Sardar Vallabhai Patel: Biography, Achievements, Statue of Unity

Recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the world’s tallest statue (182 meters) of Sardar Vallabhai Patel in Gujarat. Although Sardar Patel’s valuable contribution towards Indian National Movement and Post-independence consolidation is commendable, however, building such a colossal statue with really huge investment (around Rs. 3000 crore) in just a few years raises serious political, economic and social concerns.

Regrettably, the statue will not remain the tallest for long, as Maharashtra is also planning to open the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial in 2021 in the Arabian Sea at 212 meters, thus starting the competition of building colossal statues of all the important leaders in various other states, effectively diverting all the funds that could be better utilized for solving some burning issues like farmer suicides, poverty etc.

In this article, we will start with a brief intro of Sardar Patel, then an in-depth analysis of his contribution towards Indian National Movement and Unification of India (important for prelims, GS1 and History Optional) and then the various issues surrounding the statue of unity (GS2 and GS3).

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Who is Sardar Vallabhai Patel?

  • Vallabhai Patel (1875-1950) was a political and social leader of India who played a vital role in India’s struggle for independence and subsequently helped its integration into a united as well as an independent nation.
  • He was called the “Iron Man of India”, and was often addressed as “Sardar” which means “chief” or “Leader” in many languages of India.
  • Patel was a successful lawyer and he entered the Indian national movement after he was inspired by the work and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.

What was his role in the Indian National Movement?

As INC secretary: In 1917, Sardar Vallabhai Patel was elected as the Secretary of the Gujarat Sabha, the Gujarat wing of the Indian National Congress.

Kheda Peasant Struggle: In 1918, he led a massive “No Tax Campaign” to ask the farmers not to pay taxes after the British insisted on tax after the floods in Kheda/Kaira, Gujarat.

  • The peaceful movement made the British officials to return the land taken away from the farmers.
  • His effort in this campaign to bring together the farmers of his area got him the title of ‘Sardar’.

Non-cooperation Movement, 1919-21: He actively supported the non-cooperation movement launched by Gandhi. Patel toured the country with him, recruited 3 lakh members and helped collect over Rs. 1.5 million.

Bardoli Satyagraha – In 1928, Bardoli farmers faced a problem of increase in tax rate. Farmers refused to pay the extra tax = the government seized their lands in retaliation. The agitation prolonged more than 6 months. After several rounds of negotiations by Patel, a deal was struck between the government and farmers’ representatives = lands were returned to farmers.

Civil Disobedience Movement: In 1930, Sardar Patel was among the leaders jailed for taking part in the famous Salt Satyagraha Movement launched by Gandhi. His inspiring speeches during the Movement transformed the outlook of several people, who later played a major part in making the movement successful. When Gandhi was put into jail, Patel led the Satyagraha movement across Gujarat. Later Patel was also imprisoned.

As President of INC: Patel was freed in 1931, after an agreement signed between Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Irwin, the then Viceroy of India. The treaty was popularly known as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact.

  • The same year, Patel was elected as the President of Indian National Congress in its Karachi session where the party deliberated its future path.
  • In this session, the Congress committed itself towards defence of fundamental and human rights. It was also in this session that the dream of a secular nation was conceived.

1934 Legislative Elections: During this, Sardar Patel campaigned for the INC. Even though he did not contest, he helped his fellow party members during the election.

Quit India Movement 1942: Patel continued his unwavering support to Gandhi when many contemporary leaders criticized the latter’s decision to launch the movement.

  • Patel travelled throughout the country propagating the agenda of the movement in a series of heartfelt speeches.
  • He was arrested again in 1942 and was imprisoned in the Ahmednagar fort till 1945 along with other Congress leaders.

Repeated topics (with notes) for UPSC CSE prelims!

How was he contradictory to Nehru and Bose?

  • Patel’s journey often saw a number of confrontations with other important leaders of the Congress.
  • He openly voiced his annoyance at Jawaharlal Nehru when the latter adopted socialism in 1936.
  • Patel was also wary of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose and considered him to be “keen on more power within the party”.
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Sardar Patel and the Partition of India

  • The separatist movement led by Muslim League leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah resulted in a series of violent Hindu-Muslim riots all over the nation just before the independence.
  • In Patel’s opinion, the open communal conflicts propelled by the riots had the potential to create a weak government at the Centre after independence which will be disastrous for consolidating a democratic nation.
  • So Patel started working on a solution with V.P.Menon, a civil servant during December 1946 and accepted his recommendation of establishing a separate dominion with respect to the religious inclination of states.
  • He also represented India in the Partition Council.

