It’s unfair to say that Congress never gave Sardar Patel his due
Flagging off the Run for Unity event in Delhi to commemorate the 142nd birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that previous governments have run down contributions of the former home minister in unifying the country post Independence.
In the past, members of BJP and its ideological fountainhead RSS too have raised similar concerns and blamed the Gandhi family for not giving Patel his due. The right wing has, over the years, particularly held India's first prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru responsible for snubbing Patel and his contributions and spread a canard of lies to put forth their points.
While it may be partially true that the previous Congress-ruled governments had gone berserk in naming roads, intersections, lanes and bylanes, and institutions after members of the Gandhi family, it would be unfair to say that Patel was never given his due. The right-wing has been engaging in weaving stories of vast differences between the two but the evidence suggests otherwise.
In fact, Patel was well aware of how certain sections were trying to pit him against Nehru by spreading rumors about their differences. It was for this very reason that Patel in an write up tried to address this issue and wrote on 14 October 1949, “Contrary to the impression created by some interested persons and eagerly accepted in credulous circles, we (Nehru) have worked together as lifelong friends and colleagues, adjusting ourselves to each other's point of view as the occasion demanded, and valuing each other's advice as only those who have confidence in each other can.”
Further, Patel in his essay on Nehru wrote, “The versatility of his character and attainment at once defy delineation. His thoughts have sometimes a depth which is not easy to fathom, but underlying them all is a transparent sincerity and robustness of youth which endear him to every one without distinction of caste and creed, race or religion.”
In fact, soon after Modi made these comments of previous governments running down Patel's contributions, social media was flooded with several posts and photos which prove the mutual admiration between the two leaders. In one such photograph, Nehru, despite being the PM, can be seen standing behind Patel which clearly went against the protocol. It would be next to impossible to even imagine a similar breach in protocol today.
To further his point, Modi even went on to the length of accusing Nehru of not attending Patel's funeral and his lie was nailed after Congress released a video of the then prime minister and others standing with bowed heads before the burning pyre. But none of this seems to have deterred Modi and his party that continues to misinform the public over what happened more than 60 years ago.
As far as naming public places after him, Patel has fair share of institutions and prominent places named after him. Yet again, several social media users on his birth anniversary mentioned several such places named after India's first home minister.
Citing several such examples, social media users named several such prominent places that have been named after Patel. In fact, Madhya Pradesh's State Secretariat is known as Vallabh Bhawan. Similarly, the Gujarat Secretariat too is named after Patel and so is the Hyderabad based national training institute for training of IPS officers – Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy.
Moreover, Bikaner in Rajasthan has a Sardar Patel Medical College, Police and Security University is named after him and so are several other roads across the length and breadth of the country. Also, the dam in Gujarat that was recently inaugurated by the prime minister is known as Sardar Sarovar whose foundation was laid by none other than Nehru himself.
As far as BJP and RSS' appropriation for Patel's legacy goes, a Times of India report revealed how a book written by RSS ideologue HV Sheshadri blaming the former home minister for Partition has been in circulation for the last 27 years. Ironically, the book which has “unflattering references” about Patel and Nehru is also being sold for Rs 100 from RSS' headquarters in Gujarat -- Modi's home state.
The ToI report claims, “There's little chance that Modi would not have known of the book since Modi was a regular at the place. Modi spent over 13 years as a `pracharak' from 1967 to 1980 in the same building, though the book was published after that, in 1982. But as a voracious reader, old-timers recall, Modi devoured most Sangh publications.”
Meanwhile, if BJP and its affiliates are crying hoarse over Congress governments trying to run down Patel's contributions, the same holds true for Modi and his government who are doing the same by downplaying the contributions of Congress leaders like Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. The ruling dispensation has gone to the extent of renaming institutions named after these leaders which reflect their vindictive politics.
So, why is it that BJP is trying to piggyback on Patel, a Congressman, to further its agenda of running down the contributions of Nehru and Gandhis. Aashray Hariharan, in his article for Firstpost, tries to explain this phenomenon.
He writes, “The answer may lie in the fact that most freedom fighters and leaders who were part of the Independence struggle were Congress leaders. The BJP, or even the Jan Sangh that preceded the party, came into being post-Independence, and they lack leaders who can provide the spark that was needed. If anything, the party owes its ideology to the works of Vinayak Savarkar, who was tried for the murder of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.”