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‘Only I Know…’: Sardar Patel Wrote This Letter On Nehru’s 60th Birthday

On the occasion of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s 60th birthday on 14 November, 1949, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel penned a heartfelt tribute to the Prime Minister of the newly independent nation.

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Despite what some might say today, the mutual admiration between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel has been well-documented. This is not to say that political disagreements did not exist, but their camaraderie was a good example of two leaders working despite their differences for the greater cause of the nation.

Perhaps The Hindu put it best when it said, “What is the truth? Nehru and Patel often disagreed, and furiously so. But such was the beauty of the relationship that they rarely kept a secret from each other. They wrote to each other almost every other day, expressing their doubts and differences honestly and openly, and concluding in the end that their mutual affection and regard outweighed any difference they felt with regard to state policy. In their letters, the two great men agonised over the rumours surrounding their relationship and the constant attempts to create a divide between them.”

This mutual affection can perhaps also be encapsulated in Patel’s 1949 letter, which he wrote to pay tribute to Nehru on his 60th birthday.

nehru sardar patel and mahatma gandhi

He began the letter by saying, “Jawaharlal and I have been fellow-members of the Congress, soldiers in the struggle of freedom, colleagues in the Congress Working Committee and other bodies of the Congress, devoted followers of the Great Master [Gandhi] who has unhappily left us to battle with grave problems without his guidance, and co-shares in the great and onerous burden of administration of this vast country.”

“Having known each other in such intimate and varied fields of activity, we have naturally grown fond of each other, our mutual affection has increased as years have advanced, and it is difficult for people to imagine just how much we miss each other when we are apart and unable to take counsel together in order to resolve our problems and difficulties. This familiarity, nearness, intimacy and brotherly affection make it difficult for me to sum him up for public appreciation, but, then, the idol of the nation, the leader of the people, the Prime Minister of the country, and the hero of the masses, whose noble record and great achievements are an open book, hardly needs any commendation from me.”

Much has also been debated about how Nehru wrested the position of the PM from Patel to lead an independent India.

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However, Patel makes his feelings about this abundantly clear in the letter. “…It was in the fitness of things that in the twilight preceding the dawn of independence he should have been our leading light, and that when India was faced with crisis after crisis, following the achievement of our freedom, he should have been the upholder of our faith and the leader of our legions. No one knows better than myself how much he has laboured for his country in the last two years of our difficult existence …. As one older in years, it has been my privilege to tender advice to him on the manifold problems with which we have been faced in both administrative and organisational fields….Contrary to the impression created by some interested persons….we have worked together as lifelong friends and colleagues, adjusting ourselves to each other’s point of view as the occasion demanded, and valuing each other’s advice as only those who have confidence in each other can.”

sardar patel nehru letter

sardar patel nehru letter

You can read Patel’s full letter here.

Edited by Yoshita Rao

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