Sardar: The Iron Man of India (1993)

 

 

Director:     Ketan Metah.

Starring:     Paresh Rawal (Vallabhai Jhaverbhai "Sardar" Patel), Tom Alter (Lord Mountbatten 'Dickey'), Riju Bajaj (Young Atmaram), Elisa D'Souza, Deepika Deshpande, Benjamin Gilani (Jawaharlal 'Panditji' Nehru), Urmi Juvekar, Annu Kapoor (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi), Satish Kaushik, Pradeep Kuckreja, Loveleen Mishra, Jennifer Molt, Suhasini Mulay, Govind Namdeo (Shankar), Nirmal Pandey.

a biopic of Vallabhbhai Patel, India's first home minister and deputy prime minister

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Dedicated to the memory of H. M. Patel (1904-1993)

 

A man shouts at a woman:  "I will not spare you. Címon. You are back talking me." An old man asks the man why is he hitting the woman. He tells the old man to stay out of it. He takes the manís glasses off and pushes him to the ground. The police arrive and the people start running. The old manís glasses are crushed in the melee.

The old man hops on a motorized rickshaw. He says: "What dreams we had of our freedom. And look whatís happening." The driver asks him: "What freedom?" "Whose freedom?" The freedom to die pointlessly in the riots. He adds that sometimes he feels that slavery was better than this kind of freedom.

The news is of the Srinagar curfew continuing for the third day. Twenty Pakistani terrorists were killed in an ambush. Punjab terrorists kill 32 passengers. Rioting in Bhagalpur again with 33 bodies recovered.

A man named Ram asks two superiors who is this Ranade fellow? He is all shattered looking and asking for you. Itís the old man. The two men talk to him about possible book titles: The Man of Steel or The Birth of a Nation. The old man apologizes to Rahul that he will not be able to do the movie script. Rahul wants to know whatís the matter. Why is he so upset today? The old man says that whatís happening in the country is what's upsetting him. He says: "I feel ashamed." He is not satisfied just with the material progress of India. What kind of human beings are we making? That is the key question. And what kind of society have they created?

On a ladder searching through documents Ram drops hundreds of photos on top of the three men.  The photos are historical ones of the independence movement. This gets the old man to thinking of the movement and he gets renewed energy. He says: "Letís do the film."

1942. The "Quit India Movement" started. It was the last phase of Indiaís War of Independence. The very next day all the leaders were arrested. And then the worst British atrocities began. Britain in World War II knew it could not win without the help of its colonies. So the negotiations for Indiaís Self Rule started. All the leaders were released.

1945. Yerawada Jail, Poona. Sardar Patel is released. He is meet by men and women chanting his name. He sees Gandhi sitting before a throng of seated people singing.

1915. Ahmedabad. The High Court. Four men are playing cards and talking about Gandhiís speech. Gandhi approaches the area. They laugh at Gandhiís solutions for independence through very simple means such as celibacy.

1917. Godhra. Patel greets his brother Vallabh. He is with Gandhi. With every meeting they begin with a loyalty declaration. Gandhi says this should stop. At another appearance Gandhi says he needs someone who can leave everything behind and stay with him. He asks who will be the first Stayagrahi?  Patel rises up.

1928. Bardoli. A man speaks to a group about cooperating together and not paying taxes to the British. He wants men to join the Satyagraha. Everyone raises their hands to say they want to join. Vallabhai Patel arrives at a larger grouping and is hailed as the leader of the Satyagraha. Patel says that many people are afraid of the British taking their land. But what they must do is to make sure that the government does not get a single man to assist it in this task. The headline in the newspaper is "No Tax in Bardoli."

Patel speaks to the women and asks if they are ready to joining the Satyagraha. The woman spokesperson says: "They are willing to do whatever you say." Patel asks why and she says: "Because you are our ĎSardarí" "Hail Sardar Vallabhai Patel!"

A car approaches. The call goes out: "The British are here." All the windows and doors are shut against the British. The newspaper carries the story of the grim fight and repression at Bardoli. Bardoli is to be made an all-India issue.

Patel travels from village to village with his message of freedom. The British come to Bardoli. They start grabbing anything of value from the people such as their furniture and livestock. The newspaper carries the headline of a stiff fight in Bardoli. Will Sj. Vallabhai Patel be arrested?

Patel negotiates for an honorable compromise, says the newspaper. Patel is hailed by large crowds in the cities. Gandhi and Patel appear on the same podium. Patel congratulates the people for making the campaign a success.

