Concluding his first public rally in Rewari after being anointed Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP, Mr. Narendra Modi appealed to his audience to donate pieces of iron from each village in the state to be used for constructing his proposed Statue of Unity on the sea coast of Gujarat. Mr. Modi wants similar donations of iron pieces from each village in each state across the nation in honour of Sardar Vallabhai Patel who will symbolize unity in the proposed statue. Mr. Modi has declared his intention of constructing the tallest statue in the world, taller than America’s Statue of Liberty, in honour of Sardar Patel.
This writer has serious objection to the proposal. Sardar Patel was undoubtedly a very great man, as were Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Patel performed great service to the nation by unifying the princely states of India after Independence. But though these great leaders did great things for the nation they also committed unforgivable errors the consequence of which continue to haunt our nation.
These leaders, mainly Sardar Patel, united Bharat but they divided India. They divided India without the slightest justification. They divided India because they allowed themselves to be influenced and manipulated by the British.
With just over 1000 people killed in Punjab through communal riots engineered by the British administration immediately after Lord Mountbatten became India’s Viceroy, and about 12000 killed in Bihar and Bengal over a period of two years, these leaders violated their solemn pledge to the people of India by accepting Partition. Gandhi on the fateful day, June 3, 1947 when the Congress formally accepted Partition, conveniently observed his ‘day of silence’.
Nehru and Patel were the hawks in the Congress Working Committee in favour of accepting Partition. JB Kripalani, Jayaprakash Narain and Ram Manohar Lohia who opposed Partition were overruled by the rest. On June 2, on eve of the decision, Gandhi assured Mountbatten who visited him that he would not create any hurdles against the decision.
In what manner then might Sardar Patel symbolize unity? After two lawyers from Gujarat, Gandhi and Jinnah, and two aristocrats from Uttar Pradesh, Nehru and Liaquat Ali, butchered and cut asunder Punjab and Bengal displaying their ignorance about the ground realities in these states, people today should display some sensitivity towards the sentiments of provinces where over a million people were slaughtered and over ten million rendered homeless due to the follies of these leaders.
In case critics challenge this view about the unforgivable decision about the Partition, let them note that both Gandhi and Nehru acknowledged their error. Gandhi wanted to settle down in Pakistan to undo the Partition just before he was assassinated thanks to ignored security measures during Sardar Patel’s tenure as Home Minister. Nehru sent Sheikh Abdullah to Pakistan to plead with President Ayub Khan to reunite India and Pakistan through a proposed confederation during which effort he died.
Therefore this writer would like to remind Mr. Narendra Modi and many others from different parts of India that they may have their history and may choose to honour whom they wish. The peoples of Punjab and Bengal have their own history and their own memories to recall. Congress leaders today may be the best in the land. They are welcome to govern India. But the Congress Party as Imperial Britain’s instrument to partition India deserves to be buried. Let Congress leaders reinvent themselves into a new organization. After all, this demand merely echoes the last wish of the most revered Congress icon, Mahatma Gandhi, on the day before he died.
Mr. Modi is welcome to construct his Statue of Unity. The people of Punjab and Bengal might seek their own way of responding to history.
Human folly can delay but not derail history. Ultimately, cultural nationalism will triumph.