The BJP’s fight with Congress over Sardar Patel’s legacy escalated, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacking the opposition party for having tried to “run down and erase” his contributions to the unification of the country after Independence.
The Congress hit right back, accusing the BJP and RSS of trying to “appropriate” Patel as the saffron party had no role in the freedom struggle. The party also recalled it was Patel who banned the RSS after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.
“There have been attempts to run down Patel, to ensure that the contribution of Patel is forgotten. But Sardar is Sardar, whether any government or any party recognises his contribution or not but the nation and the youth will not forget him,” Modi, who invokes Patel frequently in his speeches, said without naming the Congress.
After flagging off the ‘Run for Unity’ to mark Patel’s 142nd birth anniversary, Modi said it was due to the statesmanship and political acumen of the country’s first home minister that India was united today despite the colonial rulers’ wish to get it splintered into smaller states after Independence.
The Congress, which has been facing BJP criticism over ignoring Patel’s contributions, launched a counteroffensive against the BJP over Modi’s remarks, deprecating efforts to “appropriate” the legacy of the leader.
“To honour the memory of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, BJP and RSS should stop appropriating him,” the Congress said on its Twitter handle.
The Congress also posted Patel’s quote after the Mahatma’s killing which said: “The speeches of the Sangh (RSS) leaders are poisonous. It is as a result of this venom that Mahatma Gandhi has been assassinated”.
Congress spokesman Tom Vadakkan alleged that attempts at “adopting” Congress leaders was a clear admission by the BJP that their participation in the freedom struggle was missing.
“They are trying to rewrite history,” he said.
About BJP chief Amit Shah’s criticism over the delay in bestowing on Patel ‘Bharat Ratna’, India’s highest civilian award, Vadakkan said,”What did Sardar Patel do and who did he ban, these are issues that are in public domain. Sardar Patel is a Congressman…will remain in the hearts of people.”
Paying rich tributes to Patel, the prime minister said he not only saved the country from the difficulties being faced immediately after Independence, but succeeded in uniting the whole nation.
“The British government wished that India got disintegrated into smaller states. But Patel used all means and succeeded in uniting all princely states into a single nation within a very small span of time,” he said.
The prime minister said India’s strength lay in its diverse culture, different religions, languages, customs, lifestyles and food habits.
Citing Rajendra Prasad, India’s first prime minister, Modi said India got unified only due to the administrative acumen and strong leadership of Patel but the country had not given him the respect he deserved.
“Rajendra Babu must be happy now, wherever is his soul, that we are remembering the contribution of Patel even though some people tried to run down and erase his contribution. The nation will continue to remember Patel,” he said.
Sardar Patel’s legacy is being frequently talked about ahead of the Assembly elections in Gujarat, the home state of the both Patel and Modi.
At his election rallies, Modi has often talked abou how Patel was slighted by the Congress, a move seen by many as an attempt at both igniting a sense of Gujarati pride and blunting efforts by Patidar quota stir leader Hardik Patel to wean away the influential community from the BJP.