The Viceroy speaks to the various leaders of India: "Looking at India and the condition of the rest of the world it is our appeal to all the parties. That keeping the interest of the country in mind that they should unite." Donít just think of yourselves, but of the 400 million Indians. Different leaders have different ideas. Jinnah wants a separate Pakistan. A Sikh asks for a separate state for the Sikhs. The Hindu spokesman says their Congress Party is a national party and represents even the interest of the Muslims. Jinnah objects that after the 1937 elections, they had come to the Congress Party in friendship. They wanted the Muslims to be included in the UP government, but they were spurned. The huge Hindu majority swamped the small Muslim minority. So only the Muslim League has the right to select Muslim members to the executive council.

Gandhi says to his supporters that he told Jinnah, why speak of divorce before the wedding? Jinnah wants significantly more power on the executive council. He also demands veto powers on religious issues. Patel says that Jinnah now will get nothing.

At the next meeting of the Viceroy and the executive council, Nehru, Zada and Patel are there. The British have two proposals: Plan A or Plan B.  Plan A calls for just one whole nation. Plan B calls for a partition of India: Hindustan and Pakistan. Jinnah opposes the British weak idea of a nation of Pakistan. Congress is willing to consider only Plan A. Jinnah is willing lto discuss Plan A, but there must be a geographical regrouping into Muslim and Hindu states. Patel says to Jinnah that once again he is not discussing Indian independence but Indian partition. The British will not decide this issue, but a free Indian people. The newspapers say the Simla talks end without results. An interim government may be established.

1946. Delhi. Gandhi says that Jinnah is like a child asking for the moon and nothing but the moon. At the leadership meeting they argue about the cabinetís May 16 proposal. Maulana says the proposal is good. It guarantees a united India and full rights for minorities. Nehru says this idea of groupings is unacceptable. It will lead to partition. Gandhi agrees that to accept the idea of groupings will be to accept the concept of Pakistan. Patel says they donít have to announce their decision as of yet. Wait to Jinnah and the Muslim League make their ideas public.

Sudhir Ghosh calls out for Patel. Ghosh is Gandhiís messenger and a friend of the British. Patrick Lawrence and Cripps want to speak to Patel in order to arrive at a decision. Jinnah has accepted the May and June plans. But the Congress is rejecting both. In this scenario, the power will then go to the Muslim League. The Viceroy wants it, too. Ghosh suggests that given the present leanings of the cabinet mission, if the congress takes advantage of the situation, the power could go to the Congress Party. Patel agrees to meet them. They go to a place where they can talk.

Later Patel explains that they can get the power if they agree with the May 16 proposal. Nehru says they have already rejected it. But if they donít agree, the power will go to the Muslim League. The British do not wish to stay any longer. Maulana agrees to accept the May 16 proposal. The British say that if they accept the idea of groupings, they will remove it from the proposal. Nehru sinks down into his chair.

But what will Gandhi say? He says the proposal reeks of partition. He certainly doesnít like the idea of two Pakistans, one on the east and one on the west. Patel tells him that they should not give too much importance to the issue of groupings. At this time there are only two important issues: make sure the Muslim League is prevented from grabbing power and make sure the congress has to be brought into power. Everybody else wants to accept the agreement. Gandhi decides to let the others decide. He leaves.

Jinnah insists that they accept both the May 16 and June proposals meaning that the Muslim League must form the government. The British will go ahead with the Congress idea. Jinnah says: "The Congress has cheated us. . . . The Viceroy has betrayed us.. . . the Muslim League withdraws is approval to both proposals."

Patel and Gandhi and some others laugh at what happened. Jinnahís "no" has made him lose.

Gandhi says they will have to elect a new president of the congress. He will be the first Prime Minister of free India. Itís between Patel and Nehru. Patel withdraws his name. Gandhi still wants Patel to be very active in the government. He asks him if he can work with Nehru.

Jinnah talks to the press. He says if a separate Pakistan is not declared, a Jehad (holy war) will begin. "Direct action!" The newspapers carry the news of over 90 killed in Calcutta. There is unprecedented violence of "Direct Action Day." There is carnage in the streets. The riot death-toll mounts to over 1,000.

Nehru takes the oath of office, followed by Patel. They appear together before the crowd outside. In private the new men talk about the religious riots. Nehru is so upset that he suggests they hand in their resignations. Patel says they canít resign now. The Muslim League itself is instigating riots all over the country. And the Viceroy is doing nothing to stop the rioting. Nehru leaves.

The situation grows worse with the rioting spreading. The authorities may have to resort to firing on the rioters. Patel tells them to fire even if people do get killed. "Then what about non-violence?" Patel doesnít answer.

