Icons are not made in a day; nor can they be unmade according to some people’s whims and fancies. But, going by the eagerness and impatience of the Hindutva forces in putting Deen Dayal Upadhyay and Sardar Patel on pedestals hitherto occupied by icons like Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, something seems amiss with the new dispensation. This feeling gets strengthened because outrageous efforts are under way even to erase such historic monuments like Taj Mahal from the annals of history.
Let facts talk first. The Modi government has constructed a 182-metre statue of Sardar Patel, the tallest in the world, at Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat, at a cost close to Rs. 3,000 core. Mahatma Gandhi is given a short shrift. If at all a record-breaking statue is to be built, it is the Father of the Nation, like in other countries, who should be bestowed with that glory. Even if the Modi-Shah government considers Gujarat as the fulcrum of the country, Gandhiji should have been the first choice of the regime as he too is a Gujarati. It is Gandhiji, not Sardar Patel, whom world leaders turn to as the apostle of non-violence and harbinger of freedom. This is not to belittle the contributions of Sardar Patel, the Iron man of India, who played a stellar role in unifying the country.
The BJP regime is apparently working on a hidden agenda which comes out off and on through the vilifying comments against Pandit Nehru by the Hindutva elements. Though it was Sardar Patel as the Home Minister who banned the RSS in the wake of the assassination of Gandhiji, the Sangh Parivar sees him as one who had a soft corner for the majority religion. It is no secret that Pandit Nehru, an avowed secularist, had differences with Sardar Patel on this issue. But it is equally important to take note that both had mutual trust and they ‘sat at the feet of the master and struggled for the freedom of the country.’
One issue seriously bogging down the BJP is that it does not have any stalwart of the freedom struggle among its icons. At the same time, it apparently wants to write an alternative historical discourse minus Nehru-Gandhi family. It wants to dislodge Nehru from his iconic cult status as he had a perennial distrust and dislike for the RSS. Hence adoption of leaders like Sardar Patel will serve to kill two birds with one stone. In Patel they will have a freedom struggle icon, not from the Nehru dynasty. Add icons like Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Subhas Chandra Bose, M. S. Golwalkar and V. D. Savarkar to this pantheon, it serves the purpose of ‘painting the Indian polity with saffron’ and giving history a new twist.
However, this raises the question whether appropriation of certain icons at the cost of others was morally and ethically a right way to re-write history. It is nothing but a deceit for selfish gains. Even Sardar Patel might be turning in his grave by seeing Sangh Parivar’s efforts to make him overshadow over Gandhiji whom he called ‘Bapu’ and Nehru, ‘my leader’.
Editor, Indian currents weeklyDelhi