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SARDAR VALLABHBHAI PATEL

SARDAR – The leader, who united India at its most trying times after Independence, amalgamated nearly 550 princely states within the Union of India. He played a major role in the freedom struggle of India and in its integration as a cohesive and independent nation. He was first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of India.

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was renowned as the ‘Iron Man of India’ in the country and across the world.

BORN IN A FAMILY OF HEROES

Sardar Patel was born on October 31, 1875 in Nadiad, a small village in Gujarat. His father Jhaverbhai was a farmer and had served in the army of Rani Laxmibai. His mother Laad Bai was a simple, deeply religious person. Sardar Patel’s early education took place in Karamsad. Thereafter he joined a school in Petlad. After two years, he joined a high school in Nadiad. He passed his high school examination in 1897, at the age of 22.

Vithalbhai, Sardar’s elder brother, was also a well-known patriot and the Chairman of the Indian Legislative Council.

When he was 18 years old, Sardar’s marriage was arranged with Jhaverba, a young girl of 12 or 13 years from a nearby village. The couple had 2 children – a daughter Maniben, born in April 1904, and a son Dayabhai, born in November 1905. Jhaverba died in January 1909.

A DREAM WELL PURSUED

Sardar Patel had a cherished ambition of becoming a barrister. He could not let the family’s poverty be a hindrance. So he himself designed a plan – he would study to become a lawyer, work and save funds, travel to England and study to become a barrister. In those days, a candidate could study in private and sit for an examination in Law. Sardar borrowed books from a lawyer of his acquaintance and studied at home. Occasionally he attended courts of law and listened attentively to the arguments of the lawyers.

He passed the Law examination with excellence within 2 years.

Sardar Patel then set up his household at Godhra and began his practice of law with absolutely no facilities. He hired a room, borrowed money from friends and furnished the room with some chairs and mats. The young, confident and honest Sardar made name as an eminent lawyer within a short span of time.

As per the plan, Sardar started saving a plenty of money to fulfill his dream. When he applied for a pass and a ticket for England, they arrived in the name of “VJ Patel” at Vithalbhai’s home. The elder brother, who bore the same initials, expressed his concern of going to England first and without any hesitation, Sardar Patel allowed and also financed his brother’s stay and began saving again for his own goals.

After his wife’s death in 1909, he journeyed to England and enrolled at the Middle Temple Inn in London. Finishing a 36-month course in 30 months, Sardar Patel topped his class despite having no previous college background. Returning to India, he settled in Ahmedabad and became one of the city’s most successful barristers.

THE SHIFT OF CHOICE

Sardar earned as much as 8000-10000 rupees a month and planned to expand his practice and accumulate great wealth to provide his children with modern education. He dressed like the English and sometimes even ridiculed politics, non-cooperation movements and sacrifices for the country.

So was the nature of Sardar Patel until he met Mahatma Gandhi at a political conference in Godhra. Being impressed by Gandhiji’s victory over the British in Champaran, he started adopting his views. The relationship between Gandhiji and Sardar Patel was concretely defined when Gandhiji was elected the President of the Gujarat Sabha and Sardar the Secretary, in 1917. Sardar undertook the leadership of the Satyagraha of 1918 when rains destroyed the crops in Gujarat. The farmers in Kaira District were particularly in distress. The Government demanded the payment of the revenue taxes to the last pie. The farmers turned to Gandhiji as their refuge and Sardar assumed the responsibility of the entire struggle. He gave up his western clothes, and began to dress like the poor and humble peasants.

The farmers revered and admired the barrister so much that one word from the Sardar and they were ready to lay down their lives. The Government had to give up.

FOR THE PEOPLE, OF THE PEOPLE, BY SARDAR

1920 – Sardar Patel gave up his practice as a barrister and joined the non-cooperation movement of the Government. He founded the Gujarat Vidyapeeth to educate the children to grow up to be patriots.

Sardar Patel was elected Ahmedabad’s municipal president in 1922, 1924 and 1927. During his terms, Ahmedabad was extended a major supply of electricity and it underwent major education reforms. Drainage and sanitation systems were extended all over the city. He participated in the Nagpur flag Satyagraha from May to August in 1923 to protest against the stopping of a procession, which carried the national flag.