Nehru speaks with his government. He says in the end they will have to incorporate the Muslim League. Viceroy Wavell has told Nehru that Jinnah will join the council in all earnestness. Patel does not trust either man. He says in order for Jinnah to join the government, he will have to swear to abandon his Direct Action Plan. Patel also rejects absolutely that the home ministry position be given to the Muslims. He says if this happens, he will resign his position. The newspapers carry the story that the Muslim League will join the interim government.

Muslim League member Mr. Liquat Ali becomes the Home Minister. Patel urges Nehru not to accept the new proposed budget. He is suspicious of the motives behind it. The Muslims do not want to work with the Hindus. And now they have the Finance Ministry in their hands. They only push for their Pakistan. This leads to a stalemate in the Interim Cabinet. Congress will quit if the Muslim League stays in the Interim Cabinet.

The Congress says that if the Muslims want to be a part of the Interim Cabinet, they will have to accept the Cabinet Mission Plan. Patel says that those who want to leave the party can. It will be a sword for a sword.

Patel visits an area victimized by rioting. The Hindus beg him to save them.

Menon tells Patel that there is the possibility of a civil war breaking out in India. It might, therefore, be better to agree to the partition. And they should do this while the British are still here.

The British are to leave India by June 1948. Lord Mountbatten will Succeed Lord Wavell.

Nehru comes to speak with Lord Mountbatten and his wife. They last met in Singapore. Mountbatten hopes that Nehru will think of him as the first Englishman helping to lead the way to independence. He admits he knows very little about India. Later Mountbatten asks a Muslim about Nehru and Patel. He says that in the congress Patel is the only man who can stand up to Gandhi. Mountbatten then speaks with Patel. Patel almost leaves because Mountbatten wantsto ask about his personal life and the lives of the other Indian leaders. Then itís Gandhiís turn. Gandhi tells him to do whatever he wants, but donít divide the nation. He blames the British policy of divide and rule for causing the possible rupture of his country. No one can escape whatís coming. Mountbatten agrees that the Congress Party and the Muslim League look upon each other as enemies. Gandhi suggests that the Viceroy dismiss the coalition government. Let the Muslims rule the country. Mountbatten speaks to Jinnah. What does he think about Gandhiís proposal. No need to think, says Jinnah, Congress wonít accept the idea.

Patel and Nehru reject Gandhiís proposal also. So Gandhi tells them to do what they think is right.

Mountbatten asks Nehru to look at the proposal he is sending to Britain. Nehru is furious. The plan is to cut India up into little portions. Every state will proclaim its own independence. So itís back to the start for Mountbatten. At this time Menon Preeti says that he drew up a plan for two separate governments. Maybe now this will become acceptable. Nehru says he will show it to congress. Preeti says that Sardar seems to approve of the plan. Nehru calls Patel to ask if Preeti spoke to him about the plan of two governments. Patel just says: "Accept it."

Nehru and Patel speak about the plan. It is very unfortunate to divide the country, but what can they do? They really have no choice. Patel says Gandhi will sulk for awhile, but heíll come around.

Mountbatten speaks with all the leaders. The decision is to create two separate governments and accept the partition of Punjab and Bengal. Mr. Jinnah gives Mountbatten his response in person at night. He says no decision can be reached yet. But Mountbatten tells him he wonít let Jinnah ruin the negotiations this time. He tells Jinnah that tomorrow he will tell the leaders that Jinnah accepts the plan and he expects Jinnah to say nothing to refute him.

The next day Mountbatten tells congress that Jinnah has accepted the plan. Jinnah only gives a very short nod to everyone at the table. Mountbatten then gives them a report to on the consequences of separation.

The leaders speak to the congress in favor of the separation plan. Even Gandhi speaks in its support. The representative of the frontier says that congress has betrayed them. "We are now ruined! Ruined!"

Jinnah presents the plan to the Muslim League. A group of fanatics attack with swords and long batons, shouting: "We donít want a broken Pakistan!" They want the whole thing to be Pakistan. Jinnah says they wanted to kill him.

73 days to independence. There are many disputes between the two sides on various issues. Particularly important is the fate of the 562 princely states. A States Department is formed. Later Bhopal declares its independence. Patel negotiates with the princes to get them to come into India. As independence day approaches Patel decides to leave the remaining questions to two officers. The two men go to a separate room.

Two days from independence. Patel still doesnít have in his basket the states of Bhopal, Junagarh and Hyderabad.

Independence Day! August 15, 1947.

And the holocaust begins. There are religious riots everywhere. Armed gangs active in Punjab districts says the Hindustan Times. Several Amritsar villages are completely destroyed.

