Sardar Patel, the Iron Man of India was not only a great leader of the independence struggle, his statesmanship and determinations are filled with innumerable anecdotes worthy of recapitulation.
Sardar is a much revered man despite his strong views on various issues in pre-independent India. If merger of princely states is the single feat for which he is greatly remembered, Patel had advised Nehru on a range of other issues confronting the government.
It was unusual on part of the Sardar comment on foreign affairs, yet he put his views when it warranted. On Tibet he wrote to Nehru in June 1949, “We have strengthened our position in Sikkim and Tibet. The farther we keep away from the Communist forces the better. I anticipate that as soon as the Communists have established themselves in the rest of China, they will try to destroy Tibet’s autonomous existence. You have to consider carefully your policy towards Tibet in such circumstances and prepare from now for that eventuality.”
Nehru ignored Patel’s views and the two widely differed on the timing of India’s recognition of China’s new government. Patel again wrote to Nehru, “My own feeling is that we do not stand to gain anything by being in the lead (i.e. by recognizing China ahead of most other countries). In case you feel we must recognize China ahead of others, I feel we must have a discussion in the Cabinet”. Nehru’s reply was “if we follow others, it would mean that we have no policy of our own, if we follow other countries”.
When China invaded Tibet in 1950, India’s response was an unsigned and unofficial note handed over to the Chinese Foreign Office expressing regret and surprise. Nehru was more than willing to understand the Russian and Chinese fears but Sardar Patel was less accommodative and accused China of aggression.
He wrote to Nehru in November 1950, “The Chinese government has tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intentions. During this period of correspondence the Chinese must have been concentrating on an onslaught on Tibet. The tragedy is that the Tibetans put faith in us and we have been unable to get them out of the meshes of Chinese influence.
Their actions indicate that even though we regard ourselves as friends of China, the Chinese do not regard us as their friends. The undefined state of the frontier has the elements of potential troubles between China and us. For the first time after centuries, India’s defense has to concentrate on two fronts simultaneously”. The letter ended with a suggestion that both meet early and decide. The meeting never took place.
It was in Kashmir that Patel had shown great magnanimity. On Nehru’s request Patel asked the Maharaja of Kashmir to leave the state. Yet, his views were ignored when the Constituent Assembly considered the Kashmir question. Despite strong feelings among the members, as the acting PM, Patel agreed to give special status to Kashmir.
Sheikh Abdullah had pressed for it. Since this was also backed by Maulana Azad and Srinivasa Ayyangar and the three seemed to represent Nehru’s wishes, Patel did not want to discard it in Nehru’s absence. Later on in a private conversation Patel remarked Jawaharlal royega. Four years later Abdullah was dismissed and arrested. Patel was unhappy with Nehru’s handling of Kashmir and observed,’ Kashmir is Nehru’s baby and he made no effort to pick it up.’