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Run for Unity: Modi's masterstroke pushes Indira to irrelevance

New Delhi: Congressmen better grin and bear it. 31 October is no more about Indira Gandhi's death anniversary; the Narendra Modi government has managed to make it irrelevant by superimposing on it another national icon, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. These towering personalities of Indian history would not have liked being placed on conflicting sides of a political divide a bit, but the BJP government is too busy scoring ideological points at the moment to think about propriety.

 Run for Unity: Modis masterstroke pushes Indira to irrelevance

India's first Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

If the Congress was afraid that the government would end up appropriating all its icons, including Mahatma Gandhi, the NDA is doing worse: it’s making the deities in its pantheon redundant. The ‘Run for Unity’ being organised by the NDA government is as a much a tribute to one of the nation's founding fathers as it is about giving a short shrift to Indira's martyrdom.

While Modi has openly banked on Sardar Patel in his previous campaigns for Gujarat Assembly elections, he has now given it a national hue. Government offices near Raisina Hill will be closed in the afternoon today. It will be followed by a pledge-taking ceremony for the country’s unity in various government offices, public institutions and Public Sector Undertakings (PSU’s). The NDA government has already announced that Patel’s birth anniversary will be celebrated as Rashtriya Ekta Divas (National Unity Day). Patel was instrumental in unifying the country by bringing various princely states under one roof as India’s first Deputy Prime Minister.

Though most Congressmen remained mum, some did lash out against the NDA’s latest move. “Indira ji and her sacrifice don’t need patronage from anyone. She still rules the hearts of our poor,” says Akhilesh Pratap Singh, national spokesperson Congress. “It was only the Congress party that contributed to the freedom struggle, the rest remained subservient to the British. Why does the BJP forget that it was Patel who banned the RSS,” he adds.

But the NDA remains unfazed as PM Modi has grand plans afoot on Sardar Patel’s 138th birth anniversary. Another radio address to the nation followed by a ‘March Past’ by Police, Central Armed Police Forces, NCC, Home Guards etc in major cities and towns in the evening. The agenda seems to be clear, to keep ‘Indira at bay’. “With Modi in complete control, the narratives around 31st October hinges on Sardar Patel and anti-Sikh riots,” says Shivraj Parshad, CEO and Founder Brevis LLP which deals in Media, Training and Advocacy. “For the first time in three decades, India Gandhi’s death anniversary has been consigned to the back pages. The media also seems to be rallying around a new flag,” he adds. Centre also decided to give an additional compensation to over 3000 victims of the 1984 anti Sikh riots this Thursday, and is pulling all stops to ensure that National Unity Day turns into an overwhelming success.

For the NDA, it may be a commemoration to reiterate that India stands together when it comes to facing any threat to its integrity, but in reality it is a political masterstroke. The Congress has now become acutely aware of Modi’s intentions and has been working overtime to do the balancing act, after all both Patel and Indira belonged to their party.

“No one can demolish the legacy of our leaders. It is there for everyone to see, be it Sardar Patel or Indira Gandhi,” counters Ajay Maken, Congress media chief. “Congress president had herself written to the then PM in 2012 that Government of India should celebrate/organize such events only for Mahatma Gandhi, rest should be left to political parties or Trusts to do so. Narendra Modi has just taken a step in that direction,” he adds.

Though the Congress is maintaining a straight face over Sardar Patel overshadowing Nehru’s daughter, the discomfort does find its way out. So far the grand old party has just been kept busy trying to counter what NDA government has been doing, a systematic approach to keep the Nehru-Gandhi name out of public memory. It’s time the Congress moved from just being vigilant to pro-active as Modi attempts to make their political icons fade in the background in the current political scenario.

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Updated Date: Oct 31, 2014 14:50:16 IST