The direction given by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to Uttar Pradesh government for removal of idols placed by Abhiram Das is unlikely to be part of the National Unity Day celebrations to mark the 144th birth anniversary of the ‘Iron Man’ tomorrow. Had the then chief minister of UP – Govind Vallabh Pant (recipient of Bharat Ratna) and home minister Lal Bahadur Shastri paid heed to Sardar, India would have not been on tenterhooks today.
It is true that Pant was a staunch loyalist of Patel but he misjudged the reaction of his guru after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Pant was under the impression, like most of Hindu Mahasabha leaders, that Patel will not come down heavily on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and architects of Ayodhya strategy, as Patel in their opinion did not subscribe to Nehru’s idea of secular India.
It should be mentioned that Patel proved him wrong by banning the RSS and also directed the UP government for the removal of idols after finding Pant playing his own politics on the issue and developing a communal tone during the by-elections of 1948. Patel sent a letter to Pant stating, “The Prime Minister has already sent to you a telegram expressing his concern over the developments in Ayodhya. I spoke about it to you in Lucknow. I feel that the controversy has been raised at the most inopportune time…”
Pant instead of acting, wrote back to cool down Sardar. The letter stated, “Whenever in difficulty, I look up to you. You are always so kind and generous and unfailing source of strength and light in moments of gloom and depression… Thank you for your letter about the Ayodhya affair… Things are still in a fluid state and it will be hazardous to say more at this stage.”
Apart from Patel, Nehru was also perturbed. He too sent a letter to Pant in order to express his frustration over the defiance of orders of his deputy. He wrote, “All that occurred in Ayodhya was bad enough but the worst feature of it was that such things should take place and be approved by some of our own people and that they should continue. I find that communalism has invaded the minds and hearts of those who were the pillars of the Congress in the past. It is a creeping paralysis and the patient does not even realise it.”
With an eye on the Hindu vote, Pant adopted delaying tactics and allowed attachment of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhumi site and also backed the open threats of his prodigy Baba Raghav Das that he would resign from the legislative assembly if the idol was removed. He also dissuaded Nehru and Patel from proceeding to Ayodhya, pleading that the district magistrate has been removed and the satisfactory solution was in sight.
On October 18, 1950, Pant made his position on the issue clear by sending a narrative prepared by the UP Home Secretary on the affairs in Ayodhya as desired by Patel. The narrative was, in fact, complementary to the argument put forward by the district magistrate that it was not possible to remove the idol.
In this narrative, an extract from the district gazetteer of Faizabad was also inserted, mentioning Babur had visited Ayodhya in 1528 and halted there for a week, a fact that has been denied by historians like RS Sharma and many others.
One after the other setback took a heavy toll on Patel who had earned tremendous popularity on the basis of his actions against Hyderabad and was regarded as a tough administrator. He handled, as Home Minister, the aftermath of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and pressure of the Prime Minister who wanted Sardar to suppress communalists with an iron fist.
An exhausted Patel wrote back to Nehru, “I have kept myself almost in daily touch with the progress of the investigation regarding Bapu’s assassination… All the main accused have given detailed statements of their activities… It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that hatched the conspiracy.”
It was the Hindu Mahasabha who had crafted the Ayodhya strategy and used Abhiram Das as a pawn that caused ripples in political circles in post-partition India.
Patel died on December 15, 1950, little realising that one day his birth anniversary will be celebrated as National Unity Day and a political party enjoying the backing of the RSS would forward the name of Veer Savarkar for the Bharat Ratna while countrymen anxiously look at the apex court with sunken eyes and apprehension.