With the surge of interest in personalities from Gujarat, not least because of the election of the controversial Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India, there is no better time for a biography of a great son of Gujarat and one of India’s forgotten heroes.
Born in 1887 into a clan of princely Patels, Darbar (or Prince) Gopaldas was not only a beloved and just ruler of the people of his tiny state in Saurashtra, he was an active and courageous participant in the struggle for India’s freedom and for social justice. Championing Dalit rights long before that became acceptable, he declared, when his wife Bhaktilaxmi was pregnant with their last child, that if it was a girl he would marry her to a Dalit boy; he stood out also for his concern for Gujarat’s Muslim minority and for his defence of women’s rights. Egalitarian at a time when rulers ‘measured status by the capacity to humiliate their subjects’, he was quick to give up his life of privilege when it became necessary. After he joined the freedom movement in 1920, his life as a prince rapidly became a distant memory; with no fixed abode, he and his family would shuttle between prisons, ashrams and the homes of well-wishers.
Remarkably, although he grew close to Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, he spurned high office for himself, choosing instead to raise and mentor others, including four who became chief ministers, as well as Tribhuvandas Patel, who founded the famous milk cooperative that made Amul possible.
In this biography, bestselling author Rajmohan Gandhi uses letters, rare documents, personal accounts and historical narratives to recreate in vivid and moving detail the life and times of a leader of supreme honesty and nalloyed patriotism who a hundred years ago also battled, as a prince, against the hierarchies of Indian society.
PRINCE OF GUJARAT: THE EXTRAORDINARY STORY OF PRINCE GOPALDAS DESAI: 1887-1951