Politics of Pitting Patel to Run Down the Nehrus
BY RK MISRA
A good diplomat is one who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip!. The same thing can be said for a potentate of a politician like Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His high-profile celebration of the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first home minister stands out as a case in point.
The Sardar, it is widely felt in Gujarat, did not get his due for the critical role that he played, both in uniting India and running the country after Independence as it’s second most powerful leader. The ostensible aim in restoring his standing is laudable, but the objective in doing so could be far removed from truth. The quest for ‘appropriation’ of freedom struggle icons apart, the way Modi went about the plan makes it clear that he was using the Sardar to efface the memory of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. What came in handy was that her death anniversary falls on the same day. By doing so, Modi might also be seeking to build a constituency for himself.
While virtually ignoring the sacrifices of the first- ever prime minister, one who was assassinated while in office, Modi also played on the killing of the Sikhs that had followed it. He announced a fresh compensation of Rs 5 lakhs for the next of kin of each of those killed in the riots that followed the assassination. The taint of 2002 notwithstanding, Modi, as a BJP prime minister, is today heir to the legacy of a liberal like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and there are those who argue that this ill behoves someone who mouths lofty idealism to paddle pedestrian politics.
For a journalist who has keenly tracked for over three decades, the one-time RSS pracharak who rode pillion behind friend- turned - rival Shankersinh Vaghela, the ‘injustice’ to the Sardar was an issue which came in handy for Modi after he took power as Gujarat chief minister in 2001.
Modi was being hauled over the coals by the Congress opposition for his role in the 2002 communal riots that followed the Godhra train carnage.
He resurrected the ‘Sardar’ issue to hit back at his detractors ,seeking to provide historical linkage to himself and his government, terming the injustice to the Sardar as an injustice to Gujarat at the hands of the Nehru-Gandhi family .He hung his own problems with the UPA led Centre as a continuation of the same injustice against the State. To cash in on the issue in the 2012 assembly elections, he announced the ambitious project to build a statue of the Sardar in Gujarat which would be twice the size of the Statue of Liberty in the US. The move to collect iron for it from every village formed part of his smart poll publicity campaign: and It paid rich dividends. Modi swept the State Assembly elections. Simultaneously ,as he set his sights to the 2014 General Elections, the project was immediately scaled up for a national repeat of the same campaign objectives.
The Prime Minister has gone on record to state that Mahatma Gandhi would have been incomplete without Sardar. And Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel who succeeded him, has been quick to equate him with Sardar Patel. While performing the bhoomi-pujan for the Rs 176 crore Shresth-Bharat bhavan slated to come up near the venue of the Rs3000 crore Statue of Unity, She said that “in the form of Narendra Modi we have got Sardar Patel”.
Modi is not the first politician from Gujarat to aspire for the mantle of the ‘iron man of India’. Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel in his two stints in office was widely feted as the ‘chotte’ sardar for taking on Medha Patkar and pursuing the construction of the Narmada dam. Hardliner L.K.Advani who was the home minister and later the deputy prime minister in the NDA government headed by the soft hearted Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, widely invited comparison with the Nehru-Sardar duo.
For all the scaled- up sound and light to mark the event in Gujarat, the run for unity in Ahmedabad was more of an official event with policemen leading the show while the general public participation was not of a high order. A lack of popular participation was evident everywhere. Interestingly, none of the BJP leaders, ministers or other VIPs participated in the run.
Both Gandhi and Sardar were epitomes of simplicity with high standards of probity in personal life. The irony is that an amount as high as Rs 3000 crore is being spent for the statue projects, which includes a sprawling park as well, in the name of a deceased leader, who lived a simple life. Similarly, the Rs 500 crore Mahatma Mandir, an international level convention centre carrying the Mahatma’s name, has come up in Gujarat’s capital. Can an opulent structure built with public money ever be a monument to perpetuate the memory of the Mahatma? The poverty stricken, slum-dwellers whose cause the Mahatma espoused stay cheek-by jowl with the Mahatma mandir, but their presence is sought to be negated by a wall which has been constructed to hide the sight. A Rs 400 crore addition to the secretariat was made in the shape of a special wing to house the chief minister and other ministerial offices. The helipad less than half a kilometre away was shifted to within the secretariat flanking the CMs office. Do these two national icons who were wedded to life-long simplicity need opulent monuments to perpetuate their memory? Or are these monuments meant to glorify some living leaders?
The people of Gujarat would surely like to know why a chief minister who ruled the state for 13 years never thought of something to commemorate Indulal Yagnik, who led the Mahagujarat Struggle for statehood and also had the gall to challenge the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Yagnik was a simple man who never owned a car or even a bicycle but lived in the hearts of the people. A sea of humanity had turned out on the streets when he died but Modi never thought of erecting a fitting memorial to him, Why? The cruelest lies are often told in silence.