This is my small tribute to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel whom I rate as one of India’s tallest political leaders ever, on his 138th birth anniversary which was on October 31. A controversy is brewing in India where the 2014 General Elections,still some 6-8 months away, threatens to swamp everything else. Was he a greater leader than India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru? Would India’s first few years as an independent sovereign state have been different had he been at the helm of affairs? These are questions that are being widely debated in the last few weeks.

My tribute is not to make comparisons between Nehru and Patel but to share what I have learnt of Patel. He passed away in 1950 before I was born so I have no recollections about him. I do remember Nehru who I saw as a child since he lived till 1964 when he passed away not being to come to terms with the disaster of the Indo- Chinese war of 1962.

To my mind, Patel was a very efficient administrator, who was admired and respected both by the civil servants in the bureaucracy as also by the rank and file of the Indian National Congress. He was a man of strong principles who did more than anyone else to integrate a motley collection of states and kingdoms, large and small, to form what we now know as India.

It is said that Gandhi persuaded Patel to give up his claim to head the Government in favour of Nehru. We know that he was more practical than Gandhi and Nehru who were if anything too idealistic in their expectations of the new nation of Pakistan. I am one of the many who believe that Sardar Patel was not given his due primarily by the followers of the Nehru clan. Consider he was given the Bharat Ratna 41 years after his death, (becoming the oldest ever recipient at the posthumous age of 116 !). Surely leaders who had far less impact on Indian history received the award before him.

The Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, wants to build the Statue of Unity to honour Sardar Patel. Whether this project will be completed smoothly and how it turns out remains to be seen. What we cannot forget today is the enormous contributions Sardar Patel made to India when it needed a strong man at the helm of affairs. Sure, there will be more debates about his role vis a vis Nehru’s in the fight for Independence and the first few years after we became an independent nation. These are inevitable. They cannot take away from the fact that Patel’s contributions with respect to the integration of India, the maintenance of law and order in the fragile years after the horrors of Partition, and his founding India’s own administrative and police services can never be forgotten.

Join me in paying homage to a true son of India.