SONS OF SAR­DAR

India Today - - SIGNATURE - KAVEREE BAMZAI

In a fun new book, If Kennedy Lived: An Al­ter­nate His­tory, on what would have hap­pened had John F. Kennedy sur­vived the as­sas­si­na­tion of Novem­ber 22, 1963, Jeff Green­field ar­gues that there would have been no Viet­nam but no civil rights act ei­ther. There would also have been a sec­ond in­au­gu­ral gala where The Beach Boys and Roy Or­bi­son would have sung, and The Bea­tles would have been in­tro­duced to the White House with the clas­sic quote: “Not since the Bri­tish burned the White House in 1812 has a for­eign in­vader con­quered our land as swiftly and thor­oughly as have John, Paul, Ge­orge, and Ringo.” But the BJP is not in­dulging in coun­ter­fac­tual his­tory for in­tel­lec­tual stimulation. There is a big­ger game at play—cre­at­ing new na­tional icons of Hin­dutva since their own, Veer Savarkar, Deen­dayal Upad­hyaya and Shyama Prasad Mook­er­jee, are en­tirely lim­ited in their ap­peal. The BJP, more specif­i­cally L.K. Ad­vani and Naren­dra Modi, have long tried to ap­pro­pri­ate Swami Vivekananda, but he is too “sec­u­lar” for their lik­ing. That leaves the Sar­dar, as Jawa­har­lal Nehru liked to call him.

Val­lab­hb­hai Pa­tel was a great ad­min­is­tra­tor and ex­tra­or­di­nary uni­fier who out­wit­ted sev­eral ma­hara­jas, Lord Mount­bat­ten and the crafty C.P. Ra­maswami Ai­yar; and he had the com­plete sup­port of the party cadre. Qual­i­ties Modi as­pires to. Plus, he is the only Congress leader in in­de­pen­dent In­dia who could com­pare with Nehru. There is a third rea­son. Be­fore Modi dis­cov­ered the Iron Man, Ad­vani loved to style him­self on Sar­dar Pa­tel, even choos­ing the same port­fo­lio, home, and the same des­ig­na­tion of deputy prime min­is­ter. But in rais­ing the “what if” bo­gey, Modi is re­pu­di­at­ing Ma­hatma Gandhi, an even greater In­dian, who also hap­pens to be a son of Gu­jarat. If any­one was re­spon­si­ble for Nehru be­com­ing prime min­is­ter, it was Ma­hatma Gandhi. Pa­tel was the over­whelm­ing choice of 12 of the 15 Pradesh Congress Com­mit­tees as Congress pres­i­dent in 1945 but Gandhi made Pa­tel with­draw his name. Ad­vani may well quote from civil ser­vant MKK Nair’s book to say that Nehru called Pa­tel com­mu­nal but per­haps he should also quote from his eu­logy where he called him a friend, a col­league and a com­rade above all, at whose ab­sence he would feel “rather for­lorn”.

Pa­tel ac­ceded to Gandhi’s wish be­cause he was a loyal Con­gress­man. There was room for prin­ci­pled dis­agree­ment within Congress those days—be­tween Gandhi, the non-of­fi­cial leader; Maulana, the of­fi­cial leader; Nehru, the de facto leader; and Sar­dar, the dy­namic leader. Gandhi felt that Nehru was more suited to the post of prime min­is­ter be­cause of his charisma and pop­u­lar­ity. He was also younger than Pa­tel by 14 years.

In re­vis­it­ing who be­came prime min­is­ter, Modi and BJP are re-right­ing his­tory, a hobby Murli Manohar Joshi con­verted into a fullscale cot­tage in­dus­try dur­ing NDA rule. This re-right­ing also serves a far more sub­ver­sive pur­pose, one that has al­ways been on the RSS agenda. Ques­tion­ing Gandhi’s de­i­fied sta­tus, as some­one who they saw as ap­peas­ing both Mus­lims and for­eign states, no­tably Pak­istan, says his­to­rian David Hardi­man.

In restor­ing Pa­tel, Modi seems to be set­ting right a his­tor­i­cal wrong. But he also does a great dis­ser­vice to Pa­tel, pro­ject­ing him as a vic­tim, which he never was. And even if Pa­tel would have been prime min­is­ter, he would not have cre­ated a Ram Ra­jya where San­skrit would have been the na­tional lan­guage and cow wor­ship the na­tional ob­ses­sion. Ed­u­cated in Eng­land, he loved wear­ing western clothes—till he dis­cov­ered Gandhi— and though he didn’t ex­actly spawn a dy­nasty, he did have a son who be­came an MP. Doesn’t that sound al­most like Nehru?

SAU­RABH SINGH / www.in­di­a­to­day­im­ages.com

IN RESTOR­ING PA­TEL, MODI SEEMS TO BE SET­TING RIGHT A HIS­TOR­I­CAL WRONG. BUT HE ALSO DOES A GREAT DIS­SER­VICE TO PA­TEL, PRO­JECT­ING HIM AS A VIC­TIM, WHICH HE NEVER WAS. AND EVEN IF PA­TEL WOULD HAVE BEEN PRIME MIN­IS­TER, HE WOULD NOT HAVE CRE­ATED A RAM RA­JYA.

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