New Delhi: The BJP and the Congress finally settled their claims over Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on the 73rd Independence Day — or so it seemed from the way the two parties chose to celebrate one to the exclusion of the other Thursday.
The Congress tweeted a video of India’s first prime minister’s famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech, saying: “At the stroke of the midnight hour… India completes 72 years of Independence. Tonight we look back at the man & the speech that our nation will always remember.” There was no mention of his deputy, Patel, either in the party’s official tweet or in the reactions of any of its top leaders.
Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi skipped any mention of Nehru, choosing to pay tributes to the country’s first home minister by reiterating his commitment to realise Sardar Patel’s goal of ‘Ek Bharat, Shreshth Bharat’ or ‘One India, Best India’. “Removal of Article 370 and Article 35A within 10 weeks of coming to power was an important step towards realising Sardar Patel’s dreams,” said Modi.
His and the Congress’ reactions underlined the political legacies the ruling and the principal opposition parties were seeking to own up.
Congress’ broadside against Patel
Anxious to absolve Nehru from any blame over Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu & Kashmir, the Congress has launched a broadside against Patel, a party stalwart who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Nehru during the freedom movement and together shaped Independent India in its initial years.
The Modi-led BJP has, for long, been seeking to appropriate the political legacy of Sardar Patel, and has claimed that if the state’s accession to India was handled by him, and not Nehru, “the history of Jammu and Kashmir would have been different”, as Union minister Jitendra Singh put it in the Lok Sabha last week.
Though Patel was also a leading light of the Congress, the party is digging up past records and history to try to shield Nehru either by portraying the then home minister as part of the decision-making process on Kashmir or by projecting him as a prime mover.
On Tuesday, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted a page from Rajmohan Gandhi’s book, Patel: A Life, that stated that had Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, “allowed” Hyderabad and Junagadh “to go to India” (which eventually happened), “Patel, as we have seen, might have let the Queen (Kashmir) go to Pakistan, but Jinnah rejected the deal.”
page 439 and page 591
From 'Patel: A Life' by Rajmohan Gandhi (1991)
2017 reprint pic.twitter.com/JxdRALWiaU
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) August 13, 2019
Ramesh tweeted another page from another book — Integration of Indian States by V.P. Menon — in which Lord Mountbatten was quoted as telling Maharaja Hari Singh that if he acceded to Pakistan, “India would not take it amiss and that he had a firm assurance from Sardar Patel himself”.
From 'Integration of Indian States' by V.P. Menon (1955)
ninth reprint may 2011 pic.twitter.com/NNfiaxOUya
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) August 13, 2019
Amitabh Dubey, Gandhi family friend Suman Dubey’s son, who is associated with the Professional Congress, was quick to retweet Ramesh’s post, adding, “Patel was much less enthusiastic about Kashmir’s accession than Nehru.”
The debate on Article 370 has only brought out the ambiguity and confusion in the Congress camp vis-à-vis Patel. The Congress accused the government of resorting to “legislative authoritarianism” to “illegally” defang Article 370, but refrained from defending its existence. During a debate on this issue in the Lok Sabha on 6 August, when BJP president Amit Shah wanted to know from the Congress whether it was against the removal of Article 370, Congress leader Manish Tewari skirted it, saying everything was not black or white and there were “50 shades of grey” in between.
BJP takes Patel’s side, again
The BJP has been attacking Nehru for the insertion of these provisions in the Constitution and maintains that Kashmir wouldn’t be a problem if Patel had handled its accession to India. Article 370 is, in fact, only the latest in a long-drawn battle between the Congress and the BJP over Patel’s legacy.
When Modi inaugurated Patel’s statue, the Statue of Unity, in Gujarat last year, the Congress called it an election gimmick and questioned the rationale of installing an imposing statue of a leader who believed in simplicity and Gandhism.
BJP leaders have been taking swipes at the Congress for praising only the members of the Nehru-Gandhi family and ignoring the contributions of those outside it. In the last Parliament session, Modi took a jibe at the opposition party for its refusal to celebrate the contributions of former prime ministers who did not belong to the Nehru-Gandhi family.
It was the NDA government that conferred the Bharat Ratna on former President of India and Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, but the Congress never thought of giving it to former PMs Narasimha Rao or Dr Manmohan Singh because it “sees nothing outside the family”, Modi said in the Lok Sabha on 25 June as Sonia Gandhi, sitting across the well in the house, looked on angrily.