November 19, 2017   
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Patel: Modi’s Idol?


By Poonam I Kaushish

This is a tale of a squabble over an icon. One would dismiss it as a petty tiff between petulant children, unfortunately it’s a tu-tu-mein-mein between two Parties locked in a curious battle over the alleged neglect of Independent India’s first Home and Dy Prime Minister Iron Man Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The BJP accuses the Congress of ignoring Patel a lifelong Congressman and lays claim on him and wants to usurp his legacy. Resulting in high decibels!

Sardar Patel 142nd birth anniversary celebrations last week as Rashtriya Ekta Divas provided the perfect backdrop. Raisina Hill offices were closed a day prior, a pledge-taking ceremony for the country’s unity administered in Government offices followed by a ‘Run for Unity’ at New Delhi’s India Gate with Prime Minister leading the race.

Undeniably, the Saffron agenda seems clear: Try to erase 31st October as Indira Gandhi Day (the day ex-Prime Minister was assassinated) and replace it with Patel. Prime Minister Modi who has fashioned himself as Sardar’s clone molding himself as India’s 21st century’s Loh Purush accused the Congress of only sponsoring the legacy of leaders belonging to the Nehru-Gandhi khandaan and dumping the rest including the Iron Man.

Trying to correct historical slights, he added, “There have been attempts to run down Patel, to ensure that his contribution is forgotten…whether any Government or Party recognises his contribution or not but the nation and the youth will not forget him.”

An angry Congress upset that the BJP had not only appropriated its icons but also rubbished its pantheon of deities as superfluous, hit back blaming the Saffron Sangh of trying to adopt its leaders and rewrite history. Reminding its rival that Patel had called the Sangh leaders speeches as “poisonous” and it was a result of this venom that Gandhi had been assassinated. Later following the Mahatma’s death the Iron Man banned the RSS.

True, since the BJP came to power in 2014, it has blatantly been needling the Congress by stoking controversy over its abandoning Patel and to appropriate him as its freedom icon. Towards that end the Party is building a 182-metre tall Sardar’s Statue of Unity at Gujarat’s Sadhu Island in line with the long-pending contribution of this great leader. Notwithstanding, the Rs 2500 crores statue is criticised as unnecessary when over 700 million live in poverty.

However, the timing of Modi’s latest attack on Congress cannot be seen without the prism of the upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections, the state Patel belonged to, which is turning out to be not only tricky with a gaggle of young leaders Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakore but also a acid test with small traders unhappy with the Party. Consequently, he has started to press history into service to build up his political capital.

It is justifiable that Modi is only trying to rectify history to ensure Patel gets his due share and his contribution to India’s unity is recorded and given the credit he deserves. Certainly, the Congress stooped to spiteful levels by ensuring history books only carried sacrifices by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Of Indira and son Rajiv assassination for the country and Sonia’s “tyaag” forsaking the Prime Minstership. However is that reason enough for the BJP to hit back with pettiness?

Raising a moot point: Does the BJP have any right, political or moral to appropriate the legacy of Sardar Patel? Is the Government’s tribute to Patel as much a mark of respect as it is about flogging his legacy among his clan to win votes? Is it giving a short shrift to Indira’s martyrdom?

Undoubtedly, the sub-text to the controversy is what legacy Patel left when he died and which Party can lay claim to it. The BJP’s exploitation of Patel is the result of the Congress desertion of him, its imitation is thanks to the Grand Dame sacrificing Sardar. Think. The Hindutva Brigade would never have thought of usurping the Iron Man’s legacy if the Congress had not dumped him in cobwebbed moth-eaten annals of history.

Besides, by invoking the Sardar’s mammoth contribution of uniting 544 princely States to the Indian Union, nation-building and political regeneration, Modi is trying to re-instill national pride. And through this underscore Patel’s leather tough and no nonsense pragmatism combined with statecraft, flattery, coercion and whatever it took to forge a united nation-state.

Furthermore, Modi has merely given a national colour to earthy and extraordinary Patel sandwiched between Gandhi’s lofty and stubborn idealism and Nehru’s westernized liberalism.

Moreover, the Prime Minister minces no words about Nehru’s major blunder in Kashmir to the acute discomfiture of the Congress Remember, he refused to let Patel handle Kashmir, worse didn’t heed Patel’s advise to fully integrate the State with India instead of imposing Article 370 granting the State special status. Perhaps, this is the Prime Minister’s way for avenging twelve years of persecution over the Godhra riots and being dubbed the maut ka saudagar.

While some historians suggested he was more pro-Hindu than Nehru, who was secular and opposed to the partition on religious lines, Patel was pragmatic, builder of modern India who unified India. But, despite differences both worked as a team and took care not to trespass on the other’s turf.

Not a few feel the Congress hit a self goal by neglecting Patel and Modi took advantage by crooning his unification of India thereby glorifying him. Others, look at the paradox of NaMo supporting Patel who had called the RSS “poisonous” and banned it.

Alas, amidst the bickering, both Parties seem to forget that Patel stood for unity —of all castes, communities, religions and views. Hence, his birth anniversary should never be a day for scoring political brownie points but a celebration of unity.

In sum, in a milieu wherein Party politics is a offshoot of power practices from ancient to modern  times, it has revolved around two alternates. One, hero-worshipping a God, figure or leader read lionism. Two, obsequious reverence which is indestructibly self-perpetuating, nee scionism.

Thus, as a tattered Congress clings to ‘me tooism’ and Modi has tacitly claimed ownership of the original Loh Purush it would be misleading to reduce Patel’s legacy to a slanging match.  He was a true blue nationalist but was not infallible. Even as we hail our heroic icon, our leaders must desist from turning India into a necropolis battleground when live issues abound! —— INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)