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Explained: The Myth About Sardar Patel “Unifying” India Alone

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi never misses an opportunity to blame country’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru for all the ills that the country is facing presently. He has repeatedly asserted that India would be a much better country if Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had become the first PM of independent India. By spinning lies and myths, he wishes, and in fact accomplishes, political benefits for his party.

However, to blame BJP alone for the spread of such misinformation would not be fair. Many contemporary historians and experts endorse the theory that viceroy Earl Louis Mountbatten had partitioned the country. This was not the case as the end of British rule and formation of Pakistan was part of a bigger gameplan of imperialist Britain to plant a loyalist nation between the communist Soviet Union and socialist India.

It is often said that it was only Sardar Patel who united the country by performing a sort of Ashvamedha/Rajasuya yajna, while Nehru was clueless. This narrative is entirely baseless as Nehru was internationally respected for his statesmanship. Interestingly, Congress never really challenged this theory. Perhaps because of apprehension of losing Gujrati votes or the awkwardness of berating the senior and significant congress leader.

This narrative, however, not just insults Nehru, a prominent maker of modern India, and other national leaders of that time but also thousands of freedom fighters in the princely states as well as their comrades in the British Administered Provinces.  While Sardar Patel’s contributions cannot be trivialised, one should remember that he was just the minister in-charge from 1947-50 and that he worked under Prime Minister Nehru whom ironically enough, BJP portrays as dictatorial megalomaniac when it suits their argument.

Just imagine Rajnath Singh invading Nepal, Bhutan and Burma without informing Narendra Modi or P. Chidambaram doing so against the will of Manmohan Singh, even when as weak of a PM as MMS was.  LK Advaniji wrote a series of blogs portraying an all-knowing Patel and incompetent Nehru, which would have been funny if they were not so pathetic and baseless.

Integration of princely states into rest of India was executed under a robust constitutional framework that was supervised not just by Nehru and his cabinet but by the Parliament (Constituent Assembly) in which the princely states held a considerable number of seats.  In fact, the constitutional process for integrating the states into India had begun with the colonial Government of India Act of 1935.  Linlithgow who championed the act through British Parliament became the Viceroy of India in 1936.  As part of the implementation of the act, the elections for the Provincial Assemblies were held in 1937.

According to VP Menon (who later worked under Sadar Patel in the Ministry of States), when it came to the states, Linlithgow was hamstrung by various treaties and agreements executed by the Crown with the rulers of those states.  Nonetheless much of the formula down to the Privy Purses were established before World War and later resumed by Nehru’s government in which Sardar Patel was the Minister for Home and States.

It has become common to blame Congress for the country’s partition and praise Sardar Patel for the unification of the country.  Such assertions deviate from the fact that Sardar Patel was also a dedicated Congressman and that Patel was among first to accept partition (for very good reasons) is another discussion.  What is relevant here is that partition, as well as unification, were facilitated by the same group of people and the same Indian Independence Act of 1947.

Of all the evils of the Independence Act of 1947, it also offered opportunities for India where most of the states were located.  First of those was that the Act recognised only two dominions: India and Pakistan.  Secondly, the paramountcy of the crown over the states was allowed to lapse, voiding all the treaties that constrained Linlithgow.  Congress (which already formed the interim government by September 1946) was initially nervous about the lapse of paramountcy, which they wanted to be transferred to India.  In theory, when paramountcy expires, monarchs become independent and will not be obligated to join India.

But these fears were allayed when Mountbatten stuck to the script and repeatedly told the rulers of the states that the crown does not recognise any dominion other than the two mentioned in the act and hence none of them could be recognised as an independent state.  Mountbatten further made it clear to the rulers that they will have no direct relation with the crown and will have to deal with one of the two dominions forever in future whether for trade, movement outside their boundaries or dealing with any domestic unrest and other threats.  Mountbatten also laid the restriction that the states will merge with the dominion with which it had geographic contiguity, which sealed the fate of most states including Hyderabad and Junagarh, the states that initially wanted to be part of Pakistan.  Pressure mounted on the rulers when Nehru declared that those states that refuse to join the Constituent Assembly will be considered hostile states.

