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Narendra Modi: is he any match to Sardar Patel?

The Gujarat chief minister's supporters like to call him Lion of Gujarat and Chhote Sardar (junior Vallabhbhai Patel). He likes the first name but not the second, writes Aakar Patel.

india Updated: Oct 22, 2012 09:09 IST
Gujarat elections 2012,Gujarat elections,Gujarat Muslims

There are two names that Narendra Modi's supporters have for him. The first is Gujarat ka Sher (Lion of Gujarat). This is used in the welcoming phrase at the beginning of his speeches and rallies: "Dekho, dekho kaun aaya--Gujarat ka Sher aaya!" (Look who's here--the Lion of Gujarat). This name has Modi's approval.

Unfortunately, without his approval, another name was given to him by his supporters. This is Chhote Sardar (junior Vallabhbhai). This he does not like because Modi doesn't want to be chhote anything.

Let's look at why he has been given these two names in particular. The macho imagery is because his fans think that he has put the Muslims of Gujarat in their place. Though they are 90% of the population, the Hindus of Gujarat believe they are under siege from Muslims. This is an old theme and any debate on communal violence in Gujarat will begin with the sack of Somnath in 1000 AD. Muslims have the image of being perpetually aggressive and Hindus are given the image of perpetual victims.

In Modi's time, in the eyes of his supporters, this has been overturned, and this is what has given him the image of being such a tough man. This explains the name 'Gujarat ka Sher'.

The second name, 'Chhote Sardar', comes from ignorance. Gujaratis think Vallabhbhai was anti-Muslim, and often talk of him as being the opposite of Gandhi for is reason. Unwilling, that is, to put up with any nonsense from Muslims.

The fact is that the two most important minority-specific parts of the Indian constitution are a gift to Muslims from Vallabhbhai. These are articles 25 and 26.

Article 25 is the right to convert people, which is critical for Muslims and Christians. Article 26 is the right of all religions to set up their own religious institutions and manage their affairs. These two freedoms, wrote Rafiq Zakaria in his book 'Sardar Patel and Indian Muslims', were the work of Vallabhbhai.

If Gujaratis who call Modi "Chhote Sardar" knew this they would be shocked, but the truth is that Vallabhbhai was no bigot. It is entirely bogus to think of Vallabhbhai as an anti-Muslim character, but popular images are rarely produced by pure fact.

And so these two names have stuck and this is why they are heard when Modi is in public. His supporters outside of Gujarat like to see him as a man of development and progress, but just looking at how he is referred to in his home state, we can understand a little bit about the nature of his popularity with BJP supporters.

On his website, the one comment in the introduction of himself that has been reproduced at the bottom tells us something else about Modi and his fans. The writer refers to Modi as "Gujarat ka nath", meaning the Lord of Gujarat. Modi doesn't mind this sort of chamchagiri and though the site is edited constantly to keep abusive and critical comments out, such glorification of him is fine.

And so, while the names he has been given tell us something about how his fans see him, this tells us something about how Modi sees himself.

(Aakar Patel is a writer and columnist. The views expressed are personal.)



First Published: Oct 18, 2012 15:03 IST