“Our unity was that of brothers.”
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad wrote to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – his birthday falls on October 31 – in 1950.
The present generation, being brought upon knowledge from Google, Wikipedia, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, and Television, has a distorted view of the Indian freedom struggle and its leaders. The majority of young Indians believe that Sardar Patel was some kind of extremist Hindu leader, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was a Muslim leader and Jawaharlal Nehru was a liberal secular politician, and each of them was politically opposed to the other two. People fail to appreciate that all of them belonged to the same party, Indian National Congress (INC), and fought for the freedom of the country together.
In the first government of free India, Nehru was the Prime Minister (PM), Patel served as the Home Minister and Maulana held the office of Education Minister. Any belief that they were hostile to each other is nothing but a wrong understanding of politics and history.
Maulana Azad and Sardar Patel considered each other close friends. They admired each other’s patriotism and commitment towards the social uplift of the Indian people. At times, they held differences of opinions regarding the means to attain the same goals, but these were constructive arguments strengthening a larger cause of attaining freedom. In a letter to Patel, Maulana wrote, “We struggled together like members of the same family for the freedom of our country. We spent together our hours of joy and together we drank the draughts of bitterness. We shared our joys and our sorrows. If we were together for the meetings of the Congress Working Committee, the Indian jails also found us together to spend our days there. We had our disagreements on many an occasion and we had our quarrels. But, as our unity was that of brothers, so were our disagreements and quarrels. If we quarrel among ourselves, soon we were to unite once again.”
Maulana also told him, “I hold more dear the continuance of the relationship that has existed between us than the membership of the Cabinet.”
The feelings were mutual, and Patel also wrote to Maulana, “(Our relationship) transcends official contacts and is based on years of comradeship in the freedom struggle and the conduct of affairs of a great and noble organisation.”
The most important judgment, or respect, for Sardar Patel’s leadership qualities can be found in India wins Freedom: The Complete Version, by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. While discussing the 1946 elections for the Congress president, Maulana lamented that he had proposed Nehru as his successor. (Maulana was the Congress president from 1939 to 1946) It should be noted that Nehru became head of the government on 15 August 1947, on account of him being the Congress president at that time.
Maulana wrote, “When I decided not to stand myself I did not support Sardar Patel. We differed on many issues but I am convinced that if he had succeeded me as Congress President he would have seen that the Cabinet Mission Plan was successfully implemented. He would have never committed the mistake of Jawaharlal which gave Mr Jinnah the opportunity of sabotaging the plan. I can never forgive myself when I think that if I had not committed these mistakes, perhaps the history of the last ten years would have been different.”
So, the Maulana believed that Patel could have stopped the designs of Jinnah to partition the country and India would have remained united. This, arguably, is the greatest compliment to Sardar Patel. The fact that Maulana Azad passed this judgment exhibits the secular roots of the Indian Freedom Struggle and the ideals of its leaders.
(Saquib Salim is a Historian and writer)