The decision to celebrate Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s birth anniversary on 31 October as the National Unity Day is indeed commendable, but certainly not without political considerations. The NDA government is keen to honour Patel not only because of his contribution to the country’s freedom struggle and for uniting India following the Independence, but also because it sees it as an opportunity of putting down the Nehru-Gandhis. Patel was a man of great stature and does not need anyone’s endorsement to highlight his image. He was the original Iron Man of India as was Indira Gandhi the first Iron Lady of the country. Both served in different eras and both contributed immensely to the unity of our nation. Therefore, to pit one against the other is nothing but a colossal error of judgement since it serves no other purpose but an indulgence in petty politics.
Certain sections of the media have been spreading misinformation that Patel’s birth anniversary was never celebrated and it was going to be marked for the first time from this year onwards. This is a grave inaccuracy, as Patel was always a coveted figure who left an indelible impression for future India. However, it so happened that Indira Gandhi, the greatest mass leader of the last century was also assassinated on 31 October and thus her functions apparently overshadowed those of Patel, who was a phenomenal leader from her father’s generation, but died in 1950 soon after the country attained Independence.
To use an analogy, if Lata Mangeshkar is honoured every year, it does not mean that it is to eclipse the contribution of Kundan Lal Saigal, a legendary singer of the earlier generation. One never honours one at the expense of another, but this is precisely what the NDA government is planning to do. Jawaharlal Nehru, Patel, Maulana Azad as also Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh, all played a major role in our freedom struggle and all are figures of the history we are proud of.
To say that Patel was ignored and did not get his due is an incorrect manner of presenting facts. Sardar was truly someone who could be seen as a role model by the future generations. There are several memorials to honour him in the capital. They include the Sardar Patel Marg, the Patel Chowk, Patel Nagar and the internationally acclaimed Patel Chest Institute at the Delhi University. The National Police Academy in Hyderabad is also named after him and every city in the country has a colony which carries his name. If the BJP wants to add some more, it will be very well received and like many of his contemporaries, his contribution was enormous. Indira Gandhi was a leader in her own right and after the creation of Bangladesh, following the 1971 India-Pakistan war, BJP’s top leader, Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was in the Bharatiya Jana Sangh at the time, likened her to Goddess Durga. Her position in India’s history is unchallenged as is that of so many others including Patel.
The question which crops up is that why BJP is so apologetic about its own icons. Even during the earlier NDA regime, no effort was made to commemorate Shyama Prasad Mukherjee or Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. As things stand today, nothing is being done even now. The two topmost BJP leaders tried to emulate top Congress leaders instead of their own. If Atal Behari Vajpayee liked himself to be compared with Nehru and acted as his clone, L.K. Advani preferred to call himself as Louha Purush or a clone of Patel. The BJP today says that Nehru and Patel were on opposite sides and did not get along well. Should one thus assume that both Vajpayee and Advani never got along either and their proximity was just a façade?
The BJP in 2014 has decided to relegate its icons to the background. The three founding members, Vajpayee, Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were dropped from the Parliamentary Board. While Vajpayee is ailing, the other two were pushed into a newly created Marg Darshak Mandal, which the Congress described as an Old Age Home. Vajpayee and Advani’s photographs are no longer displayed on party hoardings and posters.
If the BJP wanted to put down the Gandhis as represented by Sonia Gandhi and her two children, they should have included Maneka Gandhi and Feroze Varun Gandhi in the committee to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Pandit Nehru this year. The implied message in this would have been that the Nehru-Gandhi legacy was being restored to those it should have originally belonged to, but got transferred because Sanjay Gandhi was killed in a tragic plane crash in 1980. This would have been construed as good politics.
It is imperative that we must honour our heroes and the logical corollary of this is that each one of them has a place in our history. Between us.