'Such matters can only be resolved peacefully if we take
Fifty years after India won freedom, the myth that Sardar Patel
was anti-Muslim persists. In this fascinating essay, Dr Rafiq Zakaria,
the respected scholar, reveals the truth about Patel
and India's Muslims.
willing consent of the Muslim community with us'
I have no intention of raking up the
controversy about the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid issue; but it has a
bearing on the role of the Sardar, to which
I must refer because it brings out his non-communal approach on
a very sensitive issue. Also, it is in sharp contrast to the attitude
of those in power at the most crucial time when the Masjid was
demolished in bright daylight under the eye of the law. And with
foreknowledge of the authorities.
It proved how hollow was their
claim to be the defenders of secularism. They were as guilty,
if not more, as the perpetrators of that heinous crime. Their
hypocritical stance and deliberate inaction brought shame and
disgrace to our nation. I need not go into its history or the
various phases through which the dispute was allowed to pass.
In fact it had taken a serious turn for the first time, threatening
Hindu-Muslim relations as early as in 1949, when the idol of Ram
was installed in the precincts of the Masjid. Pandit Govind Ballabh
Pant was then the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. The Sardar
was much worried because he feared the matter might take an ugly
turn. The mob might take the law into its hands He, therefore,
wrote to Pant, advising him to exercise restraint but at the same
time cautioning him that any unilateral act of force by any party
in the dispute must be met by force. And that law-breakers were
to be given no quarter at any cost.
His letter is of historic
importance and has relevance even today, because it provides the
guidelines for resolving such disputes, which affect the religious
sentiments of the two communities. I am, therefore, quoting it
January 9, 1950
My dear Pantji,
The prime minister has already sent to you a telegram expressing
his concern over the developments in Ayodhya. I spoke to you about
it in Lucknow. I feel that the controversy has been raised at
a most inopportune time both from the point of view of the country
at large and of your own province in particular. The wider communal
issues have only been recently resolved to the mutual satisfaction
of the various communities. So far as Muslims are concerned, they
are just settling down to their new loyalties.
We can reasonably
say that the first shock of Partition and the resultant uncertainties
are just beginning to be over and that it is unlikely that there
would be any transfer of loyalties on mass scale. In your own
province, the communal problem has always been a difficult one.
I think it has been one of the outstanding achievements of your
administration that despite many upsetting factors, communal relations
have generally improved very considerably since 1946. We have
our own difficulties in the UP organisationally and administratively
as a result of group formations. It would be most unfortunate
if we allowed any group advantage to be made on this issue.
On all these grounds, therefore, I feel that the issue is one which
should be resolved amicably, in a spirit of mutual toleration
and goodwill between the two communities. I realise there is a
great deal of sentiment behind the move which has taken place.
At the same time, such matters can only be resolved peacefully
if we take the willing consent of the Muslim community with us.
There can be no question of resolving such disputes by force.
In that case, the force of law and order will have to maintain
peace at all costs. If, therefore, peaceful and persuasive methods
are to be followed, any unilateral action based on an attitude
of aggression or coercion cannot be countenanced. I am therefore
quite convinced that the matter should not be made such a live
issue and that the present inopportune controversies should be
resolved by peaceful (methods) and accomplished facts should not
be allowed to stand in the way of an amicable settlement. I hope
your efforts in this direction will meet with success.
Excerpted from Sardar Patel and Indian Muslims, by Rafiq Zakaria, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1996, Rs 125, with the author's permission. Readers interested in buying a copy of the
book may write to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Kulapati K M Munshi Marg, Bombay 400 007.