Thursday, October 31, 2013

Narendra Modi and Sardar Patel



If Mr Narendra Modi’s admiration for Sardar Patel is born of a genuine understanding of the latter, his Statue of Unity project merits the nation’s approval. 

Modi has decided to spend an estimated sum of Rs 2500 crore to erect Patel’s statue in the Narmada.  Cynics and Modi’s critics will thumb their noses at the expenditure incurred at a time when a large number of people in Modi’s state are labouring under the burden of day-to-day subsistence. But Shahjahan would not have built the Taj Mahal had he applied this kind of logic to his historical aspirations.  India would have missed one of the world’s wonders.  Modi is the contemporary Shahjahan giving us the world’s tallest statue.

Is Modi merely a modern day Shahjahan trying to engrave his name indelibly in the annuls of history?  Or is he playing yet another political game to add a new avatar to the already overcrowded pantheon of the Sangh Parivar? 

Does Modi know what the Sardar really was, how diametrically opposed his views were to those of Modi?

People like Modi have tried off and on to portray Sardar Patel as a champion of Hindutva.  Modi’s recent remark that Patel would have made a better PM than Nehru is not without substance.  Nehru was a Romantic “with child-like innocence,” as Patel described him in his letter to D P Mishra on July 29, 1946.  Patel was a very pragmatic man who never hesitated to call a spade a spade.  In fact, Patel’s pragmatism coupled with his ruthless frankness was a tremendous asset to Nehru in the traumatic days that followed India’s Independence.  It was that ruthlessness which brought Liaquat Ali Khan rushing to Delhi in April 1950 leading to the Nehru-Liaquat Pact.  Patel might have made a better PM.  But such conjectures don’t take us anywhere really.

Patel was never a Hindu communalist.  On the contrary, peaceful coexistence of all communities was as close to his heart as it was to Gandhi’s.  Under pressure from many lobbies to declare India a Hindu state since Pakistan had become a Muslim state, Patel told B M Birla who had strongly advocated such a step, “I do not think it will be possible to consider India as a Hindu state with Hinduism as a state religion.  We must not forget that there are other minorities whose protection is our primary responsibility.” (P N Chopra, The Sardar of India).  Patel asked the senior civil and police officers to protect the Muslims in case of any communal riot.  

True, Patel did not like Jinnah whom he viewed as a mere power-seeker.  He was deeply anguished by the “gullibility” of the Muslims who put their trust in the crafty Jinnah rather than in the visionary Mahatma.  He dared to question Gandhi whether there were any Muslims who would listen to him.  He did not mince words when he warned the Muslim nationalists, “I want to tell you frankly that mere declarations of loyalty to the Indian Union will not help you.... You must give practical proof of your declarations.  I ask you why you did not unequivocally denounce Pakistan for attacking Indian territory with the connivance of Frontier tribesmen?  Is it not your duty to condemn all acts of aggression against India?” (quoted from The Statesman, Dec 28, 1947 in Sardar Patel and Indian Muslims, Rafiq Zakaria)

When Pakistan drove out Hindus in large numbers especially from East Bengal, Patel thundered, “We would have no alternative left except to send out Muslims in equal numbers.”(Rafiq Zakaria)

Such utterances of the Sardar are quoted by certain members of the Sangh Parivar as evidence for his Hindutva legacy.  But as Mahatma Gandhi said, “The Sardar had a bluntness of speech which sometimes unintentionally hurt.  Though his heart was expansive enough to accommodate all.” (Gandhi, Communal Unity)

Patel’s was a magnanimous heart which loved the country and all its people.  He does deserve a Statue of Unity.  But he certainly does not deserve to be metamorphosed into a symbol of any factional ideology. 

If Mr Narendra Modi has a proper understanding of what Sardar Patel stood for, we should salute his new venture.  Some conversions are welcome.




