In the run up to the general elections in 2013, candidate Narendra Modi went around the country asking farmers to donate iron so that he could use that to cast a statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. This was no idle gesture but part of a long term plan. It was the first step in the recasting of Sardar Patel, pun intended.
Three men, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, emerged as undoubted giants on the Indian political scene in August 1947. All of them were from the Congress. The Indian National Congress, though a far cry from the Congress party that won independence, could legitimately claim history and to a certain extent credit of being preceded by these and other giants.
For a long long time, the BJP has felt the need for some leader they could latch on to. Sadly, for the BJP there was no such leader they could claim credit for. The BJP or its cultural / political parent the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) did not really participate in the freedom struggle. Who could they worship? They tried it with Savarkar but the problem was that Savarkar was implicated in the Gandhi murder plot and while he was not convicted, a lot of people are not buying his innocence. Further, some of Savarkar’s views were anathema to the extreme Hindu right; his insistence that the cow was merely a useful animal and that there was no issue in eating her up once she went barren, for instance. Some even tried to portray Godse as a true patriot worthy of veneration. Surely that is scraping the bottom of the last barrel? You see the problem? Nary a leader of undoubted repute and contribution to the freedom struggle when they needed one. Or they thought they needed one.
So the BJP decided to adopt the only option they had. Appropriate one of the three giants. The choice of whom to appropriate was simple
Mahatma Gandhi continues to rule the hearts of millions in India and around the world. But he could not be claimed. There was a small problem in that: Mahatma Gandhi had been killed by a man who belonged to the RSS. Oops.
Jawaharlal Nehru could not be appropriated because he had been Prime Minister for 17 years. He has left behind a huge legacy. His daughter and grandson have also led the Congress for a long time and his descendants lead them still. So how could they claim him? In fact Nehru had to be demonised. Vilified. Blamed for everything that is wrong with this country. I am sure that if we wait for a few more years and the BJP stays in power, it will emerge that Nehru did not write Discovery of India or indeed participate in the freedom struggle at all. It will turn out that he took credit for something that someone from the Hindu Mahasabha did. Everything including study of law in England.
That left Sardar Patel. Sardar Patel had done everything that the BJP would love to take credit for. He was an acknowledged strongman of the type the BJP would love to have as their own. He was a key mover behind unification of the country by getting the princely states in line. He managed the refugee crises. He had differences with Nehru. The fact that the two men had tremendous respect for each other and were a team is an inconvenient fact that can be swept under the carpet. Shh. Don’t talk about that.
Which is why the BJP appropriated Sardar Patel. Just like they have tried to appropriate or co-opt Ambedkar’s and Netaji Bose’s legacy.
To complete the appropriation process, Sardar Patel had to be recast. As someone who was strong (yes he was); nationalistic (his patriotism was undoubted) and right-wing (there is no doubt that Sardar was right wing when compared with Nehru; remember the Congress at that time was an umbrella that sheltered all thoughts but he was no bigot with hatred for the ‘other’). Essentially someone who would have been MUCH better for India than the weak leader that was Nehru. Try searching the net on articles and conspiracy theories that pit Sardar Patel against Pandit Nehru and you will see the hand of the BJP social media cell or ignorant (of history) followers.
That he was not really an extreme right-wing bigot full of hate is is being addressed by repeatedly saying that he was a Hindu nationalist. The inspiration probably comes from Goebbels who is reputed to have created the. By erecting giant statues (that are still on paper while the cost estimates increase) to this neglected leader. By announcing schemes in his name.
What is helping the BJP & RSS is that the Indian National Congress of Indira Gandhi and beyond, did neglect Sardar Patel leaving him open to opportunistic appropriation. Also most of Indians who are alive today were born after 1947 and very few of us bother to read any history whatsoever. It is so easy to write what you want on blank minds. Especially in the days when WhatsApp forwards and Tweets have replaced serious (any?) scholarship.
Sardar Patel would have detested the organisation the BJP is today. He would be revolted by the strategy to divide Indians along communal lines, especially because of his experience in dealing with what happens when this division happens.
Repeat after me: “Sardar Patel was not a right-wing ideologue.”
Yes that’s right. “Sardar Patel was not a right-wing ideologue.”
He is being appropriated by a party that has no legitimate heroes but desperately needs some. How pathetic is that.