Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, known as the Bismarck of India, took over as Independent India’s first Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Minster at a time when the world situation was turbulent. A bitter cold war between US and Soviet Russia, ongoing Korean War, Israel emerging on the horizon and the intricate diplomatic issue in Formosa and mainland China were on one side and on the other was a mischievous Pakistan showing hateful hostilities against India and a sensitive power struggle in Nepal affecting India’s security. Tibet was in trouble as Chinese advances made its intentions clear putting Indian position on a test.
Though nobody can put the clock back, some political pundits have opined that, had Sardar Patel been in charge of external affairs, things would have been handled in a different way and perhaps our borders would have been much more settled and calmer without losing an inch in Kashmir to Pakistan.
Being India’s first Home Minister, it’s obvious that Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel is more known for making the map of India complete with the successful merger of more than 550 princely states into the Indian dominion. In a tense atmosphere that India was witnessing immediately after partition, Sardar Patel stood as a rock of confidence and patriotism before the elements trying to weaken and fragment our society and hence became revered as the Bismarck of India. But as were his views on domestic affairs-strong and focused to bring harmony and peace, so were his policies on the external affairs, which he never tried to hide. Whenever there were occasions to express his views he would say it loud and clear. He gave all cooperation to Pt Jawaharlal Nehru yet would caution him on the foreign policies that he felt were not in the best interest of the country.
Blessed with the virtues of fortitude, integrity and steel-like determination, his guiding force for the domestic and external affairs was simply peaceful coexistence and love for the nation.
He was eager that India’s relations with the neighbouring countries should be strengthened. Here is a note that he wrote after a meeting with the Ambassador of Nepal on 1st December 1950,
“… I told them that they had to come to important decisions in the light of the delicate international situation prevailing in the world today. The situation was such that neither they nor we could afford to have instability and insecurity in Nepal. There was no doubt that in Nepal’s difficulties it was India and no other power which could assist it. Britain’s role in Asia or South Asia is no longer decisive…None of us desired to encroach on Nepal’s independence; indeed, it was everybody’s concern here to preserve it. It was therefore in our mutual interests to see that the present difficulties were settled to our mutual satisfaction and advantage.”
“….There was no point in suggesting or achieving a solution which would leave a trail of bitterness behind. That would be no lasting situation…in Nepal -there was every advantage in being liberal rather than niggardly and in doing things with a good grace…”
It was as if Sardar Patel was commenting on the present situation in Nepal !! No wonder that a disciple of Patel’s legacy and statesmanship, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi had echoed same sentiments regarding Nepal recently.
To the surprise of many Sardar Patel was in favour of India’s continued membership to the Commonwealth. Pt Nehru was of the view that “Purna Swaraj” means severance of ties with the Commonwealth. Patel sent a cable to Nehru on 23rd April 1949 which said, “Our position throughout has been and should be that by our association with Commonwealth our status as Sovereign Republic must not be affected. I feel that by recognition of King as Head of Commonwealth as a symbol of free association of its members we do not derogate from that status. Headship of Commonwealth with this restriction does not involve any allegiance to Kingship.”
His pragmatic diplomacy made him to take a decision that no payment of cash-balances be made to Pakistan till Kashmir issue was settled. He advised Finance Minister R.K. Shanmukham Chetty on 12th December 1947 to put off the payment of Rs 550 million to Pakistan. Mr. C.D. Deshmukh, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India approached Gandhi ji, who was already briefed by Pt Nehru and Mountbatten to believe that India was morally bound to transfer the balances to Pakistan . At that time Gandhiji’s fast unto death to restore communal harmony created a public perception that it was directed against Panel’s refusal to give the cash balances to Pakistan. That was the only time when we saw Patel yielding against his wishes and releasing money to Pakistan. He was of the opinion that Pakistan was created under a nefarious design of the British. Noted writer Prakash Nanda quotes in his book ' Sardar Patel's Foreign Policy'- "In fact, in one of his letters to industrialist G D Birla, Sardar Patel had clearly linked the creation of Pakistan to the unhindered access of the Western powers to oil in the Gulf region".
He believed India’s China policy was flawed. In a letter to Pt Nehru on , 7th Nov 1950 he said, “we have to consider what new situation now faces us as a result of the disappearance of Tibet, as we know it, and the expansion of China almost up to our gates. Throughout history, we have seldom been worried about our north-east frontier. The Himalaya has been regarded as an impenetrable barrier against any threat from the north. We had a friendly Tibet which gave us no trouble.”
Discussing the impact of this new situation on the domestic scene , Sardar Patel wrote to Nehru in the same letter, “ Hitherto, the Communist Party of India has found some difficulty in contacting Communists abroad, our in getting supplies of arms, literature, etc., from them. They had to contend with difficult Burmese and Pakistan frontiers on the east or with the long seaboard. They shall now have a comparatively easy means of access to Chinese Communists, and through them to other foreign Communists. Infiltration of spies, fifth columnists and Communists would now be easier. Instead of having to deal with isolated communist pockets in Telengana and Warrangal we may have to deal with Communist threats to our security along our northern and north-eastern frontiers where, for supplies of arms and ammunition, they can safely depend on Communist arsenals in China.”
Sardar Patel was a great supporter of the African unity and wanted India to forge strong ties with African nations. It’s a great coincidence that while our nation prepares to celebrate his birth centenary, one of the greatest followers of the Patel legacy, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is hosting the African Summit , turning it into the biggest international event post independence.