Sardar Patel’s “Statue of Unity” was recently inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi as world’s tallest statue on Oct 31, 2018. In that perspective, it may be worthwhile to revisit how various leaders of India were treated after their demise.
When Ms Indira Gandhi passed away in 1984, her ashes in urns were sent on a tour of India’s 22 states and 9 union territories by special train and aircraft to allow people to pay final respects to the leader. The remains were then returned to New Delhi and taken aboard an Indian Air Force transport aircraft, escorted by two MiG 23 jets to be scattered over the Himalayas.
When Mr Rajiv Gandhi passed away in 1991, a special train from Delhi carried the urn with his ashes. The ashes were to be immersed in the five holy lakes of Rajasthan, scattered by aeroplane across the Himalayas and placed at other sacred sites across the nation.
With due respect to the deceased, it must not be forgotten that Mr Gandhi’s tenure was badly tarnished by a multitude of issues including the escape of Warren Anderson after Bhopal Gas Tragedy in 1984, rigging Kashmir elections in 1987, involvement of Congress leaders in 1984 anti-Sikh riots and Rajiv Gandhi condoning the violence with his “when a big tree falls” speech, involvement of Congress’s government machinery in Hashimpura massacre of 1987, indecisiveness on Sri Lanka policy, first supporting LTTE in the Lankan civil war then taking a U-turn and sending IPKF to fight LTTE in which thousands of Indian soldiers lost their lives, attempting to appease Muslim clerics through Shah Bano ordinance and then manipulating the Ayodhya temple issue as damage control tool for above and finally the charges of massive corruption in Bofors scam.
On the contrary, the first non-Gandhi Prime Minister from Congress to complete a full term, Mr P V Narasimha Rao had a hugely successful tenure. He ended forty-five years of estrangement with Israel and established India’s full diplomatic ties in 1992. Today Israel is one of India’s most important partners in defence and trade. His “Look East” policy strengthened India’s trade relations with South East Asia and eventually India was also inducted as a member of ASEAN. With historic reforms of 1991, he devised the economic transformation of India that created millions of jobs and pulled hundreds of millions of Indians out of poverty.
Asia Times described his contribution to modern India with the following words:
“Rao is to India what founding fathers Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson are to the United States; Friedrich List to Germany; Hayato Ikeda to Japan; Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee and Albert Winsemius to Singapore; and Deng Xiaoping to China”
When Mr Rao passed away in 2004, Mrs Sonia Gandhi did not allow his body to be brought into Congress office for last respect by Congress workers. As quoted in Financial Express– “Only one person could give that order to open the gate – She did not give it”. He wasn’t given a state funeral in Delhi because in the words of PVNR’s son Prabhakar Rao – “Sonia ji did not want him to be seen as an all-India leader”. What followed subsequently was painfully deplorable.
“The night of Rao’s cremation in Hyderabad, TV channels showed visuals of the pyre. The man who transformed India, a 20th century reformer of the stature of Deng Xiaoping, had been left abandoned, body half-burnt. Stray dogs were pulling at the funeral pyre”
The first non-Congress Prime Minister to have completed full term was Mr Vajpayee. During his tenure, “Sarv Shiksha” project was launched which provided free elementary education to children aged 6-14 years. New schools were opened, and existing ones were renovated. Within four years of its launch, the number of out-of-school children dropped by 60%. The literacy rate of India also shot up from 64.8% in 2001 to 74.04% in 2011 census.
Infrastructure got a boost as the Golden Quadrilateral project was started to connect all of India’s metro cities and villages along the way. It helped improve trade with the easy movement of goods and people. With successful Pokhran nuclear test, India became a full-fledged nuclear state and became a formidable military power. India’s economy reached new heights too. When Mr Vajpayee passed the government to UPA in 2004, the GDP was growing at 8%, inflation was below 4% and forex reserves were overflowing.
On Mr Vajpayee’s death in 2018, Prime Minister Modi, his Cabinet colleagues, BJP president Mr Amit Shah, chief ministers of several BJP-governed states, senior BJP leaders and thousands of party workers followed the vehicle carrying the mortal remains of Mr Vajpayee on foot. Mr Modi defied security and walked on foot for six km. Mr Vajpayee’s ashes were then immersed in 100 rivers across India.
BJP paid due respect to Mr Vajpayee after his death, but then he was one of their own. This is where the statue of unity gains significance.
Mr Modi went on to build the world’s tallest statue for honouring Sardar Patel – the man who worked relentlessly to integrate 500+ princely states after independence and architect India to its present shape.
It must be noted that as the first Home Minister of (Congress) Indian government, Sardar Patel had banned RSS when they were (wrongly) blamed for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
It must also be noted that while Mr Rao despite being a former Prime Minister was denied a final resting place in Delhi, Sanjay Gandhi, who never held a worthwhile public office, was laid to rest in Delhi right next to Shantivan – the resting place of Jawaharlal Nehru.
When it comes to the Statue of Unity, Congress and the members of its ecosystem might insinuate that BJP is trying to hijack the legacy of Sardar Patel.
Truth is that Congress respects Indian leaders only as long as they are from Gandhi family and ignores others even from their own party. BJP has shown that it rises above party politics and puts leaders who have contributed to India, on a high pedestal, even if they belong to Congress party which is their political opponent. Mr Modi and BJP did not let the political opposition come in the way of recognizing Sardar Patel and his contributions to the nation.
While the ideology of Congress is still deeply rooted in loyalty to one dynasty and “nepotism”, BJP is driven only by loyalty to India and “patriotism”.