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Is BJP using Sardar Patel to eclipse Indira Gandhi? Congress to strike back

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

Ever since the BJP government came to power in 2014, it has been consistently trying to undermine contributions of former Congress leaders. These have included former prime ministers, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

Ironically, in its bid to downplay the contributions of the Gandhi family, the government is also desperately trying to revive the legacy of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel - the man who had banned the RSS - BJP's ideological parent.

Also read - PM Modi to launch digital exhibition on Sardar Patel to mark his 141st birth anniversary

The overshadowing

While the government in 2015 announced that 31 October would be National Unity Day to celebrate Patel's birthday, it also decided to extend the celebrations by a week this year, calling it National Unity Week.

The same date also happens to be the death anniversary of Indira Gandhi and while the previous Congress-led UPA government commemorated the day with much fanfare, the NDA government had shunned away from any such celebrations.

Recently, the Congress criticised the way the Modi government handled Indira's death anniversary, calling it "disgusting" and "petty-minded".

The revival

Having been consistently snubbed by the government, the Congress has decided to use Indira Gandhi's legacy as a political tool in its bid to revive its flailing fortunes across the country.

The party will organise one-year long nationwide campaign, beginning 19 November, celebrating the former prime minister's birth anniversary.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi would kick off the programme and President Pranab Mukherjee will deliver the Indira Gandhi centenary lecture on 19 November at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi.

With assembly elections in five states just around the corner, the Congress intends to revive Indira's legacy in wake of the sudden spurt in support of the ruling combine that has been accused of using the recent surgical strikes across the LoC card for political gains. The party hopes that the initiative will help mobilise support before the assembly polls, especially in UP where it is seeking a revival of fortunes.

Congress hopes the initiative will mobilise support before the assembly polls, particularly in UP

"The idea is to make the younger generation aware of the contributions of Indira Gandhi and how she even sacrificed her life for the country," said a senior Congress leader, who is also part of one of the several committees formed to ensure the success of this initiative.

The programme will include social media campaigns in the form of documentaries, music videos, all of which would showcase Indira's contributions.

Winds of change?

The yearlong programme has been scheduled to culminate with a special session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) which may also witness major changes within the party.

On 15 October, Congress general secretary, Janardan Dwivedi, wrote to state PCC chiefs about the final programme that has the approval of the Central Committee.

The letter was also marked to general secretaries/state in-charge, CLP leaders, secretaries, CWC members and chiefs of frontal organisations and departments.

Dwivedi's letter read: "The Central Committee has prepared a booklet in Hindi and English on the struggle and achievements of Indiraji which will be sent to you immediately after publication. You are expected to get them translated in the language of your state and re-publish as per requirement at the state level."

Plan of action

Earlier, a letter regarding the celebrations was sent on 17 September requesting state units to constitute state committees and sub-committees, and finalise the programmes which are to be organised in different states. The Congress is planning to hold seminars in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and two other venues and Indira Gandhi memorial lectures in 20-25 important cities.

Moreover, photo exhibitions, documentary films, music videos and use of virtual reality formats like 3D technology and voice call radio will also be utilised to showcase the charisma of the former prime minister. A website dedicated to her would also be launched.

Minutes of the meeting

Earlier on 23 June, Congress formed two committees that were to look after and plan all the programmes during this one-year period. Led by Sonia Gandhi, the 21-member Indira Gandhi Birth Centenary Celebrations Committee consisted of former PM Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi, Sheila Dikshit, Karan Singh, Sushilkumar Shinde, P Chidambaram, AK Antony, Anand Sharma, Shivraj Patil, Kumari Selja, Madhav Singh Solanki, among others.

Dikshit was named as the convener of the other committee while Anand Sharma and Mani Shanker Aiyar were chosen as co-conveners. The members of this committee had the likes of Motilal Vora, Janardan Dwivedi, Ajay Maken, Asha Kumari, Milind Deora and Priya Dutt.

Photo exhibitions, documentary films and the like will be used to showcase Indira's 'charisma'

These committees have suggested activities in districts and blocks and state level PCC conventions while frontal organisations have been tasked with certain duties that will be carried out through the year. The Mahila Congress has the mandate of organising national, state, district and block level conventions; health camps; gender sensitisation campaigns along with NSUI; among various others progammes.

Similarly, Indian Youth Congress, NSUI and Seva Dal have been assigned similar programmes to popularise the birth centenary celebrations.

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

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First published: 30 October 2016, 6:51 IST