Manmohan Singh (left) interacts with Narendra Modi at the inauguration ceremony of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel museum in Ahmedabad. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Oct. 29: The Congress, long irritated by the BJP’s perceived attempt to hijack Vallabhbhai Patel’s legacy, today lapped up the opportunity presented by an invite to the groundbreaking ceremony for his statue to question the Sangh’s history.
Although most Union ministers chose to ignore Narendra Modi’s invitation for the event in Gujarat on Thursday suspecting a political design, commerce minister Anand Sharma wrote a strong letter questioning the chief minister’s intention and credentials.
“It is rather odd that you have attempted to brazenly usurp the rich legacy of Sardar whose approach and beliefs militate against all that is personified by the RSS whose nominee you are. He was a strong nationalist, deeply secular in belief and worked tirelessly for communal harmony. For recall and record, let me remind you that it was Sardar who as India’s home minister had banned the RSS after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi,” Sharma wrote.
The move indicated that the Congress was itching to draw Modi into a debate on Sardar and India’s freedom movement, hoping it would instantly push the BJP into a disadvantageous position.
In tune with Sharma’s acerbic letter, other Congress leaders like information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari and general secretary Digvijaya Singh reminded Modi of what Sardar thought of the RSS.
While Sharma was seen as taking the initiative, sources said it is a conscious Congress strategy to pin down the BJP and the RSS on their weak points — the freedom movement being the weakest.
The plan also enables the Congress to turn the dynasty baggage into a legacy edge. Digvijaya hinted at this in a tweet: “The RSS-BJP have been trying to appropriate Gandhi-Patel as they have no leader who they can claim to be in the freedom movement. Sad!”
Ironically, it was L.K. Advani who was first seen as trying to usurp Patel’s legacy by presenting himself as Loh Purush (Iron Man) — as the late leader was called — and now his protégé Modi appears to have followed in his footsteps. The Congress believes the BJP has conveniently forgotten Patel’s uncompromisingly secular commitments, choosing to focus only on his tough iron man image.
Commerce minister Sharma highlighted the point in his letter to Modi, arguing that “history cannot be rewritten nor the rich legacy of Sardar be appropriated for political expediency or electoral gains”.
The letter went on to highlight a “promise dishonoured”. “The RSS had given an undertaking to Sardar in 1949 that the Sangh would write a constitution which would stipulate that it had no politics and would remain devoted purely to cultural work which was a pre-condition for revoking the ban… I would urge you to reflect and together with RSS leadership observe his anniversary as a solemn day of penance for dishonouring the promise made to Sardar.”
Patel’s birth anniversary falls on Thursday.
Sharma said “it is surely the prerogative of Gujarat to construct a befitting memorial” to Patel but added the “initiators of such a grand project must be guided by sincere motives and genuinely subscribe to the noble values of Sardar and the lofty ideals for which he dedicated his life”.
Sharma stressed Patel’s “memory” should not “be coloured by partisan political agenda, as unfortunately, is happening in the present case”, and mentioned Modi’s Patna rally on Sunday.
“Misusing the name of Sardar for political propaganda, as you chose to do at the Patna rally with a deliberate untruth, was disrespect to his memory. Therefore, it raises doubts in my mind on the bona fide of the intent and its timing.”
Sharma took a further swipe by thanking Modi for “revisiting the unread pages of history” and for acknowledging the contribution of the stalwart Congress leader (Patel) who was home minister with India’s illustrious Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru”.
“While doing so, I hope you will not be forgetting another great son of India, and of Gujarat, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, whose philosophy and ideology of truth and non-violence will continue to have enduring relevance for people across the world.”
The letter ridicules Modi’s effort to hijack Patel’s legacy and suggests it was hardly surprising the chief minister had done so. “Perhaps the nation could not have expected anything different from you, as over the years you have developed an expertise in misrepresenting the facts and distorting history.”