13 comments:

  1. Sir,

    1. Is the Sangh Parivar's pantheon really overcrowded(especially when the yardstick in India is set by the Congress party)? I think the Parivar is rather searching for some latch to hook on to.
    2. What caught the RSS's fancy in the early 50s was the feud between Rajendra Prasad and Nehru over the former's advocacy of the rebuilding of Somnath Temple with state funds. This became quintessentially a debate between being communal or being secular. Patel's reaction was awaited. And when he made his stand clear(which was to side with Prasad), the RSS hailed him as a champion of Hinduism. In fact, it is worthy to note that India was not a secular country(on paper) til the early 50s, the change began in a series of constitutional amendments starting with amendment of article 290 in 1956. Some say that had Patel's lived that long he would have never allowed the bills to be introduced in the parliament and India wouldn't have become a secular nation today.
    3. Do you really think Modi can change? People have made him a cult figure for what he is. And he is too smart to overcook his dinner.

    - Sid

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    1. Sid, the behaviour of certain Muslims in India did affect Patel seriously. There were times when he seemed to have doubted the very loyalty of Muslims. Yet at heart he was not parochial. I don't think he would have objected to secularism.

      Modi is a good showman, I know that. He knows how to take the masses with him. He can never be a leader with any vision.

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  2. "Sardar would have better PM". I agree with this statement 100%. I think with him at the helm Pakistan would not been this problematic toady. He would have blunted them long back.

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    1. That's quite right, Rajesh. Patel had a ruthlessly forthright and practical way of approaching problems. But I think we should not denigrate Nehru's vision which was based on understanding, cooperation and inclusiveness. Nehru was a dreamer; that's why I used the term 'Romantic' for him. Unlike Gandhi Nehru was slightly naive. Yet Nehru was great in his own way. I'm ready to go to the extent of saying that Nehru's fault lay in the petty-mindedness of the ineluctable mediocrity of the human species.

      Patel understood that mediocrity and dealt with it at that level. And politicians should do precisely that. So I do agree with you that Patel would have made much difference to history had he become the PM.

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  3. Good post. With this statue initiative and the statements he is making that Sardar was a pro-Hindutva leader etc, he is questioning the very integrity of a leader like Sardar Patel. I wonder why Patel's family didn't respond to this at least. If he was a strong Hindutva person and a man of integrity, he should have resigned from Congress when India took the secular path and joined Jansangh. Now Modi says he is pro-Hindutva, is he saying that Sardar was power-savy and didn't have the guts to get out of Congress? If so it's the highest insult one can do to a national hero. Luckily for Modi, he doesn't live in an educated, mature society where people question him on such things, but in a quasi-democratic India.

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    1. I remember how the BJP had tried to rewrite history when it came to power by meddling with CBSE textbooks. Modi is doing something similar now. As you said, it is gross injustice to a man who towered above parochial thinking. Yes, Patel had some misgivings about Muslims, but that didn't make him pro-Hindutva.

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  4. Modi disappoints me time and again. Why can't our leaders move forward on their own merit? Why do we have to fall back on the past to validate every move? Are our masses that gullible? They underestimate us grossly and will pay the price. But sadly that won't get any of us anywhere.

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    1. History is a crutch for people who can't manage their present on their own.

      Aren't the masses gullible especially where religion is involved?

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  5. I think it is frivolous on our part to go through a character sketch of 'SARDAR' He unified India with a iron hand and at that particular time communalism or pseudocommunalism as practiced today was not known. I am sound pro NaMo but India today needs a iron hand at the helm. Not somebody who thinks poverty is relative term or measures it with Jupiters velocity. We need some hard hitting policy decisions and I would rather push for NaMo given the startling dearth of statesman/politicians at the centre

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    1. People's character can't be divorced from what they say and do, can it? Ultimately the character will overtake politics and short-term policies. Then we shouldn't have to regret. I wouldn't like a man with blinkered vision to be my PM. People like NaMo can prove to be a severe liability to a nation like India which has a tremendous variety of all types: religious, cultural, ethnic, linguistic and even racial. But if Modi's Unity Statue is a symbol of his own inner transformation, I'm willing to keep my fingers crossed.

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  6. Modern day Shahjahan :) Good one. It would be a very big project and could generate lot of employment. But I fear like original Shahjahan, would the the modern Shahjahan also cut both the hands of the architect after the project !!

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  7. We have launched a petition to request President Obama to reconsider US Administration’s stand on Mr. Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the State of Gujarat, India.

    Please visit http://www.modi360.com to review and sign this petition.

    ReplyDelete