A Grateful Nation's Tribute to Sardar Patel
The Statue of Unity inaugurated by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 31st October 2018 is an apt and comme il faut tribute to the Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel aka Sardar Patel, very appropriately also remembered as the 'Iron Man Of India' or the 'Bismarck of India'. Ironically, for the iron man bearing coveted caps of a freedom fighter, statesman, barrister, administrator, first deputy prime minister & home minister of the Independent India, the post-independence Indian history has not been very fair and soliciting to his stature, contribution and accomplishments in ensuring the freedom, unity and integrity of the nation. True to the saying 'better late than never', the nation has finally acknowledged his role and contribution in the freedom struggle and integration of nation posthumously in the recent years i.e. many decades after his death on 15 December 1950.
Ever since the work on the "Statue of Unity" commenced with the resolve of the present federal NDA government, more particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there has been a recurring debate, controversy and criticism among the political parties, social groups and intellectuals on Sardar Patel's political legacy, contribution in freedom movement, magnitude of the project and cost thereof. However, the truth is that this commitment was expressed by Mr Modi way back in 2010 when he was still the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Almost eight years after this resolve, the dream statue now stands with all its grandeur and awesome height at Sadhu Bet Island a little over three km away from and facing the Sardar Sarovar Dam downstream the holy river Narmada on 143rd birth anniversary of Sardar Patel as a symbol of the national unity. The place is some 100 kilometres away from the city of Vadodara in the southeast.
Dimension, Cost and Making of the Statue
The 182 metre tall Statue of Unity is now world's tallest statue, a marvel of engineering skills accomplished by an army of over 3,000 skilled and non-skilled workers, including about 250 engineers, from the Larsen & Toubro (L&T), a major infrastructure company in the country. When Mr Modi made his resolve public in 2010 around the civic elections in Ahmedabad, many skeptics had taken it as a mere poll-plank to gain popular support but after eight years of the promise, it has fructified not only as the grateful nation?s tribute to the Iron Man of India but also as an annals in the nation's or rather world's history. Till the arrival of the Statue of Unity, the world's tallest statue was that of the Spring Temple of Buddha in China at 153 metres with the second tallest of the Ushiku Daibutsu at 120 metres in Japan. The most famous among the world?s tall statues, the Statue of Liberty in USA at 93 metres stands at about half of the height of this statue.
Reportedly, the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET) set up in 2011 collected about 135 tonnes of iron implements from the farmers from nearly 169,000 villages across the country as a symbolic contribution and display of national unity, bulk of which was processed for use in the construction of the base of the statue. The project had commenced in May 2015 and it took about 42 months for completion that included significant contributions of the Padma Bhushan awardee sculptor Ram V. Sutar in artistry and the Chinese Foundry's, Jiangxi Toqine Company, bronze cladding work. The project was completed on an estimated cost of approximately 3,000 crore, the bulk of which was funded by the Gujarat and Central government, some voluntary contributions and part funding from certain Public Sector Undertakings under their Corporate Social Responsibility scheme .
As for composition of the statue, it is comprised of three layers: the inner layer consists of two 127 metres high towers of the reinforced cement concrete (RCC) up to the statue's chest; the middle layer is the steel structural frame; and the outer layer is an 8 mm bronze coating on the entire surface. Inside concrete towers, lifts have been catered two in each. According to project experts, the Statue of Unity posed greater challenge in terms of engineering and artwork as compared to iconic Buddha statues in China and Japan as they were imagined depiction of Lord Buddha while the former was based on a real life 1949 photograph of Sardar Patel and none of the known bronze foundries in India were found capable of handling the project of this size.
The available reports suggest, initially the L&T had associated renowned sculptor Ram V. Sutar to make an eighteen feet tall statue based on Sardar's 1949 photograph. This bronze statue was taken to Sardar's birthplace Nadiad, Anand District of Gujarat. Based on the feedback of people in his native place, another thirty feet statue was created as a sort of prototype for the actual statue. According to reports, about 7,000 bronze plates received from the Chinese foundry were welded together for the complete cladding that was affixed onto the statue to finish the job. The giant base itself is about 25 metres high i.e. almost at par with an eight-storey building housing an exhibition and film centre depicting Sardar's role in the national building and integration as well as Sardar Sarovar dam and Shoolpaneshwar wildlife sanctuary in the vicinity. The futuristic plan is to develop the Statue of Unity area as a mega tourist attraction in Gujarat.
