"Our opponents have grown wings after the by-election results," BJP President Amit Shah mocked as the crowd of 20,000 rose to its feet in applause.
Making his first public statement following the bypoll debacle, Shah told cheering party workers in Gorta village on Wednesday that the BJP will sweep the assembly polls in Maharashtra and Haryana and form a majority government. "Start preparing for the celebrations," he said omitting mention of the Shiv Sena whose leaders he was to meet later in the day to thrash out a seat-sharing arrangement in Maharashtra.
Shah's visit to this small village, which Sangh Parivar activists call the 'Jalianwalla Bagh of the South', surprised many, coming as it did when the party and its president had more important duties in Maharashtra and Haryana.
However, his visit to the village to lay the foundation for a 35-foot statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on the day the princely state of Hyderabad acceded to the Indian union was no spontaneous decision. Meticulously planned, the party president's visit is, for local Sangh activists, an important endorsement of their 20-year-old-campaign to revive memory of the excesses commissioned by the erstwhile Nizam of Hyderabad in the months following independence.
The Nizam, who did not want to join India, unleashed his private army, the Razakars, against local resistance groups that wanted to be part of the newly independent nation. Thousands are said to have died at the hands of the Razakars in the districts of Karnataka that were part of the princely state of Hyderabad. And the village of Gorta, finds special mention in this narrative as it was here that a handful of local landlords fought a pitched battle with the Razakars on May 5, 1948.
"There was a very real fear that this village would become part of Pakistan. This isn't merely about installing a statue or paying homage but an attempt to introduce the young generation to our country's history," Shah said after he laid the foundation stone.
History in these parts, however, is bitterly contested. A coalition of progressive and Dalit groups held demonstrations to coincide with Shah's visit accusing the BJP and the Sangh Parivar of playing communal politics. "It is an attempt to project the actions of the Nizam and the Razakars as Muslim aggression against Hindus. But it’s a well recorded fact that there were many Hindus in the Razakar army. The Sangh Parivar's version of history also doesn’t account for the 40,000 Muslims who were butchered after the Nizam abdicated his throne," said K Neela, one of the leaders of the demonstration.