Millennium Post

Bickering over an unsung hero

It’s sad to see two formidable political parties in India – one, the ruling regime and the other, the principal opposition – fighting like cats and dogs to appropriate the legacy of a non-dynast leader of both the struggle for freedom and post-Independence nation building. As the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party battle to resurrect and reinterpret Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Iron Man of India, and as the BJP prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi declares his intention of building a Statue of Unity in the honour of the political pioneer, the irony is not lost out on anyone that the wrestling match between the two camps is a far cry from what the man actually stood for. Though it is welcome that the Indian political fraternity has suddenly woken up to the illustrious ideological heritage bequeathed by Patel, the acrimony with which the race to the finishing line is being conducted is disheartening, to say the least. It is of course worth remembering here that the Indian National Congress has hardly ever bothered to seriously canonise any non Nehru-Gandhi political figure, and in the light of that historical neglect, reinstating Sardar Patel and giving him his sociopolitical due in the national narrative, is more than a welcome development. However, the manner in which that reconsolidation is happening is unfortunate and extremely immature, and in fact, amounts to a gross insult to the secular and democratic tradition of dialogue and consensus that the first home minister of India stood for.

Evidently, Narendra Modi’s dig at the Congress in general, and Manmohan Singh as well as Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in particular, by saying that India’s political trajectory would have been different if Patel, and not Jawaharlal Nehru, had been the independent country’s first prime minister, is both accurate and misleading. Obviously, such speculative proclamations work well on the dais, especially on the occasion of the late leader’s birth anniversary in his home town Ahmedabad, but such grand sophistry fail to frame the thoroughly progressive ideologies that the grand old man actively advocated. For example, Modi has no answer to the abiding irony that Patel, in the wake of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse, an RSS worker, had banned the Hindu hardline party, and the Gujarat CM and BJP’s prime ministerial nominee draws his legitimising force from the very organisation. To his credit, while Modi has been hard-selling his past as a chaiwala at the RSS party office and his metamorphosis from that to the current situation as possibly the next PM of India, positioning himself as a narrative of hope and transformation and the Indian dream, he has also tried to move beyond the ideological hardline of both the RSS and the BJP, riding solely on the plank of development and growth. In this regard, Modi does have similarity with Sardar Patel, who was not only an ace politician, bringing the recalcitrant kingdoms under the central administration and consolidating the republic of India, but also a great statesman, who helped form the secular basis of the nascent nation.  However, instead of building a massive statue, what Modi could do to really honour the man is resurrect Patel’s secular ideals.
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