India’s yawning political divide was on full display on Saturday as the country failed to put up a united front in paying tributes to two of its foremost leaders, Indira Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, on Saturday.
Various states ruled by different political parties marked the death and birth anniversaries of the former prime minister and the first Union home minister with varying degrees of vigour, depending on their own political leanings.
While Gandhi’s death anniversary is observed as the Rashtriya Sankalpa Diwas (National Integration Day), Patel’s birth anniversary is marked as Rashtriya Ekta Diwas (National Unity Day).
In his address before flagging off the ‘run for unity’ organised to mark Patel’s anniversary in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did pay tributes to the former Prime Minister saying that this day could not be forgotten because of her “sacrifice”. However, the rest of his speech was devoted to Patel. The Congress later criticized him for not remembering Indira Gandhi.
BJP-ruled states held programmes to remember Patel while functions to observe Gandhi’s anniversary took a backseat. In Congress-ruled states, it was the other way round with the emphasis firmly being on Gandhi although the youth wing of the Congress also put up posters of Patel alongside those of Gandhi in many places
Some non-Congress, non-BJP states were lukewarm in observing the day. The government in Uttar Pradesh, where the Samajwadi Party led by Mulayam Singh Yadav is in power, declared a state holiday in honour of Patel, but chose to ignore Gandhi..
The preferential treatment in paying tribute was the starkest in BJP-ruled Gujarat. Chief Minister Anandiben Patel tweeted about the government programmes planned for the day to honour Patel. Gandhi did not find any mention in her four tweets. The state government also put out full page advertisements in tribute to the Iron Man.
Kerala, with a Congress government, had it the other way round.
Prayer meetings for Gandhi were held across the state where here audio speeches were played. Congress leaders also competed against each other in highlighting the late prime minister’s contribution but chose not to mention Patel. “We observe the anniversary of some leaders, not all,” said a leader in defence.
In Haryana, functions to observe Gandhi’s anniversary were low key and mostly a Congress affair with the BJP state government focused on honouring Patel. A function was held in the state secretariat with all top bureaucrats in attendance while several ministers graced ‘run-for-unity’ at several locations across the state.
In poll-bound Bihar, it was left to the governor Ram Nath Kovind to pay customary tributes to Gandhi and Patel as chief minister Nitish Kumar was busy in electioneering. The governor garlanded a statue of Gandhi at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences and then visited the Patel Chowk on Patna Airport Road to lay floral wreaths
In Katihar for overseeing the party’s election campaign, BJP president Amit Shah reminded everyone of Patel’s contribution. “India remains united and integrated because of him,” he said.
(With inputs from Amritsar, Ahmedabad Chandigarh, Patna, Thiruvananthapuram, Bengaluru, Guwahati, Shimla and Lucknow)