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Sardar and the swayamsevaks

Dec 07 2013, 15:02 IST
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Patel appreciated some RSS attributes. But he was not in favour of letting the organisation penetrate the state apparatus. Patel appreciated some RSS attributes. But he was not in favour of letting the organisation penetrate the state apparatus.
SummaryPatel appreciated some RSS attributes. But he was not in favour of letting the organisation penetrate the state apparatus.

Patel appreciated some RSS attributes. But he was not in favour of letting the organisation penetrate the state apparatus.

As early as the 1920s, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel showed ambivalent attitudes vis-ŕ-vis the Muslim minority in Gujarat and India at large. On the one hand, he had been supportive of the Khilafat Movement, considering that it had “as a matter of fact, been a heartbreaking episode for the Indian Muslims, and how can Hindus stand by unaffected when they see their fellow countrymen thus in distress?” This sense of solidarity was fostered by his belief — that he emphasised in the 1940s in the name of national unity — that Muslims “originally belonged to India and were converted from Hindus”. On the other hand, Patel complained to Mahatma Gandhi one day that “the manners and customs of Muslims are different. They take meat while we are vegetarians. How are we to live with them in the same place?” Gandhi replied “No sir. Hindus as a body are nowhere vegetarians except in Gujarat.” Patel’s attitude vis-ŕ-vis the Muslim minority changed after Partition. In a letter he wrote to Rajendra Prasad on September 5, 1947, he explains that, as home minister, he had “already given licences to two or three Hindu dealers for the sale of arms”, suggesting that he was promoting anti-Muslim militias.

Soon after Independence, in November 1947, Patel came to Junagadh — a state whose Nawab wanted to accede to Pakistan — in order to direct the occupation of the state by the Indian army. He seized this opportunity to visit the remnants of the temple of Somnath. According to his close associate, V.P. Menon, he “was visibly moved to find the temple which had once been the glory of India looking so dilapidated. It was proposed then and there to reconstruct it so as to return it to its original splendour...” He declared that “The restoration of the idols would be a point of honour and sentiment with the Hindu public”. While Gandhi and Nehru disapproved of a decision that was, in their view, affecting the religious neutrality of the state, Patel received the support of the Sangh Parivar.

He was to show some sympathy to the RSS a few weeks later. In December 1947, he made a speech in Jaipur that reflected his will “to turn the enthusiasm and discipline of Rashtriya Swayamsevak

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