What were his contributions to Post-independence India?

As Home Minister: After India achieved independence, Patel became the 1st Home Minister and also the Deputy Prime Minister.

Integration of India: Patel played a very important role in post-independence India by successfully integrating around 562 princely states under the Indian Dominion.

  • The British Government had given the rulers of princely states with 2 options – they could join India or Pakistan, or they could stay independent.
  • This clause made the integration process all the more difficult.
  • Congress entrusted this daunting task to Patel who started the campaign for integration on August 6, 1947.
  • He was successful in integrating all of the princely states except J&K, Junagarh, and Hyderabad. But eventually dealt with the situation with his sharp political skills and secured their accession.
  • Therefore, the India that we see today was a result of the efforts put in by Sardar Vallabhai Patel.

Making of Constitution: Patel was a leading member of the Constituent Assembly of India and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was appointed on his recommendation.

Civil Service: He played an important role in establishing the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service.

Dealing with Pakistan:

  • Patel dealt ruthlessly with Pakistan’s efforts to invade Kashmir in September 1947. He oversaw an immediate expansion of the army and made improvements in other infrastructural aspects.
  • He often disagreed with Nehru’s policies, particularly about his dealings with Pakistan regarding the refugee issues.
  • He organized many refugee camps in Punjab, Delhi and later in West Bengal.

How was he influenced by Mahatma Gandhi?

  • Gandhi had a huge effect on Patel’s politics and thoughts.
  • He pledged unwavering support to Gandhi and stood by his non-violent principles all through his life.
  • While leaders like Nehru, C.Rajagopalachari and Maulana Azad criticized Gandhi’s idea that the Civil Disobedience Movement would drive the British out of the country, Patel provided his support to Gandhi.
  • Despite the unwillingness of the Congress high command, Gandhi and Patel forced the All India Congress Committee to ratify the civil disobedience movement and launched it without delaying further.
  • Upon Gandhi’s request, he gave up his candidacy for the post of the Prime Minister of India for Jawaharlal Nehru.
  • He suffered a major heart attack after Gandhi’s death and the great soul left the world on 15 December 1950.

Awards and Honours

  • Sardar Patel was posthumously conferred the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, in 1991.
  • His birthday, October 31, was declared Rashtriya Ekta Divas in 2014.

What is the Statue of Unity?

  • The Statue of Unity is the world’s tallest statue (182 meters) located in Gujarat built in commemoration of Patel’s efforts.
  • The statue is located near the Sardar Sarovar Dam in the tribal-dominated Narmada district, close to Ahmedabad.
  • The 182-meter height was decided to match the number of assembly constituencies in the state.

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What are the issues about the project?

Huge investment

  • The cost of the project is almost Rs. 3000 crore and it raises questions about the most important priority for a cash-strapped government.
  • The government argues that the statue is capable of earning considerable revenue from tourism.
  • However, it could also be argued that the money spent on the stature could rather be spent on several modern higher education institutes, or for irrigating tens of thousands of under-productive agricultural land.

Social concerns

  • The statue is located near the Sardar Sarovar Project which continues to be suffering from the accusations of a failure to properly resettle and rehabilitate the Scheduled Tribes members, who were displaced.

Political will

  • The tallest statue in the world has been built in a very short time compared to infrastructure and developmental projects such as road construction that takes so many years to get completed.
  • This is the reminder that only the projects with the political will get completed in time, not the projects which truly meant for the development of people.

Misusing CSR

  • Around 10% of the funding came from the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of various public sector undertakings (PSUs) which are already affected by various issues such as poor demand, private’s competition etc.
  • It is a classic example of government forcing the companies to pay up for the government’s grand projects. This will result in statue-building competition in other states as well.

Environmental concerns

  • The statue has been built in an ecologically sensitive zone in the Narmada riverbed, which environmentalists say, has geological fault lines
  • The statue is very near Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary, and the construction and tourism activity damage the ecologically sensitive area.
  • Ever since the project was launched, activists have been pointing out that it never complies with environmental regulations.

Made in China

India’s great proof of nationalism has been built with Chinese help. Although the statue was designed and made in India, the bronze panels had to be cast in a foundry in China, as there is no such facility to handle such a huge project is available in India.

Practice Question

  1. The Statue of Unity despite having the potential for boosting tourism and generating employment has been criticized by many. Discuss the reasons.
  2. Examine the contributions of Sardar Vallabhai Patel towards post-independence consolidation.
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