Digvijaya Singh's Blog | March 13, 2014 12:04 AM IST

Pretender to Patel's legacy: Modi wants a statue for him but buries his idea of India

By Digvijaya Singh

The idea of India is thrilling because it captures the country's heterogeneity, encapsulates every period of its history and focuses on fulfilling the aspirations of more than a billion people. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was among those who laid the foundation of this very idea of India. Essential to Patel's idea of India was a democratic polity and pluralistic society.

The RSS's idea of India on the other hand is the complete anti-thesis of Patel's. This can best be understood by reading some of the statements of M S Golwalkar (RSS's second sarsanghchalak), during whose reign Narendra Modi was a pracharak. Golwalkar believed, as stated in 'We, or Our Nation Defined', that non-Hindus of Hindustan must be "wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, de-serving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment - not even citizens' rights."

Given the inherent contradiction in Patel's and RSS's philosophy, the sudden ap-propriation of this national icon by BJP is sheer political opportunism.

Modi, who joined RSS when he was 15, is deeply influenced by its philosophy. He has stated that he was fortunate to have been an RSS swayamsevak and imbibed the outfit's values. Modi has said, "I can say for sure that what is best in me, finest in me, is due in large part to my training with the RSS."

Patel believed RSS's ideology to be poisonous. He wrote to his cabinet colleague Shyama Prasad Mookerjee on July 18, 1948: "Our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former (RSS), an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy (Mahatma Gandhi's assassination) became possible. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of government and the state."

The government, with Patel as home minister, promptly banned RSS on February 4, 1948. Some argue that it was Patel who lifted the ban on RSS, but conveniently forget that this was done on certain strict conditions in July 1949.

Central to this agreement was that "RSS should adopt a written and published constitution, restrict itself to culture, forswear violence and secrecy, profess loyalty to India's flag and Constitution and provide for a democratic organization."

That Modi today is proud of RSS's values, which Sardar Saheb held responsible for the Mahatma's death, is telling. It is even more surprising that Modi chooses (rather deceitfully) to suddenly be an ardent follower of Sardar Saheb, given that during the third year of his RSS training he lived with a senior functionary of the outfit. The functionary's son, Mohan Bhagwat, is now RSS sarsanghchalak.

If Modi has had a genuine change of heart, is he willing to openly denounce RSS? This brings us to a more fundamental point. If for a moment we (disregarding his-tory and looking beyond every iota of reason) assume that this change of heart has happened, what did Modi do before this to honour the Sardar?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inaugurated a museum honouring Patel. The construction of the museum, conceptualised by the Sardar Patel Memorial Society and supported by the government, was made possible by generous donations from the people of Gujarat. The Modi-led Gujarat government did not contribute a single rupee to the cause.

Where was the admiration for Patel at this time? Or was a museum commemorating Patel not an appropriate honour? BJP's prime ministerial candidate has twisted the truth, repeatedly stating that Congress had forgotten Patel. One of the most important police institutes - National Police Academy - was established under Congress rule and is named 'Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy'.

Congress associated Patel's name with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation building in 1956. It was the same Congress which associated Sardar's name with the Narmada dam project that is Gujarat's lifeline. Congress also named Ahmedabad airport after Sardar Saheb.

Apart from the fundamentally different ideology, Patel's style of administration is also intrinsically dissimilar to Modi's. It is known to one and all that Gujarat's CM believes in one-man rule and an autocratic style of functioning. Patel was a believer in collective leadership. "Having selected his men, Patel trusted them entirely to im-plement his policy. Sardar never assumed that he knew everything and he never adopted a policy without full and frank consultation," Sardar's home secretary V P Menon had said.

If Modi did truly understand Patel's philosophy, the Rs 3,500 crore he wants to spend on his statue, billed to be taller than the Statue of Liberty, could have been used towards a scheme to benefit the people. The Gujarat government could have then named it after Patel.

Pretenders to Patel's legacy should introspect. They should avoid being ignorant of history and economical in telling the truth. If they do desire to emulate Patel, they should do so in a holistic manner and look at what the Sardar dedicated his life to a united India, which has space for everyone, irrespective of caste, creed, language, ethnicity and, most importantly, religion.

By Digvijaya Singh