vikaspuri threatened to escalate into a communal issue due to mal-information by social media miscreants who claimed the attackers were Muslims, Delhi’s Additional DCP (West) Ms. Monika Bhardwaj swung into action. With two well timed Twitter messages she laid communal tensions at rest. Those who had created and spread the misinformation, attacked her on twitter with the most disgusting, sexist languages possible.
But the quick-thinking cop need not worry. If the first Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of the country – Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel - were alive, he would have given the cop more than just a pat on the back. That’s because Monika Bharadwaj had behaved exactly like the Ironman of India did when faced with the nation’s worst communal carnage – the Partition holocaust of 1947. Sardar Patel actually went a step ahead – on occasions he even supressed the truth to maintain communal harmony, protect Muslims.
Migration of people between the newly announced border, had been going on for months, but reached an escalation during the momentous days of independence for Pakistan and India. Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Ali complained that not a street in Lahore was unburnt. Leaders of both countries promised to do their best to quell violence and Nehru and Liaquat Ali even travelled together in North India and Pakistan to douse communal fires.
It wasn’t enough. Home Minister Sardar Patel was the most burdened of the lot. But the veteran politician who had singlehandedly turned the tides saving hundreds of lives during a devastating flood in Gujarat in 1927 when he was the Mayor of Ahmedabad, braced up for one tragedy after another.
Thousands of refugees from West Punjab poured into Delhi bringing with them tales of woe and violence. The situation was grim. Sardar Patel publicly threatened partisan police officers with dire punishments. He roared, “I will not tolerate Delhi becoming Lahore”. On September 7, 1947 he issued orders to shoot rioters at sight. Four Hindu rioters were shot dead at Old Delhi railway station.
But it wasn’t enough. Violence and stabbings of Muslims were reported from different corners of Delhi. On the evening of September 9, as Sardar was sitting with his States Department secretary V P Menon and Cabinet secretary H M Patel in his house on 1 Aurangzeb Road, a man rushed into his house to say that a Muslim had been butchered closely.
V P Menon records this incident in his book ‘The Transfer of Power in India’ in these words: “In a voice charged with the deepest anguish the Sardar exclaimed: “What is the point in waiting and discussing here? Why don’t’ you get on with the business and do something?”
Next morning a Delhi Emergency Committee was formed. Two types of camps were formed in different parts of Delhi, one for Hindu and Sikh refugees from West Punjab and the other of Muslims of Delhi itself, too frightened to go home.
Sardar was a tired man during these days. He had four officials reporting to him regularly and he personally toured the disturbed areas and refugee camps to supervise relief work. It was during this time that Mahatma Gandhi noted about the Home Minister, “The Sardar always used to walk with his head high but I tell you today he walks with his head bent.”
Sardar and Nehru did something unconstitutional during this time. Realising the invaluable experience of wartime emergencies of Mountbatten, they asked him to head a Central Emergency Committee responsible to the Cabinet. This CEC did tremendously useful work assigning flow of refugees, movement of food, disposal of corpses, prevention of epidemic etc.
When some Sikh and Rajput soldiers attacked Muslims in Delhi instead of protecting them, the Sardar after having them replaced with the Madras Regiment, lamented before Devadas Gandhi, “We have lost control over our own soldiers.
Sardar’s secretary V Shankar recounted Sardar’s anxiety for the Dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya:
“Threats had been held out against the safety of the shrine. There was a state of panic among the hundreds of men, women and children who resided in the vicinity of the Dargah or had flocked to its safety. The Sardar wrapped his shawl round his neck and said, “Let us go to the saint before we incur his displeasure.” We arrived there unobtrusively.
Sardar spent a good forty five minutes in the precincts, went round the holy shrine in an attitude of veneration, made enquiries here and there of the inmates and told the Police Officer of the area, on pain of dismissal, that he would hold him responsible if anything untoward happened.”
The Sardar was ready to go to any extent to ensure peace in the country. On more than one occasion he even supressed the truth to do that. Sucheta Kripalani recounts one such incident.
Sucheta had received a report about horrors perpetrated on Hindus and Sikhs in Rawalpindi. She released the report to the press only for Sardar to give her a ‘severe scolding’ but not before the Sardar had ensured the suppression of that explosive report.
Sardar’s point was simple: truth was important but the truth that can cause harm to innocents, is useless and should be discarded.
Sucheta Kripalani later said, “His searching eyes were looking out for anything that may aggravate an already difficult situation, and his firm hand guided us.”
The tales of what Sardar Patel did for communal harmony in the country (despite uttering the world ‘secular’ only once in public) are many and if the current crop of Indian leaders – those in power and those in opposition - had quarter of his sense whether with their Hinduness or with their alleged secularism, India would have been a much better, stronger nation. Yet while they fight to claim him, his Hinduness, they fail to live or claim the principles he lived for making him a much talked about, but little understood leader of the nation.
Rajmohan Gandhi in his brilliantly researched biography ‘Patel’ writes, “Vallabhbhai’s was a Hindu heart. He was, unquestionably roused more by a report of 50 Hindu or Sikh deaths than by another of 50 Muslim deaths. But his hand was just. Patel agonised over Hindu and Sikh suffering but punished Hindu and Sikh offenders, a sense of duty rather than his heart governing the Home Minister’s hand… while Vallabhbhai’s frank tongue revealed his Hinduness, many an observer failed to see Patel’s effort to enforce the law, or his anxiety to save Muslim lives.”
His sense of duty at all cost made Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel the Ironman of India to whom the nation owes a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
And that is the kind of ‘sense of duty’ that Delhi cop Monika Bharadwaj displayed during her handling of the death of the dentist in Vikaspuri in Delhi. A young cop with the pulse of the nation in her hand, she reacted quickly with her tweets, preventing the situation from escalating. Sardar Patel would have been supremely proud of her.
The time has come to resurrect the Sardar, not in the form of an expensive dead statue at a place where few go, but through our deeds and the principles that guide us to fair and just actions.
Ironman Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel would say ‘Jai Hind’ to that.
(Satyen K. Bordoloi is a writer based in Mumbai. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)
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