In 1928, Sardar Patel once again came to the rescue of the farmers, this time it was in Bardoli, in Surat. The Government increased the tax on the land. He urged the farmers not to pay, declaring the hike unjust. He prepared the farmers for Satyagraha. In retaliation, the Government confiscated their land, cattle and crops and arrested hundreds of farmers. The non-violent war lasted for about 6 months. Sardar was an active part of the Dandi March and the Quit-India Movement.

HE UNITED INDIA

Sardar Patel handled the integration of all the princely states into the Indian Union with great expertise. Under the Cabinet Mission, all the princely states had the right to join Pakistan, India or remain independent. The Sardar declared, “We are all knit together by bonds of blood and feelings. Therefore, it is better for us to make laws sitting together as friends.” Sardar Patel dealt with Hyderabad and Junagadh firmly when these states tried to join Pakistan or remain independent.

Sardar Patel formed the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and other Central Services to assist the process of nation building. The ‘Iron Man of India’ died in Bombay in December 1950. He left behind a unified India.

Sardar Patel reminds of India’s and Indians’ potential. Knowing him is not enough; we need to follow him!

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A name synonymous with poetry, devotion and Gujarati literature – Narsinh Mehta is the pride of Gujarat and its invaluable language treasures. His lyrics have swayed the hearts of millions of Gujarati people from scholars to illiterate poor for over six centuries. The compositions attributed to Narsinh are inseparable from Gujarati ethos and identity. He was given the proud title of ‘Adi Kavi’ which means ‘first among the poets’.

Narsinh Mehta was born in Talaja, near Bhavnagar, in 1414, Vad Nagar Brahmin by caste. He was a staunch follower of Lord Krishna and there are many instances when the Lord is believed to have come to his rescue. Narsinh faced a lot of problems as a child as he lost his mother in 1425. His uncle raised him, who too passed away soon after Narsinh’s marriage to Manekbai probably in 1428. The couple shifted to his cousin Bansidhar’s house in Junagadh. But Bansidhar’s wife was ill-tempered and did not welcome the couple well. Fed up of the taunts and insults, Narsinh one fine day left the house and went to a nearby forest in search of some peace, where he fasted and meditated for seven days. A legend says that Lord Shiva appeared, appeased by his prayers, took him to Vrindavan and showed him the eternal raas leela of Shri Krishna and the gopis, the cowherd girls of Vrindavan. Narsinh was transfixed by the spectacle and burnt his hand with the torch he was holding but he was so engrossed in the blissful vision that he was oblivious of the pain. He is believed to follow the command of Lord Krishna to sing His praises and the experience of the rasa in this mortal world. He resolved to compose around 22,000 kirtans or compositions.

This dream-like experience changed the life of Narsinh Mehta. He took the blessings of his sister-in-law and thanked her for abusing him. He started living a poor but transformed life in Junagadh with his wife and two children, son named Shamaldas, and a daughter for whom he had special affection, Kunwarbai. Narsinh had little interest in his social life and possessed immense faith in the Lord. He sang and danced to the tunes of Lord’s songs with other disciples, irrespective of their caste, creed or sex. The people, especially Nagars of Junagadh mocked at him at every possible opportunity. But he was truly devoted and poured his heart out in his songs.

All the happenings of Narsinh Mehta’s life when the Lord came to help him are composed in the form of poems and verses. Apart from these, he has written many wonderful divine poems in praise of the Lord, and these summarize the spiritual truths. In a soul-stirring incident, after his daughter Kunwarbai’s marriage in around 1447 to Sringara Mehta’s son, she became pregnant and it was a custom for the girl’s parents to give gifts and presents to all the in-laws during the seventh month of pregnancy. This custom, known as Mameru, was simply out of the reach of poor Narsinh. But the Lord came to his rescue and the Mameru was performed grandly.

At another time, when Narsinh Mehta and his brother were very hungry while they were traveling, the Lord appeared in the form of a shepherd boy, took them to a cottage and offered them food. A little later when his brother returned to take a vessel he had left there, he found neither the cottage nor the shepherd boy anywhere. These and many other such stories in the Gujarati Literature deepen our faith in the Lord and our love for the great poet-saint.