Was Sardar Patel the one-man Army as claimed by the BJP and the “historians” of today?  Mountbatten not only continued to live in Delhi as Governor-General until June 1948 but signed the Instruments of Accession (on behalf of India) with all the 560 Princely States.  The only exception would be the accession of Hyderabad which was signed a couple of months later by his successor Governor General Rajaji.  In June 1947, Mountbatten held a series of meetings with rulers of states and gave them the deadline of August 15 to complete accession.

The Indian Army which is claimed to be commanded by Sardar Patel was in fact under control of the Mountbatten (later under Rajaji), and it had British generals until January 1949, while Sardar Baldev Singh was the Defense Minister.  It was Mountbatten and Douglas Gracey (CoGS, Pakistan Army) who prevented the Pakistani Army’s direct involvement during the crucial early days of Kashmir conflict.  Within the Ministry of States, Sardar Patel was assisted by VP Menon who did most of the negotiations and travelling.  VP Menon not only worked earlier under Linlithgow but was close to Mountbatten (having served him as Constitutional Advisor) and had direct access.  While Sardar Patel was a great patriot, leader, and an able administrator, he was 72 years old and kept feeble health.  Patel suffered a heart attack in March 1948 and was advised against serious work.

A Telugu saying preaches that “not even an ant could bite without Mahadev Shiv’s orders”.  Not only did Patel have the approval and support from Nehru at every stage but they both cleared all actions through the Constituent Assembly.  Many other leaders were instrumental in the process, like Sri Prakasa, then governor of Assam, who secured accession of Manipur.

Much of the credit for the 560 states signing the Instruments of Accession goes to Mountbatten’s royal lineage, the status of war hero and a charming personality.  However, VP Menon’s role chasing down the rulers to obtain signed documents, given the narrow window of a few weeks cannot be ignored.  But the “accession” was limited to defence, external affairs and communications/railways.  One cannot ignore the significant contribution of Ministry of States was in the later stages when rulers retired with Privy Purses, and the administration of their states was handed over first to “responsible governments” within the state and later to the neighbouring provinces.  Although this was not a trivial task, it was precipitated by the civil unrest that started in Orissa and Chhattisgarh but spread elsewhere.  While Sardar Patel was a minister in-charge who managed the politics in Delhi and the Constituent Assembly, trench work was done by VP Menon, local leadership, neighbouring provincial governments and other cabinet members and party colleagues of Patel and Nehru.  For example, the privy purse negotiation with the Deccan States was delegated to B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya and Rajendra Prasad.  One must not forget that the “unification of India” did not stop even after Patel’s death but was continued by Gopalaswami Ayyangar who succeeded as Minister of States.

During the freedom struggle, the activities of the Indian National Congress were largely confined to the provinces.  Jawaharlal Nehru was the first national leader to recognise that the destiny of the states was linked to provincial India.  While Mahatma Gandhi himself was born and raised in Porbandar and Rajkot, he mostly stayed away with few exceptions like the entry of Dalits in temples.

In his first adventure, Nehru travelled to Nabha in 1923, marched with the Akalis for protection of Gurudwaras, arrested, chain-ganged and sentenced to prison.  By 1939, Nehru became the permanent President of All India States Peoples Conference (ASPC) which was an umbrella organisation for freedom struggles against the rulers of states who were allies of British.  ASPC demanded not just self-determination within the states but integration with (free) India.  One can only be naïve to imagine that while every man, woman and child in the provinces have given up their careers and family for freedom and self-determination, nearly equal number of people (who shared languages and customs) in the states could have just waited for the arrival of Sardar Patel’s (Ashvamedha) stallion.  After the accessions were signed, the restlessness among the peoples grew even more.

Many of the leaders of ASPC negotiated with the rulers on behalf of Nehru, Patel, and VP Menon and had become members of responsible governments in the states.  One can only be delusional to pretend that the first Prime Minister of India, as well as the leader of peoples of the states, had no role in the unification of India.  Constituent Assembly had a States Committee of which Nehru was the Chairman.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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