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Their shoes are too big to fill

india Updated: Oct 04, 2009 21:46 IST
Pankaj Vohra

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi seems to have developed the habit of creating unnecessary controversies about our national leaders. He is neither known for his sense of history nor his scholarship. But he still tried to run down India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, by praising another stalwart Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Both Nehru and Patel have a place in history and neither needs certificates from anyone, least of all Modi. The country remembers them for their immense contributions and their names will forever be etched in golden letters.

Modi said that if Patel were made the Prime Minister of India (instead of Nehru), the country would not have witnessed the terrorism it is facing today in Jammu and Kashmir. Speculation does not alter history and we have to accept reality as it is. It is like saying if aunty had a moustache she would have been uncle. Or, in his context, if he had not usurped the position of chief ministership in late 2001 by pressuring BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy and others, there would have been no Gujarat riots and he would have still had his valid US visa.

In the case of Nehru and Patel, it was Nehru who was the prime minister and Patel his deputy as well as home minister. Both men were visionaries, well-educated — unlike many politicians we know — and contributed to the very best of their abilities to the country. Both may have made mistakes but that does not change things. Modi and other BJP leaders cannot turn the clock back even if they want to and, therefore, must view things in the present-day context.

It is also true that BJP leaders somehow try to pit Patel against Nehru to run down India’s first prime minister who laid the foundations of democracy and development. Patel had a vital role to play and died when the country needed him the most. But, who can battle death?

In Modi’s case, he tries to touch an emotional chord among Gujaratis by invoking Sardar Patel’s name. Could it be that he wants to compensate for displacing the BJP’s best-known Patel leader, Keshubhai from his position while becoming the CM for the first time? No one has ever heard Modi going out of his way to praise Mahatma Gandhi, whom the whole world reveres. He was a Gujarati for people like Modi but much more for everyone else. Besides being the Father of the Nation, he was the original apostle of peace. Modi cannot identify with him for obvious reasons. Similarly, any attempt to identify with Patel is also futile because Patel was a unifier and not a communalist. He had a national vision and his politics were not sectarian.

Another point which continues to fox BJP-watchers is why its leaders do not invoke Morarji Desai’s name. After all, he was from Gujarat. He was the first chief minister of the state of Bombay and the first prime minister whom the Bharatiya Jana Sangh wholeheartedly supported — so much so that they decided to forget their own identity and merge fully into a new political formation. Both Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani served under him. But Modi and Advani shy away from uttering his name.

The BJP leaders are fixated over some Congress leaders who became iconic for them. Vajpayee tried to become a Pandit Nehru, which he could never become, and Advani continued to remain not even a pale copy of Patel. Coining phrases like ‘vikas purush’ and ‘lauh purush’ does not lead to drawing parallels with India’s national icons. Surprisingly, none of the top BJP leaders has tried to model himself on Shyama Prasad Mookerjee or Deen Dayal Upadhyaya or even any of the RSS chiefs. If they believe in any ideology, there is no need to be apologetic about it. Between us.