Appropriating Patel by BJP, politics at play

The 182-metre, Rs 2,989-crore statue being planned for Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat will be more a symbol of political partisanship and wasteful expenditure than a monument to the great leader.

Patel’s role as an important leader of the freedom struggle and his work as India’s first home minister to integrate the country into a united nation have given him a singular place in history. But then, there is a reason why the BJP wants to appropriate Patel. The rightist party has no national icon unlike the Congress which has former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The icon it wants has to be a national leader and non-controversial, belonging to the past, not a living leader like, say A B Vajpayee. Patel is one such leader and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose idea it is to install the statue, thinks that Patel is eminently suitable for that role. But then, Patel had nothing to do with the Jan Sangh, BJP’s original avatar, or the RSS, its ideological parent. 

Patel was a leader of great stature and eminence. While Nehru was a Leftist in his outlook, Patel was a right-winger within the Congress. He was against Left politics, Communism and class struggle. However, there is one uncomfortable factor for the BJP: Patel was completely against the Hindu Mahasabha. After Gandhi’s assassination, the Congress leader took a firm stand against the Mahasabha and the RSS. One, however, should accept that Patel did not get the attention he richly deserved which the BJP wants to exploit now. By attempting to appropriate Patel’s political legacy, BJP has lowered the high stature that Patel enjoys in modern Indian history.

 This is akin to belittling the contribution the Iron Man has made to the country and distorting history.  A hero with a halo like Patel would be useful to the BJP, especially because he can be counter-posed with Nehru whose legacy is identified with the Congress. That is why Nehru is de-emphasised, and sometimes even demonised, and Patel made a greater leader in the BJP scheme of history. Politicisation of the national leaders of the past in narrow terms and using it to serve the present day interests of parties is wrong. The BJP’s discovery of Patel is part of such a partisan narrative of the past.

The statue is bad for other important reasons too. Spending a colossal sum of Rs 3,000 crore on a statue is completely wrong and criminal in a country so poor and backward as ours. Thousands of malnourished children can be saved by spending that amount. That would have been a cause for which money would have been well spent.

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