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Here is why ‘liberals’ can’t complain that BJP is ‘co-opting’ Sardar Patel

When did Sardar Patel posthumously swear loyalty to Indira Gandhi as well as her heirs and successors?

It is the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel, the Iron Man of India. In a touching tribute to the great man, the Govt of India has chosen this day to formally and officially finish off the task of unifying India. Today, Article 370 is not just dead, it is buried. Obliterated, if you will. Because the state of Jammu and Kashmir has just ceased to exist. In its place, we have two new Union Territories.

One nation but two flags? Two separate legal systems? Not any more.

On the occasion of Sardar’s birthday, there are massive celebrations planned at the towering Statue of Unity in Gujarat, a nationwide unity run and much more.

Read: The wall has been broken down, Sardar Patel’s dream has come true: PM Modi dedicates J and K decision to India’s Iron Man

‘Liberals’, as usual, are unhappy. Today you will see the usual litany of complaints about how the BJP is “co-opting” Sardar Patel. You will find them digging out old quotes of his and whining that he was against the RSS. As if that is a counterpoint to present-day Modi government celebrating his achievements.

First of all, that is some top-class hypocrisy from sympathizers of a party that co-opted the entire history of India’s freedom struggle as well as a dynasty that co-opted the entire legacy of the Indian National Congress.

And so what if Sardar belonged to the Congress Party? How does it matter today? He made several important contributions to Indian history. We remember not which party he belonged to.

Read: Congress leader says Sardar Patel responsible for partition, Nehru’s statue should have been ‘Statue of Unity’

This is an established pattern in democracies everywhere. Washington. Lincoln. Jefferson. Roosevelt. Reagan. Kennedy. Who knows which party they belonged to? Does anybody care?

In fact, it is the RSS/BJP which has been able to rise above 70-year-old partisan quarrels and celebrate his life. Meanwhile, Congress could not even remember their own leader for 70 years out of loyalty to a dynasty.

And which Congress? The Congress Party to which Sardar Patel belonged has long ceased to exist. We see today a descendant of Congress (I), where the “I” stands for “Indira.” Simply because Indira Gandhi happens to be Nehru’s daughter and Nehru was in the Congress does not automatically make Sardar Patel a member of Indira Congress.

When did Sardar Patel posthumously swear loyalty to Indira Gandhi as well as her heirs and successors?

Read: Sardar a “right-wing bigot”? How liberals defame India globally

In fact, anybody who discusses party affiliations nearly 70 years after a person has passed away betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how political parties are supposed to work in a democracy. Political parties are supposed to be democratic, with their ideologies and principles evolving with each generation of members and leaders. Sardar Patel being in Congress in 1950 says nothing about 2019. Only those who think of political parties as privately owned family businesses can think otherwise.

The BJP’s move on Sardar Patel is just as legitimate from a political standpoint. History is dynamic. The Mahatma said that the Congress in 1947 had already performed its historic role and should be disbanded. The Mahatma was a devout Hindu and staunchly against cow slaughter. And yet Nehru and his descendants co-opted him and used his image as the face of their politics for 70 years. In the meanwhile, they let Sardar Patel fall by the wayside. The BJP had the bright idea to pick up this discarded gem and give him due respect. And the BJP is claiming the political credit for this. Fair enough.

Read: Historians need to reevaluate our freedom struggle: Vikram Sampath talks about Congress being a British creation, Savarkar and more

How can the Congress and the liberals cry foul now? What stopped them all these years from remembering Sardar Patel? Evidently, it was about his ideological differences with Nehru. And today, when the descendants of Nehru are thoroughly discredited in the public eye, they want to crawl back into history and dust up the figure of Sardar Patel? Sorry, not happening.

One question remains. While the right is so willing to embrace Sardar Patel, why are the same people so severe on Nehru? Was he not also another great historical figure who made memorable contributions to India?

Read: Know the man behind Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s ‘Statue of Unity’

The answer is simple. The Congress party insists that Nehru’s achievements are the private property of a dynasty, not that of the Indian nation. How can we as Indians take pride in something that you say does not even belong to us? If Congress wishes for all Indians to take pride in Nehru, they should end the dominance of their first family and dedicate Nehru’s legacy to the nation. You can’t have it both ways.

Oct 31, 2019, is the day when India became one. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari. No exceptions. Sardar would have been a happy man.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a columnist and author.  

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