October 31, 2017, is the 142nd birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. Unlike the past, political parties of all orientations particularly BJP and Congress are into competitive contest to appropriate Sardar Patel. Undoubtedly, it is a welcome sign. As a mark of respect, all the leaders who served immensely in shaping India as a modern united country deserve special tribute.
Sardar Patel’s contributions are immense and thus he deserves special remembrance by the State, groups and individuals.
It does not mean that political regimes should prefer one leader over another or exaggerate the contributions of one while hiding the others to suit their ideological temperament. It has happened in the past and it is happening now. For many of us, both are wrong. And two wrongs cannot make right.
Sardar Patel’s contributions are immense and thus he deserves special remembrance by the State, groups and individuals. His personality was multifaceted. He was known for a strong sense of determination, quick decision-making, straightforwardness in discussions, firmness in action, believe in unity in diversity and deep sense of patriotic pride. Alas! These characteristics are visibly lacking in the present leadership.
In the past, Congress has named many policies, monuments, places, roads, institutions after Sardar Patel. But comparing the people belonging to Nehru dynasty, the name of other stalwarts did not figure much in its governance model of commemoration. It is because of this gap, BJP is able to gain the strategic edge in appropriating them.
The much-hyped World’s tallest statue of Sardar Patel referred as Statue of Unity (SOU) with a projected cost of more than two-thousand crores is already in circulation.
Sardar Patel is now an easy co-opt for the BJP. October 31 is declared as the Rashtriya Ekta Diwas (National Unity Day) in 2014. The much-hyped World’s tallest statue of Sardar Patel referred as Statue of Unity (SOU) with a projected cost of more than two-thousand crores is already in circulation. Interestingly, public sector companies like ONGC, HPCL, IOCL and OIL have decided to contribute over hundreds of crore towards the construction of this statue as a part of their corporate social responsibility. These are extravaganza but often justified because similar things had been done in the past too.
Ministries of the Centre and States are giving special focus to observe “Nation Salutes Sardar Vallabbhai Patel” on October 31, 2017. Cultural, literary and sports programmes including essay competitions and ‘Unity Run’ are organised across India. Despite all these, the renewed and unprecedented interest of the BJP in Sardar Patel is more strategic than its love for the ideas and actions of Sardar Patel. It can be seen in overuse of these exercises in the electoral campaigns beginning with 2014. Sardar Patel hardly gained the present prominence in the framework of Narendra Modi when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat for one and half decade.
One may agree or disagree on the methods and approaches of Sardar Patel, but his commitment to preserving India’s unity cannot be doubted. He is rightly credited along with V.P. Menon to save the country from balkanisation by putting up the representatives of more than 500 states on one platform and transforming them into 14 administrative units and later shaping them into uniform administrative, financial and judicial mechanism of India. At many instances, his impersonal and hard actions were the outcome of the then expediency than conscious choice. Despite achieving this herculean task, Sardar Patel had neither tried to adopt the narcissistic politics nor indulged in populist and ideological actions.
Though he has a dominant presence in the organisational wing of Congress from the late 1930s until his death in 1950, he has neither used principally untoward means to achieve personal gains nor side-lined his political opponents within the party. It can be seen in his acceptance of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as the President of the Congress and later stepping aside to allow Jawaharlal Nehru to become Prime Minister despite being the choice of the majority of the political leaders in the provinces. However, the death of Patel in 1950 was a great loss for the Congress but a gain for the Nehru family as the absence of his unique leadership clearly drifted the party towards dynastic ambitions that finally culminated in the virtual decay of the Congress in today’s time.
Sardar Patel appreciated the service role of RSS and later critiqued it for its supposed role in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and banned the organisation for a year.
Sardar Patel’s biographer Narhari Parikh has highlighted that Patel was always willing to fight for what he considered right. He always took a procedural route to express his anguish while respecting the party hierarchy. At the same time, he accommodated dissent and a great variety of opinions. For instance, his opposition to socialist politics was paternalistic as can be seen in his offer to Purshottam Trikamdas, a renowned socialist to form the government in the State of Bombay to prove the promises of a clean and efficient government. Similarly, despite being loyal to Congress, Sardar Patel appreciated the service role of RSS and later critiqued it for its supposed role in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and banned the organisation for a year.
Ironically, BJP has emerged as the ardent admirer of Sardar Patel but without subscribing to his leadership quality, understanding his idea of patriotism and treatment to secular ethos. The uniqueness of Patel’s leadership lies in its judicious character that treated everyone with the same yardstick. Sardar Patel has certainly believed in strong and united India but his patriotism was rarely rooted in extreme nationalism, in general, or Hindu nationalism. He was a secularist to the core but with a difference of Nehru and Gandhi. Nehru’s secularism was religious neutral while Patel’s notion of secularism was rooted in his religious and cultural socialisation. Similarly, Gandhi’s approach towards secularism was to grant dignified concessions to Muslims while Patel wanted to treat everyone as a citizen without creating minority-majority dyad.
There has always been made an attempt to vitiate the communal atmosphere of the country by looking at things through the polarised spectacles. Contrary to the wishes of Patel, communal harmony has become a unrealised goal. Much against the belief of Patel, he is being glorified as the champion of anti-Muslim tirade. Selective reading and un-contextual quotes of his speeches are cited to support the proposition. In fact, after Independence, it was Patel who asked the people of India in plain-speaking terms, “to forget the past, because it is a manly virtue to do so… in India, every Muslim should feel that he is an Indian citizen and has equal rights as an Indian citizen”.
His dream was to lay the foundation of strong and united India without obliterating the socio-cultural diversities of the country.
At the same time, he frankly told Muslims that for “a community to think that its interests are different from that of the country in which it lives is a great mistake.” He, therefore, advised them that “the future of a minority-any minority-is to trust the majority”; that they should “make friends with others and create a change in the atmosphere.” His advice to Muslims is very much in tune with the advices of Dr M.A. Ansari, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and all other patriotic citizens. One can have a detailed understanding of Patel and Muslim relationship while reading the timely book Sardar Patel and Indian Muslims by Rafiq Zakaria published in 1995.
Be that as it may, Sardar Patel’s tone and approach may be harsh and at time suspicious, but he never aimed at creating hatred between minorities and majority. Let the country know on his 142nd birth anniversary that Sardar Patel’s sense of unity was not sharpened on the artificial disunity between religious and cultural communities. Like many others, his dream was to lay the foundation of strong and united India without obliterating the socio-cultural diversities of the country.