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Vithalbhai Patel: The Forgotten Indian Leader

The Indian National struggle for Independence was filled with illustrious, intelligent and astounding leaders. While history has been kind to some who are well known with a legacy of their own, unfortunately there are plenty who haven’t received the praise and recognition they rightfully deserve.

Among many such towering leaders and social reformers was Vithalbhai Patel, one of the most prominent and esteemed champions of the Indian freedom struggle whose contributions are forgotten and also have been unjustly overlooked by historians.
Born in Nadiad, in the Indian state of Gujarat, Vithalbhai was third of 5 Patel Brothers. Vithalbhai entered the Middle Temple Inn in London. Returning to Gujarat in 1913, Vithalbhai became an important barrister in the courts of Bombay and Ahmadabad. Despite the fact that he seldom truly accepted Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy and leadership, Patel joined the Congress and the freedom struggle.

He didn’t have any specific regional base for support but was a greatly influential leader who fuelled in the nationalist struggle by his fiery speeches and publications. Patel grew immensely popular and respected by his oratorical mastery and scintillating wit, both of which enabled him to belittle the British officials. He was an astute and practical leader throughout his life.

In a short span of 60 years of his life, Vithalbhai rose to become the first elected President of the Central Legislative Assembly in India (chamber of elected and appointed Indian and British representatives with limited legislative powers). As the President, he set established practices and stratagems for conducting business in the assembly. Apart from this, he also had won a seat in the Bombay Legislative Council and as the member of the council he played a crucial role in drafting 2 bills before the council- the Bombay District Municipal Act Amendment Bill and the Town Planning Bill. Patel, initially a powerful Congress pioneer who became the Chairman of the Reception Committee of the Special Session of the Congress held in Bombay in August 1918, contributed greatly in the proceedings of legislative affairs for the welfare and wellbeing of Indians, even under the British rule.
Vithalbhai’s approach to politics was simple. He had no demur to the use of any means provided the end goal was achieved. Only the objective and the goal remained constant and that was India’s freedom. On the other hand Gandhi Ji’s approach was more spiritual and moral.
Hence, when Gandhi Ji had prematurely aborted the Non-Cooperation movement due to the Chauri- Chaura incident, Patel left the Congress and formed his own “Swaraj” party with leaders like Chittaranjan Das and others who were unhappy over the abandonment of the Non-Cooperation movement by Gandhi Ji. The Swaraj Party sought to thwart the British rule by crippling the government after gaining entry in the councils. There was also a salient polarity between Vithalbhai and Vallabhbhai. Vithalbhai was inclined towards arriving on conclusions based on his own analysis and didn’t ever let anyone influence his judgments, however Vallabhbhai devotedly followed the advice of his “guru” Mahatma Gandhi; mostly without questioning their rationale. Later on, Vithalbhai traveled to various places in the United States of America and Europe where mayors of important cities usually received him. When he was in London, the relations between the British and Ireland began to deteriorate and the Irish leader Eamon De Valera who came into power wanted Patel to act as an arbitrator between Ireland and the British Empire.

Patel’s health began to worsen in Europe and as his last political move before passing away in Geneva, Switzerland, he signed a statement composed by Subhash Chandra Bose which declared Gandhi as a failed leader and called for a militant form of non-cooperation. On his deathbed, he left a will in which he gave away 3 quarters of his money to Bose for promoting India’s militant struggle. However, Vallabhbhai had questioned the veracity of Vithalbhai’s signature on this will when he saw one of the copies. As a result there was a case, which went on for a year leading to the courts judgment that his legal heirs could only inherit Vithalbhai’s property.

Image Credits: News 18 (Hindi)

Abhinandan Kaul

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