“Let us go to the Saint (Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya) before we incur his displeasure”, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel told this to his secretary Vishnu Shankar in 1947 when the frenzy of communalism was at its peak due to the partition.
Many people believe Sardar to be an anti-Muslim man without even trying to read about him. He knew what people thought about him and had once said at Lucknow (in 1948), “I am a true friend of the Muslims although I have been described as their greatest enemy. I believe in plain speaking. I do not know how to mince matters.”
The man was different from the perceptions and proved it in his actions. Sardar’s secretary, Shankar, writes, “He (Sardar Patel) had full faith in India as a secular State and was all for reasonable concessions by the majority community to meet the genuine apprehensions and aspirations of the minority. On more than one occasion he gave ample proof of this. It was entirely due to his inspiration that the minorities with one voice gave up their claims to reservation of seats, thereby enabling the Constitution to be framed on a secular democratic foundation. He was no less ruthless in meeting the challenge of the Hindu Mahasabha and R.S.S. than he was in meeting the challenge of Muslim communalists.
“The India of his dreams was a haven of security for a loyal Hindu, a loyal Muslim, a loyal Christian, and a loyal Sikh but not for those who engaged themselves in treasonable activities and propagated anti-national beliefs, whether they were Hindus, Muslims, or Christians… In matters of appointments and service claims particularly, I can vouch for the fact that he made merit and seniority the criteria, irrespective of caste, community, or the State of domicile and that any instance of injustice that came to his notice never went unremedied, whichever community was involved, even if it meant the review of past decisions. His generous treatment of Rampur and Bhopal and even the erstwhile refractory Nizam is alone sufficient to disprove the taint of communalism that is generally cast on him.”
Sardar was a man of action and he proved his secularism with actions. In 1947, the country was on the verge of a civil war. Hindus and Muslims were baying for each other’s blood. In Delhi, thousands of Muslims had to leave their homes. At that time the caretaker of Dargah Nizamuddin came to Sardar. He told him about the threats of attack on Dargah, where thousands of riot victims had taken refuge.
Sardar, India’s Home Minister, did not tell any officer to go to Nizamuddin. Sardar Patel himself, Shankar writes, “wrapped his shawl round his neck and said, “Let us go to the Saint before we incur his displeasure.” We had to take security precautions and arrived there unostentatiously and unobtrusively. Sardar spent a good 45 minutes in the precincts, visited the holy shrine where he went around in an attitude of veneration, made inquiries here and there of the inmates, and then left after making arrangements for its safety. He told the Police officer in charge of the area, on pain of dismissal, that he would hold him and his men responsible if anything untoward happened to the Dargah and that if he found any such situation threatening, he would let me know immediately. I am sure it was this visit that saved the Dargah and the thousands of Muslims living under its protective shelter, from a disastrous fate.”
Sardar Patel also travelled through East Punjab and ensured that Muslims could be saved. The ruler of Patiala after Sardar’s visit ensured that Muslims in Malerkotla were saved from any violent attack. This happened in several places.
Sardar visited several places where rioting had happened asking people to give up violence. In Mehrauli, he told a large gathering of Hindus, “A large number of Muslims had been living but now they have left the place. The same kind of thing has happened in Delhi, the capital of India, and that is deplorable. The communal rioting has given India a bad name abroad and provided the foreigners with a chance to say that the Indians are not capable of managing their own house.”
In Mumbai during a visit to stop violence, Sardar told a gathering, “We have just now heard people shouting that Muslims should be removed from India. Those who do so have gone mad with anger. A lunatic is something better than a person who is mad with rage.”
When Sardar came to know of anti-Muslim violence in Alwar with the complicity of the ruler of this princely state. He went to Alwar and in public speech exhorted the ruler, “The majority community must protect the minority whose interests, as it were, come as part of a trust to the former. Muslims, after all, number only four crores. Hindus about thirty crores. It is incumbent on them, therefore, to protect the Muslims in India”.