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Sardar differed with Netaji over Congress policies

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, two stalwarts of India's freedom movement, argued hard over the latter's attempt to get re-elected as Congress president in 1939.

Patel and Mahatma Gandhi's differences with Bose over his seeking re-election and other issues of policy have been described in detail in the series, Collected Works of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (Volume VIII), edited by P N Chopra.

The volume deals with correspondence Patel had with various leaders as an influential member of the Congress between January 1, 1939 and March 31, 1940.

Bose was adamant ot stand for re-election in view of the 'progressive sharpening of the anti-imperialist struggle in India,' adding that the people felt 'as in other free countries, the presidential election in India should be brought on the basis of definite problems and programmes.'

However, in a rejoinder, Sardar Patel along with Rajendra Prasad, J B Kripalini and other leaders said, 'Hitherto presidential election had been unanimous. Subhasbabu has set up a new precedent.' They asked Bose to reconsider his decision and allow Dr Pattabhi Sitaramayya's election be unanimous.

Bose refuted the contention and asked Patel and his colleagues in the Congress Working Committee not to take sides in an organised manner as it would be unfair. 'If the president is to be elected by the delegates and not be nominated by influential members of the working committee, will Sardar Patel and other leaders withdraw their whip and leave it to the delegates to vote as they like?' Bose asked.

On January 24, 1939, Bose advised Patel not to divide the Congress by putting up Sitaramayya as a candidate after the withdrawal of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad from the race. The very next day, Patel wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru, asking him to issue a statement against Bose, if possible, chronicles the book.

'I have been nominated as a candidate from several provinces... And I have been receiving pressing requests from socialists as well as non-socialists urging me not to retire... It is possible that this impression of mine is not correct and that my re-election is not desired by the majority of delegates. But this could be verified only when the voting takes place on the 29th January and not earlier.' On January 29 he was re-elected Congress president by 203 votes, defeating Sitaramayya.

Soon after Patel, Maulana Azad, Rajendra Prasad and others resigned from the CWC, suggesting the new president be left free to nominate a new committee and frame his own programme.

The volume notes that Sarat Chandra Bose, Subhas Chandra's brother, wrote a strong letter to Patel for allegedly carrying on a 'malicious and vindictive propaganda against the rashtrapati.' Patel refuted that he had claimed Bose's illness was 'faked'. He later said Sarat Bose's letter was written more in anger than in reason. 'After all what answer one can give to such a passionate and abusive denunciation?' he asked.

The volume, which includes documents from official and non-official sources including the private papers of Sardar Patel and confidential records of the Intelligence Bureau, describes the antagonism that existed between Patel, the 'iron man of India', and Bose.

Patel wanted Bose ousted from the presidentship of the Congress and suggested to Dr Rajendra Prasad, in a letter on July 12, 1939, to issue a show cause notice to Netaji for violating the All-India Congress Committee decision on prohibition. Patel found fault with Bose for his attack on the prohibition scheme of the Bombay government.

He pointed out, 'the abolition of the drink evil is one of the foremost planks in the Congress platform... It is an irony that Bose now opposes this programme.' Patel especially criticised Bose's meeting with Muslim League leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah. However, soon after meeting Jinnah, Bose communicated his views to Mahatma Gandhi.

The volume also brings out how Patel cajoled, flattered and even threatened and never failed to air his grievances against the top leaders of the day including Mahatma Gandhi.

With the 'internal strife' in the Congress reaching its climax during the Tripuri session, held in March 1939, Bose later resigned from the presidentship and formed the Forward Bloc with his supporters in May.

Patel, in no uncertain terms, also expressed his unhappiness about Gandhi's attitude towards the nomination of persons of various communities to the Rajkot council. He was exasperated over Gandhi allegedly writing three letters 'surrendering everything to the Muslims and Bhayats.' According to Mahadev Desai, Gandhi wrote, 'I know you have to suffer the consequences of my many stupid acts', to which Patel replied, 'There have been no stupid acts upto now, but these three letters that you propose to send are stupid.' The upshot was that the letters were eventually destroyed with Gandhi admitting 'the step would have been suicidal'.

Patel strongly rebutted Jinnah's allegation of repression of Muslims under 'Congress rule'. In a statement on December 11, 1939, Patel said these allegations were '' wild, reckless and intended to endanger comunal peace''. Even Jinnah spurned the offer of the then Congress President Rajendra Prasad to submit the charges for investigation by an independent tribunal.

Patel's differences with Maulana Azad on certain crucial matters remained. In a letter to Rajendra Prasad, Patel observed that the Maulana had 'unnecessarily' removed Gopichand Bhargava and preferred to replace him by Shanno Devi in the Punjab provincial executive. '...Maulana has his own way of doing things,' Patel said. He was further unhappy with Maulana's handling of the formation of the coalition ministry in Sind under Allabux, feeling the Congress in Sind did not act with prudence and created trouble for Allabux.

Patel was never found wanting in showering praises. His greatest tribute to Mahatma Gandhi came when he described him as a dictator who 'rules with love and patience'. Addressing delegates of the Gandhi Seva Sangh on May 8, 1939, he commented, 'Gandhiji is the greatest Hitler I have seen. But the influence he exerts is born of his inexhaustible love and patience.'

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