New Delhi: In a move replete with political symbolism, Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually lessened the significance of Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary by marking October 31 as the birth anniversary of another national icon, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and dedicating and declaring this as “National Unity Day”.
The birth anniversary of Sardar Patel, which remained a low-key affair outside Gujarat, was on Friday brought onto the national stage with Union home minister Rajnath Singh writing to all chief ministers to celebrate this day without fail and Union home secretary Anil Goswami writing to all state chief secretaries telling them to ensure the observance of the day at all levels.
The magnitude of Sardar Patel’s birth anniversary celebrations eclipsed Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary on Friday. The PM put up a massive show by flagging off a "Run for Unity" from Rajpath in which senior ministers, along with hundreds of people, including students, participated. Though earlier he tweeted to say: “I join my fellow countrymen & women in remembering former PM Smt.
Indira Gandhi on her Punya Tithi,” Mr Modi skipped the event commemorating the death anniversary of Indira Gandhi at the Shakti Sthal memorial where President Pranab Mukherjee, vice-president Hamid Ansari and top leaders of the Congress paid floral tributes. Mr Modi, who had always been targeted by the Congress for the 2002 communal carnage in Gujarat, used the occasion to rake up the anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi on this day 30 years ago.
Referring to the anti-Sikh riots, the Prime Minister said it was a “dagger” in the centuries-old fabric of India’s unity. “Hamare apne logon ko maut ke ghat utaar diya gaya (Our own people were killed)," Mr Modi said, adding, that the “incident was not a wound in the hearts of people of a particular religion, it was a dagger into the heart of thousands of years of the country’s heritage and culture”.
The PM’s tacit to move to bring down the domination of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy was not lost on the Congress, which fumed and said the way Mr Modi marked Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary was "disgusting" and "petty-minded". The BJP countered by saying that the Congress preferred to see history through the "perspective" of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, whose remark calling Mr Modi a "chaiwallah" had boomeranged badly on his party, remained unfazed and, speaking to a television channel, he called Mr Modi a "thief trying to steal the Congress’ legacy".
Seething about the eclipsing of Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary, Congress leaders suddenly woke up to claim Sardar Patel’s legacy. Congress leaders appeared one after the other on television channels claiming Patel "as our own".
Giving Patel’s birth anniversary a national hue, the Prime Minister also spoke of Indira Gandhi’s assassination on this "very day". Noting that Sardar Patel’s birth anniversary was also the death anniversary of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Mr Modi said it "is a misfortune of this country that 30 years ago, on the birth anniversary of such a leader, an incident which shook the unity of the nation took place".
Talking about the "Iron Man of India", Mr Modi felt that the way Ramakrishna Paramhansa was "incomplete" without Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi was also "incomplete" without Sardar Patel. "When we see Ramakrishna Paramhansa he appears to be incomplete without Swami Vivekananda. Similarly, when we see Mahatma Gandhi, he also appears incomplete without Sardar Patel," he said.
The PM, who earlier offered floral tributes before a statue of Sardar Patel at Patel Chowk, compared him to Chanakya. "Centuries ago, Chanakya successfully established a strong set-up by uniting small princely states and, post-Independence, Sardar Patel did the same great work."
Mr Modi maintained that it was "unfortunate that the man who dedicated his life to the unity of India faced criticism and opposition, suffered hurdles in his political career but was never deterred from his goal of uniting the country". Talking about Sardar Patel’s contribution to uniting India, he said, "He demolished the Britishers’ plan to divide India and single-handedly merged all 550 regions with the country."...
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