Singh being received by Modi in Ahmedabad on Tuesday. (PTI)
Ahmedabad, Oct. 29: If Nitish Kumar wielded a sledgehammer from the east, Manmohan Singh took a rapier to the west on a day history was at the centre of a pincer attack in the political theatre.
Minutes after Narendra Modi rued the chance the country missed to change its destiny when Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel could not become the first Prime Minister, Singh declared that the Iron Man was secular to the core and reminded the audience of his Congress roots.
Modi and Singh were sharing a dais in Ahmedabad to open a museum on Sardar Patel, a battle for whose legacy has broken out afresh after Union minister Anand Sharma questioned the Gujarat chief minister’s intentions in promoting a towering statue of the first home minister.
“Had Sardar Patel been the first Prime Minister, the country’s destiny would have been different,” Modi said, drawing derisive chuckles from a hostile audience largely made of Congress supporters. The event was organised by Union mines minister Dinsha Patel.
Prime Minister Singh, who spoke after Modi, said: “Sardar Patel’s outlook was completely secular. He had deep faith in India’s unity. He had said that all of India was his village and people from all communities his friends and family.”
The Prime Minister later listed the virtues of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad: unshakeable faith in the unity of India, secular and liberal outlook, empathy for the poor and the weak, tolerance and respect for ideologies that differ from one’s own.
Singh’s list more or less encapsulates the planks on which the Congress hopes to meet the challenge posed by Modi who is being painted as pro-rich by his critics.
Just in case anyone missed the point, Singh rubbed it in: “I am sure that those present here will agree that these ideals are today in short supply in our country.”
The Prime Minister also addressed the BJP’s effort to associate itself with the legacy of Sardar Patel. “I am even happier that Sardar Patel was associated with the same political party of which I am a member,” Singh said.
Singh referred to “talk of” differences of opinion between Nehru and “deputy Prime Minister” Patel, adding: “But it must be kept in mind that there was a great deal of agreement between them and both used to respect each other’s views”.
The reference to “deputy Prime Minister” is unlikely to have been lost on Modi. The chief minister had fought and won a bitter battle with another deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani. Modi, also known as “Chote Sardar”, snatched from Advani the titles of Iron Man II and presumptive Prime Minister. But it also reaffirmed a perception that Modi cannot carry others along.
A few hours after today’s meeting was over, Modi tweeted: “Unfortunately, the PM refused to give time to discuss Gujarat’s key issues, but preferred to visit Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan, the state Congress office.”
Footnote: Much to the mirth of the audience that hooted, Dinsha had corrected Modi when the chief minister said Sardar Patel had supported women’s reservation in 1919 when he was a councillor in Ahmedabad. Dinsha said it happened in 1926.
But late tonight, Rizwan Kadri, an academic, said Sardar Patel moved the resolution on March 13, 1919, and it was unanimously passed.