An ode to Sardar Patel
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the 182-metre tall statue of Independent India's first Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, at Kevadiya in Gujarat's Narmada district. The Statue of Unity, as it has been named, is one of the costliest such projects, standing at Rs 2,300 crore. It is true that the contributions of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as the first Home Minister of India in the unification of the country after Independence — when the idea of a homogenous nation that India is today was still unclear and ambiguous — is profound and unparalleled. It was the sheer power of Patel's imagination, backed by a steely resolve, which culminated in the amalgamation of more than 550 princely states into one nation. Patel was remarkable and extraordinary in carrying out his duty as the first Home Minister of India — but what Indians need to be told about Patel after 70 years of Independence, when India is confidently trying to change its fortunes in the 21st century, is how he continued with the freedom struggle despite being in abject poverty. It is extremely sad and gut-wrenching to read the books on Patel that describe how he and his elder brother Vithalbhai Patel could not devote their time to their families or could not earn money to run their household because of their commitment to the freedom struggle. The tallest statue of Patel that India unveiled today is certainly a fitting tribute to the great leader; but it is also a tribute to his family who stood by him like a rock with a heart and soul when the great leader was still in the making and when India was more of a battleground with the freedom movement witnessing a climax, rather than being the stable and prosperous country that it is today.
Under British rule, poverty in the country was a norm rather than an aberration. Mahatma Gandhi, who advocated the fight against the British with non-cooperation and non-violence, used to wear a single dhoti, living an extremely humble life. It is said that when he saw some women in insufficient clothing during his travels in India and when he was told that these women didn't have money to buy clothes, he was so moved by their plight that he vowed to wear just a single dhoti so that others, especially women, can have clothes for themselves. The incident also motivated him to reinvent the khadi and handloom practices that once flourished in the country but were forced into abandonment by the British, who were flooding the Indian markets with clothes manufactured in Britain. Poverty at that time was not a matter of shame, instead, it represented India's self-respect and a decisive struggle for Independence as foreign occupation was considered to be the root cause of everything wrong in India, including the state of painful poverty. Gandhi's life, as also of most of his followers like Vinoba Bhave or Patel, is a treasure trove on living a decent and purposeful life with limited resources. Unlike today, when people tend to believe in the principle of use-and-throw, whether it is about things of daily use or relationships, the time during the freedom struggle and immediately after Independence was different; it was charged with an idealism that inspired people to endure pain but not compromise upon principles. Patel's life is not a story of attaining political power and using it to intimidate small princely states into subjugation. Patel's life is a story of his conviction in the greatness of his Motherland, motivated by the thought to make it even greater. When true purpose guides life, it is bound to achieve results — and that exactly is the story of Patel.
India is on a spree of creating awe-inspiring memorials of its heroes and icons, to commemorate their contributions and to serve as an inspiration for future generations. After the magnificent Statue of Unity, the work on another even bigger and costlier project to celebrate the memory of the great Maratha fighter Shivaji is underway in the Arabian sea near Mumbai. And, the mother of all such projects, a grand Ram Temple at Ayodhya is also in the works, albeit still in the system, at the courts and among the politicians backing the project. No Indian would mind the government spending huge amounts of money on such projects that emphasise the glory and lofty idealism that the idea of India represents. But the government must also talk in an adequate measure about what makes India great and how the heroes of the yesteryears did not hesitate to choose suffering instead of entitlement — only so that India glows and shines even brighter in the days to come.