The leaders are devastated by the amount of violence. One says that this is worse than war. The people have gone mad. A twelve hour curfew is introduced in Delhi. Patel goes to see some of the damage. The death penalty is introduced for rioting. Biggest mass migration of population reported in W. Punjab. Migration starts on a massive scale everywhere people are in the "wrong" country. Hindus in Pakistan move to India and Pakistanis in India move to Pakistan. Refugee camps have to be erected. The military starts to organize the evacuation in Punjab. One million refugees evacuated in nine days.

Someone tries to assassinate Patel, but the shot misses. A man comes in to say that a man was burned alive in Kashmiri Gate. Patel loses it and shouts at the man that he should stop it. Patel goes to a mosque to make sure the police protect the people inside.

The Sikhs are upset about the Radcliffe Award dividing states between Pakistan and India. Lailpur, Lahore and Mintgaomari are to go to Pakistan. Another man asks how can Ghana Saheb and Panja Saheb be snatched away from the Sikhs. Patel speaks to them. He is not happy about the Radcliffe Award either but their first priority is to stop the religious killings. Try stopping the killing for a week and letís see if the Pakistanis reciprocate. In Amritsar a mob stops Patelís car. He gets on the hood of the car to tell the people to stop killing Muslims.

Nehru tells Gandhi that Delhi is under 24 hour curfew. The army had to be called in.

The rioting finally slows, but there are danger spots as in Hyderabad where over 700 congressmen are jailed. Mountbatten says that Hyderabad should be given special status. Patel says thereís a problem at Junagadh where 80% percent of the people are Hindu. He suggests the army should be deployed there immediately to prevent Pakistan from grabbing it.

A provisional government for Junagadh is recognized. The Indian army is used to protect the people, according to Patel.

Border incursions of rebels from Pakistan into Kashmir occur. Mountbatten says that until the state joins with India, they can do nothing. Sending the army now means declaring war, he says. News arrives that Maharaj Hari Singh is ready to sign the accession papers. Mountbatten says now the army can be sent. Indian troops roll back the rebels.

A plebiscite will occur in Kashmir after the rebels are pushed out. It will be done under UN auspices. Patel tried to stop Nehru from including the UN, but fails.

Patel and Nehru have a falling out over the creation of communities of all Muslims. It will threaten the stability of the nation, says Patel. Patel is the Home Secretary. A fundamental difference in their opinions about their respective responsibilities and rights has arisen. Patel speaks of resigning.

Gandhi wants Patel to pay Pakistan the money they promised. Patel refuses because of what Pakistan is doing in Kashmir. They would only use it against India. So Gandhi decides to fast until death. Nehru comes to tell Gandhi that Pakistan will be given the money. Patel and the other government leaders are there too. Nehru asks Gandhi to end his fast. He says he canít break his fast as long as violence continues.

Patel writes to Gandhi that he will soon resign his office.

Nehru tells Gandhi that the violence has stopped. The leaders involved have said there will be no riots. He finally breaks his fast.

At a Gandhi prayer meeting an explosion goes off in the wall around the area. Patel tells others that Gandhi will not allow any security to protect him. But secretly he is providing undercover policemen to watch Gandhi and the crowds

Patel talks with Gandhi about his resigning. He says he is tried and very ill. Gandhi says there will be a way out. Gandhi goes walking through the crowd.

News arrives to Patel that Gandhi has been assassinated. Patel goes to pay his respects. Nehru arrives. Mountbatten and his wife arrive. The crowd cries out that the assassin is a Muslim. Mountbatten informs them that he was not a Muslim. He speaks to Nehru and Patel in private. He says it was Gandhiís last wish that the two men be together. The two embrace.

As the Home Minister Patel says it was his failure. He has a heart attack. Nehru comes to see his old friend. He says: "I wanted to go to Bapu."

1948. Dehradun. Patel is together with his grandchildren. Mountbatten visits. He asks how is the Iron Man of India. He rejects Mountbattenís proposal for giving special status to Hyderabad. Mountbatten says: "Well, if you donít agree with this, the matter stands closed." Mountbatten is leaving India. Patel asks him how they can ever repay him for his services. Mountbatten gives him the proposal to sign. He does so. Mountbatten leaves.

Patel says the Nizam will never sign the proposal. The newspaper says that India will get tough with the Nizam. It wonít allow the state to become a base for foreign powers. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for States Sardar Patel promises action against Hyderabad. The action will be called Operation Polo. In go the troops. The Nizam surrenders.

Patel continues his integration of states.

Patelís airplane crash lands. He is safe.

He thinks to himself: "Can you believe it?. Today, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, we are one nation. An independent nation! The worldís largest democracy!"

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 

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