Not many people are aware of the wide range of poetic themes Narsinh handled, dramatic narratives, autobiographical compositions, love songs, philosophical poems of unsurpassable greatness, poems expressing honest moral concerns and the poems on Lord Krishna’s childhood. His poems have carved a niche on our minds and heart.

Mahmud Begada invaded Junagadh in 1467 and soon after many Muslim raids; the city was annexed to the Gujarat Sultanate. Perhaps to escape the consequences, Narsinh went to Mangrol. He is believed to die at the age of 66 in 1480. The striking composer of Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite bhajan ‘Vaishnav jan to…’ Narsinh Mehta’s life and work will never fail to inspire us. All glories to this great icon of Gujarat!

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Kanhaiyalal Munshi was a versatile man of great ideas and courage. He was an Indian freedom fighter, a politician, writer, educationalist, environmentalist and by profession, a lawyer. The list, however, does not end here. Munshi was also the founder of the organization called ‘Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’. The aim of the Bhavan that was established in 1938 was to create awareness of virtues like ‘Truth, Love and Beauty’ (Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram). His aim was to develop the Bhavan as an important cultural organization of the country. Munshi was also instrumental in establishment of Bhavan’s College, Hansraj Morarji Public School, Rajhans Vidyalaya and Rajhans Balvatika.

Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi was born on 30 December, 1887 in the town of Bharuch in Gujarat. He studied in Vadodara, where he always excelled in academics. At college, his thoughts were deeply influenced by Sri Aurobindo, a prominent freedom fighter-philosopher. A prize winner at the B.A. and LL.B. examinations, Munshi enrolled himself initially as a Pleader and later as an Advocate in the Bombay High Court. He first joined Dr. Besant’s All India Home Rule League in 1916 and later the Indian National Congress.

At the personal front, Munshi was married to Lilavati Sheth in 1926 (who was one of his literary critics) after the death of his first wife, Atilakshmi Pathak, whom he married when he was just 13.

Munshi always looked upon himself as a “sea shell thrown up by the mighty flood of Indian renaissance”. He actively participated in the freedom struggle of India alongside Mahatma Gandhi. Munshi was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council in 1927. He joined the

Swaraj Party but later on supported Indian National Congress for the Salt Satyagraha in 1930. He was imprisoned several times during the freedom struggle, including a rigorous captivity during the Quit India Movement of 1942.

A great admirer of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Munshi served in the Central Legislative Assembly in the 1930s. His career graph contained a whole lot of contributions to the society. Munshi was elected to the Bombay Legislative Assembly in 1937 and became the Home Minister in the first Congress Government. He served as India’s Agent-General in Hyderabad, until its accession in 1948. He became a member of the Constituent Assembly in 1948. He was the Food and Agriculture Minister of the Government of India in 1950. He was Governor of Uttar Pradesh during 1952-57. Later, he resigned from the Congress and became the Vice President of the newly formed ‘Swatantra Party’, which supported free enterprise. The party enjoyed limited success, but eventually died out. Later, Munshi joined the Jan Sangh.

As a part of other major achievements, Munshi was on the ad hoc Flag Committee that selected the Flag of India in August 1947, and on the committee which drafted the Constitution of India under the chairmanship of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. He and Purushottam Das Tandon were among those who strongly opposed propagation and conversion in the constituent assembly. He was also the main driving force behind the renovation of the historically important Somnath Temple by the Government of India just after independence.

Kanhaiyalal Munshi, apart from this political background, was a very well-known name in Gujarati Literature. He was an outstanding novelist, particularly of historical romance. His literary work ‘Kulapati’s Letters’ published in the Bhavan’s Journal, were widely read and appreciated.

Munshi, when not seen as a politician or a litterateur, was a noted environmentalist. He initiated the Van Mahotsav in 1950, when he was Union Minister of Agriculture and Food, to increase the area under forest cover. Since then Van Mahotsav a weeklong festival of tree plantation is organized every year in the month of July all across the country and lakhs of trees are planted.

Kanhaiyalal Munshi was given the name ‘Kulpati’, meaning ‘Chieftain’ for all his devotion and services to the society.  He passed away in 1971.

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Abbas Tyabji with Gandhiji

A very unique example of voluntary riches to rags – Abbas Tyabji was a nationalist and an Indian freedom fighter from Gujarat.

