Born in Nadiad, in the Indian state of Gujarat, Vithalbhai Jhaverbhai Patel was the third of five Patel brothers, four years elder to Vallabhbhai Patel, raised in the village of Karamsad. According to Gordhanbhai Patel, a mistake on Vitalbhai's birthdate has crept into many modern accounts. His birthdate is clearly stated as September 27, 1873 on his last passport but the confusion arose from obituary notices after his death listing it incorrectly as February 18, 1871. Based on that, he is only two years elder to his younger brother Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. He was son of Jhaverbhai and Ladbai Patel, who were both devout followers of the Swaminarayan sect of Vaisnava Hinduism, a sect which emphasizes the purity of personal life as essential to the life of devotion. The rare idealism the religion impressed on his parents likely had a significant impact on the minds of Vithalbhai and his renowned brother Vallabhai Patel. Vithalbhai educated himself in Nadiad and in Bombay, and worked as a pleader (a junior lawyer) in the courts of Godhra and Borsad. At a very young age, he was married to a girl from another village, Diwaliba.
His younger brother, Vallabhbhai Patel, had similarly studied by himself and worked as a pleader. Studying in England was a dream for both men. Vallabhbhai had saved enough money and ordered his passport and travel tickets, when the postman delivered them to Vithalbhai, it having been addressed to a Mr. V.J. Patel, Pleader. Vithalbhai insisted on traveling on those documents actually meant for Vallabhbhai, pointing out that it would be socially criticized that an older brother followed the lead of the younger. Respecting his brother despite the obvious cruelty of fate on his own hard work, Vallabhbhai allowed him to proceed to England, and even paid for his stay.
Vithalbhai entered the Middle Temple Inn in London, and completed the 36-month course in 30, emerging at the top of his class. Returning to Gujarat in 1913, Vithalbhai became an important barrister in the courts of Bombay and Ahmedabad. However, his wife died in 1915, and he remained a widower.
Although never truly accepting the philosophy and leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, Patel joined the Congress and the struggle for freedom. He had no regional base of support, yet he was an influential leader who expanded the struggle through fiery speeches and articles published. When Mahatma Gandhi aborted the struggle in 1922 following the Chauri Chaura incident, Patel left the Congress to form the Swaraj Party with Chittaranjan Das and Motilal Nehru, which would seek to foil the Raj by sabotaging the government after gaining entry in the councils. The party only succeeded in dividing the Congress and finally itself, but Patel and others were important voices who rebelled against the leadership of Gandhi when the nation anguished over the abortion of the Non-Cooperation Movement
Patel won a seat on the Bombay Legislative Council, a body with no real functions. Although failing to achieve anything concrete in terms of the fight for national independence, self-government or public welfare, Patel grew popular and respected by his oratorical and witty mastery and belittling of the Raj's officials, winning many a battle of wit, which bore little overall significance. In 1914, Vithalbhai played a prominent role in two bills on the council, "the Bombay District Municipal Act Amendment Bill" and "The Town Planning Bill" in 1914. His most well known proposal for which he received praise was for the extension of primary education to municipal districts in the Bombay presidency outside of the city of Bombay in 1917. After a long battle, the bill was passed after several amendments and modifications. Throughout his time on the legislative council, he passed and fought for several bills and amendments on medical practice. In a 1912 amendment to the Bombay medical act, he sought to register doctors for disciplinary action for malpractice. This amendment did not include ayuvedic physicians. In 1923 he was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly, a chamber of elected and appointed Indian and British representatives with limited legislative powers, and in 1925 became the Assembly's president, or speaker.
As the President of the Assembly, Patel laid down the practices and procedures for the business of the Assembly. In 1928, he created a separate office for the Assembly, independent of the administration of the Government of India. He established the convention of neutrality of the President in debates, except to use a casting vote in favour of the status quo.
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In 1929, supporters of the government of India tried to have Patel removed as president of the Imperial Legislative Assembly, but were thwarted by the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, who at the time was trying to win over radical nationalists. He failed to do so, which led to Gandhi's launching of the civil disobedience movement in 1930, and Patel resigned from the Legislative Assembly in sympathy with this movement. He rejoined the Congress upon the declaration of Purna Swaraj (Complete Independence), and was subsequently imprisoned, but with his health deteriorating, he was released from prison in 1931 and went to Europe for medical treatment.
Patel gave up the Congress after the end of the Salt Satyagraha, became a fierce critic of Gandhi and a strong ally of Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose had been released in 1933 from the Bhowali Sanitorium in UP for treatment in Europe-Vienna and Vithalbhai had also gone to Vienna for treatment. As both these great thinkers had similar political views, they came nearer to each other. They in fact in a joint statement stated, inter alia, "...as a political leader Mahatma Gandhi has failed.... and a change of leadership is necessary..."
Bose and Patel traveled across Europe, gathering funds and political support - among others, they met Éamon de Valera, President of Ireland. While Bose's health improved, Patel's illness worsened. However,impressed by the work of Subhas and aware that he had no private means nor would he receive any "penny" from the Congress for his political work, he willed the residual part of his property amounting to Rs.1,20,000/- to Subhas for his political work on 2 October 1933 and died Geneva, Switzerland, on 22 October 1933 and was cremated in Bombay on 10 November.
Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel wanted Subhas to use the money for political activities decided by the Congress, and when he refused, there was a litigation in Bombay High Court. The English judges of the High Court felt that the term "Political Upliftment of India" was too vague a term and deprived Bose of the proceeds. Sardar Patel kept a neutral attitude during the whole affair, but in his official biography published later by Navajivan Press, Ahmedabad the very authenticity of the will was questioned.
- Patel, Gordhanbhai (1950). Vithalbhai Patel Life and Times. Bombay: R.A. Moramkar. p. 3.
- Patel, Gordhanbhai (1950). Vithalbhai Patel Life and Times. Bombay: R.A. Moramkar. p. 87.
- Patel, Vithalbhai (1950). Vithalbhai Patel Life and Times. Bombay: R.A. Moramkar. p. 146.
- Gordhanbhai, Patel (1950). Vithalbhai Patel Life and Times. Bombay: R.A. Moramkar. pp. 149–152.
- Ajita Ranjan Mukherjea, Parliamentary Procedure in India (Oxford, 1983), p. 43
- Philip Laundy, The Office of Speaker in the Parliaments of the Commonwealth (Quiller, 1984), p. 175
- LOK SABHA SYNOPSIS OF DEBATES (Proceedings other than Questions & Answers) Friday, 25 August 2000 at parliamentofindia.nic.in