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Alma mater honours Iron Man

Sardar Tribute
The plaque honouring Sardar Patel that
will be put up in the Middle Temple
The bust of Patel
Baroness Verma and Dominic Grieve at the unveiling of the plaque and the bust The form that Patel had completed on his
admission to Middle Temple on October 14, 1910

London, Jan. 28: Happily in time for the Lok Sabha election a bust and a plaque honouring the “Iron Man of India” were unveiled in London last night, with some 200 Indians, mostly Gujaratis, in attendance.

No, this wasn’t Narendra Modi being honoured, though his time may yet come, but Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

Last night’s event was at the Middle Temple in the Inns of Court, where Sardar Patel qualified as a barrister when he was “called to the Bar” just over 100 years ago on January 27, 1913.

As home minister and deputy Prime Minister under Nehru from 1947 until his death in 1950, he brought nearly all the 562 princely states into the new Union of India.

The brochure produced for the occasion carries a “message” from the Gujarat chief minister who has detected a bright star rising over the horizon lighting up “the entire scenario with hope and feelings of Unity”.

Modi pointed out that “it was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who envisaged one India and turned every stone necessary for discouraging and dissipating those having separatist intentions”.

He emphasised: “Aadaraniy Shree Sardar Saheb, son of a farmer, was not only an advocate in the court of law, but he was a staunch advocate of humanity, impartiality, principles, high character and above all the unity...”

Just like someone else whose name Modi could have mentioned but left to the imagination. The message was perhaps what advertisers term subliminal.

The handsome brochure, with valuable archival material, has been compiled by Praful Patel, chairman of the “Indo-British Cultural Exchange”, one of the main organisers of last night’s event. He revealed that at the age of nine, he had been blessed by Patel.

There are photographs of Modi with Praful but, to be fair, last night’s ceremony did focus on Sardar Patel.

Praful also announced a Sardar Patel scholarship for Indian students tenable at the Middle Temple but administered partly by the Sardar Patel University.

The Middle Temple is one of the four Inns of Court, along with Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn and the Inner Temple. The Inns are responsible for training, regulating and selecting barristers within England and Wales, and are the only bodies allowed to call a barrister to the Bar and allow him or her to practise. Jyoti Basu completed his studies and qualified as a barrister in 1940, also at the Middle Temple.

Unveiling a plaque honouring Patel as well as his bust, attorney general Dominic Grieve drew attention to the hundreds of other plaques on the wall of the Middle Temple Hall.

“It gives me exceptional pleasure and privilege to unveil this plaque because it is not in any way different from any of the others which you can see on the walls around you recalling the long list of Middle Templars who have gone on to do a variety of things, either within the Inn by holding office here or indeed by doing other great things elsewhere,” said Grieve.

“So I hope this plaque going up on the wall will remind those students in the Inn and others hereafter of the immense contribution that he made not only to Indian national life but also ultimately to humankind,” Grieve added.

The attorney general for England and Wales and the advocate general for Northern Ireland, to give him his full title, was himself called to the Bar at the Middle Temple — 67 years after Patel — in 1980. He revealed he had been married in the Temple church and his wedding reception had been held in the very Hall where he had garlanded Patel’s bust.

Referring to the Middle Temple as his “Domus” (Latin for home), Grieve included a personal note: “Whatever else I may have done as a politician, this is, in a very real way, my spiritual home.”

“The Middle Temple has a long record not only in educating lawyers but also educating lawyers and politicians — and not necessarily British politicians either,” Grieve pointed out. “There is a long tradition in this Inn for those who may subsequently indeed oppose British rule to have started being nurtured in this place... and, of course, Sardar Patel follows in that long tradition.”

Indian high commissioner Ranjan Mathai recalled that as a student, Patel would begin the day at 7am, walking four-and-a-half miles from his lodgings in Bayswater to the Middle Temple, spend the whole day studying in the library until it shut at 6pm, sustain his spartan and vegetarian lifestyle only with milk, bread and tea and then walk back home.

He got a first and also won a 50 prize — “which went a long way in those days”.

Among the 200-plus guests were two other ministers, Baroness Verma (climate change) and Shailesh Vara (justice), Lord Paul and Lord Bilimoria.

Among the other organisers of the ceremony were Rami Ranger, chairman, the British Sikh Association; the Sardar Patel Memorial Society, UK; the National Congress of Gujarati Organisations, UK; and the Society of Asian Lawyers.

Ranger read out a message from David Cameron who noted that Patel’s “contributions to modern India as barrister and statesman are widely respected”.