Born in Baroda before the Indian Revolt of 1857, Tyabji was a Sulaimani Bohra Muslim and the grandson of the Merchant Prince Mullah Tyab Ali Bhai Mian. He was an England-educated barrister, brought up in an atmosphere covered with loyalty to the Empire. He lived in England for eleven years and then moved on to the princely state of Baroda to become the Chief Justice of the (Baroda) Gujarat High Court.

During those days, Tyabji was seen as a model of Britishness, leading a Western lifestyle and wearing impeccably tailored English suits. Though a nationalist at heart, he would not stand adverse criticism of the British as people, or of the Raj. His moderate but simmering nationalism and his absolute integrity and fairness as a judge were widely recognized and lauded.

Tyabji’s life changed when he chaired an independent fact finding committee of the Congress to look into the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. He decided to leave behind all the comforts when he was in his late 60s – a time when people usually take a backseat. He dumped his ‘British lifestyle’ and plunged himself whole heartedly into the freedom struggle. His first hand experience of the British atrocities committed by General Reginald Dyer turned him to become an ardent follower of Gandhiji.

Tyabji’s changed lifestyle included burning his English clothes and adopting Khadi as his clothing. He travelled around the country in third class railway carriages, stayed in simple dharamshalas and ashrams, slept on the ground and walked miles to preach non-violent disobedience against the British Indian government. He continued this new lifestyle well past the age of seventy, including several years in British jails.

Abbas Tyabji was also a key ally of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel during the 1918 Kheda Satyagraha, and the 1928 Bardoli Satyagraha. In the hot summer of 1928, when Tyabji was nearing 80, he went around Gujarat’s villages in a bullock cart popularizing “the livery of freedom”. After these, in early 1930, the Indian National Congress declared Purna Swaraj or independence from the British Raj. As a first act of civil disobedience, Gandhiji launched the well-known Salt Satyagraha. Tyabji was then chosen as the immediate successor in case of Gandhiji’s arrest. On May 4, 1930, after the Salt March to Dandi, Gandhiji was arrested and Tyabji was placed in charge of the next phase of the Salt Satyagraha. On May 7, 1930, Tyabji led the Dharasana Satyagraha with Gandhiji’s wife, Kasturba by his side. This was a raid on the Dharasana Salt Works in Gujarat. On May 12, before reaching Dharasana, Tyabji and 58 Satyagrahis were arrested by the British. After Tyabji, Sarojini Naidu was appointed the leader of the Satyagraha.

Tyabji’s was a household name in the 1930s. One popular slogan then went like this: “Khara rupaiya chandi ka/ Raj Tayab-Gandhi ka”. Tyabji had an affectionate relationship with Gandhiji and they exchanged an unending stream of letters. The ‘ever-smiling’ Tyabji kept poor health in the later years. Advised to spend more time in the hills, he moved to a cottage, ‘Southwood’, in Mussoorie, where he died in the night of June 9-10, 1936. After his death, Gandhiji wrote an article in the Harijan newspaper titled “G. O. M. of Gujarat” (Grand Old Man of Gujarat), including the following praise for Tyabji: “At his age and for one who had never known hardships of life it was no joke to suffer imprisonments. But his faith conquered every obstacle. He was a rare servant of humanity. He was a servant of India because he was a servant of humanity. He believed in God as Daridranarayana. He believed that God was to be found in the humblest cottages and among the depressed of the earth. Abbas Mian is not dead, though his body rests in the grave. His life is an inspiration for us all.”

With the polarization between the communities growing at a fast rate in our country, the common heritage of the legacy of people like Abbas Tyabji seems to have no place in our memories.

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While many know him as Mahatma Gandhi’s personal secretary and translator of his autobiography, few have a real sense of the role Mahadev Desai played in the Mahatma’s life. Also other attributes include him being an Indian freedom fighter and a nationalist writer of high regard.

Mahadev Desai was born on 1 January 1892 in a village named Saras in Surat district of Gujarat. His father Haribhai Desai was a teacher in a primary school. Mahadev’s mother Jamnaben belonged to Dihen, the ancestral place of this Desai clan. The family belonged to the Anavil Brahmin caste, one of the leading communities of the district. Mahadev lost his mother when he was only seven years of age.

