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Road show with patriot ash

Mumbai, Aug. 24: Freedom fighter Shyamji Krishna Verma’s ashes, lying in a marble urn in Switzerland for 73 years, were brought home today by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

The patriot’s memory will now be resurrected, Modi style, with a veeranjali yatra. The chief minister will set off tomorrow on an 11-day Gujarat tour in a rath carrying the ashes that will traverse 19,990 km and pass through 17 districts before reaching Verma’s native village in Mandvi (Kutch) on September 4.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will receive the ashes there in a symbolic gesture of resurrecting the legacy of a “freedom fighter outside the Nehru-Gandhi pale”.

Modi, who was in Geneva to get Verma’s ashes on August 22, said he was not trying to politicise the “return journey of India’s great freedom fighter”.

But it seemed otherwise from what Modi and the others — Union minister Ram Naik, RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan, BJP MP Kirit Somaiyya and Lok Sabha speaker Manohar Joshi — had to say.

The veeranjali yatra appears to be a sequel to the elaborate campaign Modi had carried out during and after the Gujarat elections last year to pit Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel against Jawaharlal Nehru.

While Joshi promised to raise support to instal Verma’s portrait in Parliament, Naik said the Indian foreign ministry has no idea about the freedom fighter and that “India hasn’t remembered him well”. Sudarshan and Modi underlined the need to remember others “apart from (Mahatma) Gandhi”.

“There is a song which says Sabarmati ke sant ne kar diya kama (the saint from Sabarmati has achieved a miracle),’’ Sudarshan said. “But was he the only one who was instrumental in getting India her freedom' It took us more than a century of hard struggle. Was Gandhi the only one who fought all this while'’’

Modi, who addressed a couple of rallies in Mumbai to mark the occasion, said Verma’s ashes lay in Geneva for 73 years and no one thought it fit to bring it back to India. “In Shyamji Verma’s will he had clearly stated that having fought his entire life for India’s freedom, all he wanted after his death was for his ashes to be brought back to his land of birth. But obviously no one is bothered about him.”

Verma was the catalyst behind setting up India House in London and later the Indian Home Rule Society in 1905. He was conferred the title of Pandit by Germany and was the first Indian to obtain a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Oxford University.

“His (Verma’s) ashes should have been brought to India on August 16, 1947. We are still late by nearly 60 years,” Modi said. “We should not let certain people and their parties appropriate all the accolades for India’s freedom struggle.”

The Gujarat government, in tandem with leaders at the Centre, has seen to it that Verma’s ashes are brought home in a glittering — and long-winded — ceremony. While several Union ministers will accompany Modi during the yatra, others will be present at major centres to receive the ashes — Kashiram Rana in Surat, Rajnath Singh in Vadodara, George Fernandes in Ahmedabad and Sushma Swaraj at Bhuj on September 3. The grand finale on September 4 will be captained by Vajpayee himself.

The Gujarat government has also allocated Rs 1 lakh each to the 17 districts through which the rath will pass. Modi is reported to have told the district collectors to ensure smooth passage for the yatra and get back to him with feedback from the people.

The Congress kept to itself and none of its ministers here would comment on Modi’s move. “Already they have made Sardar Patel into a huge e lection issue, why should we fuel his fire,” a top Congress leader said.

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