Rediff Logo freedom BANNER ADS Find/Feedback/Site Index


It is a pity the Sardar's remarkable contribution
to the strengthening of secularism in
India has not been properly appreciated

Sardar Patel Fifty years after India won freedom, the myth that Sardar Patel was anti-Muslim persists. In this fascinating essay, Dr Rafiq Zakaria, the respected scholar, reveals the truth about Patel and India's Muslims.

As was his practice, the Sardar listened patiently to members on both the sides; but expressed no opinion. Meanwhile a delegation of some of the leading members of the minorities met Nehru and pleaded for their right to propagate their religion. Nehru was sympathetic but told them frankly that he did not believe in organised religion and so he was unable to appreciate its propagation. But this was, he said, his personal view; they should discuss it with Patel and he was sure he would be more appreciative of their sentiments and do the needful.

The Sardar heard them, when they saw him next, with patience. He was amused at what Nehru had told them. He assured them, however, that he would do whatever he could to help them out. In the result, despite strong opposition, he exerted all his prestige and influence to get the word 'propagate' incorporated in Article 25 of the Constitution.

Likewise, it was because of the Sardar's persuasion, that the Constituent Assembly passed Articles 29 and 30, which have guaranteed to minorities, the right to conserve their 'distinct language, script or culture' and 'to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.' These constitute the arsenal of their rights as enshrined in Chapter III of the Constitution which is enforceable by the courts.

It is a pity that this remarkable contribution of the Sardar to the strengthening of secularism in India has not been properly appreciated; had he not put all his weight behind their incorporation, the minorities might not have been able to maintain their identities in India, as they have been able to do.

There is also the evidence as recorded by General Roy Butcher, a Britisher, who was then the commander-in-chief of the Indian army. He was on cordial terms with the Sardar, who had developed a special friendship with him. One day, while Patel was convalescing at Dehra Dun, Butcher called on him in his chamber. They talked for an hour on various issues. Butcher later put the account of their conversation in writing.

One of the things that Patel emphatically told Butcher was that 'everyone though that he was anti-Muslim but that was not the case at all. He was quite ready to guarantee the safety and well-being of Muslims all over India.'

In the last year of his life, Patel gave yet another proof of his assertion that he was not anti-Muslim, this was in the case of Justice Bashir Ahmed of the Madras high court, whom the Government of India had proposed as a permanent judge of the Madras High Court.

Chief Justice Kania of the Supreme Court of India negatived the proposal. When the file reached Prime Minister Nehru, he was furious, he wrote on January 23, 1950 to Patel, who as home minister, was directly in charge of such appointments, complaining against Kania's attitude. Nehru angrily asked Patel, 'whether a person who functions in this improper way is fit enough to be the head of judiciary of India.'

He pointed out that he had discussed the matter with Rajaji, who was then the governor-general of India and hailed from Madras and he had fully agreed with him. He, therefore, suggested that 'in view of these facts we would ask Chief Justice Kania to resign. It would be a great risk to make him the permanent Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Of India.'

Excerpted from Sardar Patel and Indian Muslims, by Rafiq Zakaria, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1996, Rs 125, with the author's permission. Readers interested in buying a copy of the book may write to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Kulapati K M Munshi Marg, Bombay 400 007.