S.K. Patil was elected to the BMC from 1935 till 1952. His record of getting elected Mayor of Mumbai for three consecutive terms has remained unbroken till today
We Mumbaikars talk so much about our history and heritage but soon forget the men and women who have contributed to making what Mumbai is today. One such towering personality was Sadashiv Kanoji (S.K.) Patil, who was born in an ordinary family on August 1898 in Konkan’s Sindhudurg district.
Patil came to Mumbai in search of work. He became a teacher. His quick grasp of any subject made his friends suggest to him that he should go to the America for higher studies. Patil left for the US but on the way, became too ill to proceed beyond London. He obtained a diploma in journalism from London’s University College.
Back in Mumbai, Patil joined the Bombay Chronicle edited by staunch nationalist S.A. Brelvi. Among his many assignments was covering the famous Dandi March of Mahatma Gandhi.
Soon, the freedom struggle made Patil join the Congress party. He rose in its ranks quickly. Patil was among its prominent leaders in Mumbai in a short while. Later, he was among the confidants of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and was entrusted with the delicate task of mobilising funds for the party. He possessed exceptional organising skills and strengthened the Congress organisation in Mumbai. This established Patil’s undisputed leadership of the Bombay Provincial Congress Committee (BPCC), which has to this day retained its separate identity from the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee.
Elected to the BMC in 1935 till 1952, Patil was the leader of the party in the civic body. Patil’s record of getting elected Mayor of Mumbai for three consecutive terms (1949, 1950 and 1951) has remained unbroken. Given his popularity, he was easily elected to the Lok Sabha in the first general election. Prior to that, he was a member of the Bombay legislative assembly. He became President of the Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee in 1946. Patil was called "the Uncrowned King of Bombay" owing to his intimate knowledge of the city and its political formations. He played an active role in supporting and promoting a number of institutions to enrich the city culturally.
During his stint in the BMC, India gained independence. It was a testing time since the administration had been apprehensive about the new breed of leadership. However, Patil established a cordial relationship with the ICS bureaucracy and the transition of power in Mumbai was smooth. Many monumental civic works were completed during this time.
Patil was a Union Minister under Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi. As India’s agriculture minister in the early 50s, he persuaded the Eisenhower administration to send the much-needed food aid for the hungry millions in India. His clout in the affairs of the nation went on increasing and at one point in his career, Patil was among the top decision-makers for India. But he was identified with the ‘Syndicate’ in the Congress party and was sidelined by Indira Gandhi. Patil was defeated by firebrand labour unionist George Fernandes in the 1967 Lok Sabha elections from South Mumbai and Fernandes earned the title of ‘Giant Killer’ for his spectacular win. Patil failed to regain his lost glory in subsequent years although he could return to the Lok Sabha in a bye-election.
As mayor of Mumbai in the initial years in free India, Patil emerged as a model leader, who could take both, the elected representatives and the administration, together to make Mumbai what it is today. However, he invited the wrath of the Marathi-speaking population by opposing Mumbai’s inclusion in Maharashtra.
While speaking in the Lok Sabha on November 15, 1955, Patil demanded that Bombay should be constituted as an autonomous city-state. The Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti attacked Patil but he refused to budge. In later years, he was virtually boycotted in Mumbai and Maharashtra by all political parties, including his own Congress party. Patil’s nemesis was his opposition to the selection of Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister.
Still, people of Mumbai continued to shower their affection on Patil, who became one of the very few individuals who were present for unveiling their own statue.
The S.K. Patil garden at Marine Lines is a tribute to his lasting contributions. His life-size statue stands tall in the garden.
An embittered man towards his fading years, Patil has written an autobiographical account, My Years with Congress, published a decade after his death. The book is a marvelous documentation of the freedom struggle as viewed by a Mumbaikar. His recollections of Mahatma Gandhi, M.A. Jinnah, Sardar Patel, Pandit Nehru, Sarojini Naidu and Madan Mohan Malaviya are fascinating and a treat for historians.
After Indira Gandhi’s spectacular win in the 1971 Lok Sabha elections and imposition of the Emergency, Patil withdrew from active public life. Little notice was taken of his death on May 24, 1981.
Patil has written an autobiographical account, My Years with Congress, published a decade after his death. The book is a marvelous documentation of the freedom struggle as viewed by a Mumbaikar. His recollections of Mahatma Gandhi, M.A. Jinnah, Sardar Patel, Pandit Nehru, Sarojini Naidu and Madan Mohan Malaviya are fascinating and a treat for historians.