BJP's Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has been trying to appropriate legacy of Congressman Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. How justified is the BJP in claiming Sardar Patel as their own? And the Congress in contesting the claim?
The Sangh’s attempts to ‘adopt’ Sardar Patel are old. M S Golwalkar had tried to play Sardar Patel’s anti-left instincts, urging him in letters to let the RSS help in battling the communist hold over the youth. The BJP, founded in 1980, seeks a past with a connect to the freedom struggle.
Deendayal Upadhyay and Syama Prasad Mookerjee never really attained iconic status, and the projection of L K Advani as the new Lauh Purush was part of the BJP’s continuing attempt to appropriate Sardar Patel.
The Congress has always been a coalition, with a huge pantheon and long history. The BJP-RSS-Jana Sangh has tried to imagine an India minus the Nehru family. Setting up Sardar Patel and an imagined India had he been PM, is helpful, though not necessarily factual. In February 1949 Sardar Patel had said, “Hindu Raj is a mad idea, it will kill the soul of India.”
How did the trajectories of Sardar Patel and Nehru differ? Where did each come from?
Their origins and personalities were very different, even though both were lawyers and extremely close to Gandhi. Nehru was an erudite Kashmiri Brahmin with very upper class credentials; Sardar Patel came from a Gujarati farming community of lesser means. Nehru was the more flamboyant and outward-looking.
How did each see Partition?
Sardar Patel, a staunch Hindu, helped both Hindus and Muslims, and saved many lives, a fact that even the Muslim League leader from UP, Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, acknowledged before he left for Pakistan. Sardar Patel immediately accepted Partition as an inevitability, and helped Nehru come to terms with it. Sardar Patel also thought that the onus was on Muslims to defeat suspicions about the actions of some of their co-religionists in the pre-Partition days. Nehru was a progressive Hindu who firmly believed that India must afford the same rights to all its citizens and, if anything, the minority must be treated with greater care.
What role did each play after Independence?
Sardar Patel was tasked with bringing the princely states around. Sardar Patel’s biographer Rajmohan Gandhi wrote, “In the six months between freedom and Gandhi’s death, the Mahatma, Nehru and Sardar Patel constituted a crucial triumvirate that agreed that independent India would be not a