Mahadev was educated in a manner befitting a brilliant son of a poor but cultured father. He got married to Durgaben in 1905, at the age of 13. He received his primary and secondary education at different places. He matriculated from Surat in 1906, at the age of 14, winning a scholarship for higher education. He then moved to Bombay in January, 1907 and joined the Elphinstone College and graduated from there after passing B.A Degree examination in 1910. Mahadev joined the Law College thereafter and got his LL.B in 1913.

Mahadev had many qualities imbibed in him that endeared him to all. He overlooked defects in others, but was always ready to see and acquire their virtues. He may be labeled a man of serious temperament but was warm hearted, jovial in nature, and possessed the art of combining fun and humor in a natural and easy way in the midst of serious and important work, so much so that there was always around him an atmosphere of playfulness, mirth and enthusiasm.

After completing his education, while working for his livelihood, Mahadev translated Lord Morley’s ‘On Compromise’ into Gujarati and won the handsome prize of a thousand rupees. This work was later published in 1925. He tried to practice law in courts but was not successful, and through his friend Vaikunth Mehta secured a job in the Central Co-operative Bank of Bombay. But Mahadev soon got tired of the irregularities being practiced there as well as a lot of traveling involved in the job, and left it. Also his destiny was fast drawing him into the folds of Gandhi.

Mahadev Desai joined Gandhiji in 1917 along with Narhari Parikh, Mohanlal Pandya and Ravi Shankar Vyas, and became his most devoted secretary for over 25 years, from 1917 to 1942. The four were the earliest supporters of Gandhi. That was the beginning of a relationship destined to last for a quarter of a century and Mahadev not only remained with Gandhi but also merged himself completely with his master. He began writing his diary, called ‘Day to day with Gandhi’ from 13 November 1917 and continued writing it until 14 August 1942 the day before he died.

After Mahadev Desai joined Gandhiji, three important events took place in their life as well as that of the country. These were the Champaran Satyagraha (1917), the Bardoli Satyagraha (1930), and in all these Mahadev actively participated and courted arrest. In 1921 Gandhiji sent him to edit Motilal Nehru’s periodical, the Independent, Allahabad, and there too he was arrested and jailed. After his release in January 1923, he returned to Ahemdabad and looked after the editorial work of the Navajivan. His sharp editorials on the hollowness of 1919 constitutional reforms and his outburst against the British Government kept up the tempo of the freedom struggle. Desai created a sensation by bringing out a hand-written cyclostyled newspaper after the printing press was confiscated by the British government. In 1924 he took over as editor of Navajivan and also saw his home blessed with a son, Narayan Desai, who is also a non-violent activist. Mahadev toured the country with Gandhiji, explaining the salient features of the freedom struggle. He accompanied Gandhiji in 1931 to the Round Table Conference in London. The chief period of interest is the time Gandhiji was imprisoned in the Yeravda Jail near Pune from 1931 to 1934. Desai wrote most of his important works on Gandhi during this period. In the Quit India Movement of 1942, he along with Gandhiji was arrested and sent to the Aga Khan Palace for imprisonment. Mahadev knew that to live with Gandhi was never an easy task; one would always feel being on the mouth of a volcano. Yet he adjusted his bearing so well that he became indispensable to Gandhi.

On August 15, 1942, Mahadev Desai died of a massive heart-attack at the age of 50. It was unacceptable for Gandhiji and the entire country mourned his death. Mahadev had become what he could. Gandhiji used to visit his Samadhi daily and had said: “Remaining the disciple, Mahadev became my Guru. I visit his Samadhi to remember and emulate his worthy example. Pray God; let us walk in his foot-steps. ”

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Sardar Patel, the ‘Iron man of India’ played a major role in country’s struggle for independence. He followed the Gandhian principles and joined him in the struggle for independence. He is remembered for uniting India post independence, where he successfully convinced 565 princely states to give up their ruler ship and join India. The problem arose when the Nizams of Junagadh, Hyderabad and Jammu and Kashmir wanted to join Pakistan. This was the problem that needed to be solved. The leaders and the British officials could seek no one more appropriate but Sardar to achieve it. It was with his sincere and dedicated efforts and strategy that these states remained the legacy of India. He carried out Bardoli and Kheda Satyagrah and worked on various other issues pertaining to non-violence, peace, abolition of taxation movement, establishing modern-all India services in the state and many more.

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