Sardar's attire includes his favourite nearly knee long Kurta and jacket with a shawl on shoulders, dhoti-clad legs and the sandals for footwear. The posture and expressions of the statue are almost complete replica of his famous iron will, dignity and confidence as well as kindness that were characteristics of his sober personality. The total height of the sculpture including its base comes to 240 metres (base 58 m & statue 182 m). The height of the statue matches with the number of seats in the Gujarat Legislative Assembly and it can easily withstand winds up to 220 kilometres per hour and earthquakes measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale at a depth of 10 km and within a radius of twelve km. Besides, the statue, a tribute to Indian engineering skills, can be seen within a seven km radius.
The colossal statue is divided in five zones of which three are accessible to common public. The first zone is from its base to the shins of the statue which had three levels namely exhibition area, mezzanine and roof including a museum and memorial garden. The second zone extends from shins to thighs at 149 metres while the third terminates to a viewing gallery at 153 metres which can accommodate about 200 visitors. The concrete towers representing the statue?s legs have two elevators each which can carry 26 people to the viewing gallery in about a half-minute. The zone four is catered as the maintenance area and the fifth zone represents the head and shoulders of the statue.
Life of Sardar Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel
Sardar Patel was born at Nadiad in the Anand District of the present day Gujarat (erstwhile Bombay Presidency) on 31 October 1875 to parents Zaverbhai (father) and Ladbai (mother). After initial traditional education in Gujarati and English medium, he pursued a law degree in England and on return started practice in Godhra, Gujarat. He got married early with Zaverbai in 1891 and had two children. He was against the British rule in India since beginning; hence he turned down quite a few lucrative posts offered to him due to his proficiency in law. After some time he started practice in Ahmedabad, came in touch with Mahatma Gandhi and was deeply influenced with his ideology and commitment for the country; henceforth he became a staunch follower of Mahatma Gandhi subscribing to Gandhian principles.
As the Secretary of the Gujarat wing of the Indian National Congress (INC), Sardar Patel successfully led a massive "No Tax Campaign" in 1918 appealing the farmers not to pay taxes to British after the ravaging floods in Kaira (Kheda). The peaceful movement forced the British authorities to concede to the farmers' demand and earned him the title of 'Sardar'. Soon he became a trusted lieutenant of Mahatma Gandhi and participated the non-cooperation Movement launched by him. He actively toured countrywide with Mahatma recruiting members and collecting funds for the sustenance of the movement. In 1928, Sardar successfully led the civil disobedience movement of the farmers of Bardoli in Gujarat against unjustly tax levy by the British government consequent to severe floods and famine in the region. The Bardoli Satyagraha became a major episode in the Indian Independence Movement led by Sardar Patel, during Gandhi's imprisonment, and its success effectively established him among the frontline leaders of the freedom movement.
Sardar was imprisoned with other prominent Congress leaders in 1930 for participating in the famous "Namak (Salt) Satyagraha" led by Mahatma Gandhi. He was freed in 1931 after Gandhi and Irwin signed an agreement popularly known as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact and elected as the President of Indian National Congress in its Karachi session during the same year. His stature and popular appeal in INC cadres kept increasing and he actively campaigned for the Congress during the 1934 legislative elections though himself avoided contesting for any seat. All along the freedom movement, he firmly stood by Mahatma Gandhi and rendered his unconditional support to Mahatma even during Quit India Movement in 1942 when some other prominent Congress leaders were not in favour of the latter's decision. During this period, he widely traveled across the country giving powerful speeches and in turn garnering people's massive support to the movement. Consequently, he was again arrested by the British government and kept in the Ahmednagar fort till 1945 with some other leaders.
Apart from his leading role during the freedom movement, post-independence he made significant contribution in the integration of a large number of princely states with the Indian dominion through persuasion and application of force, where considered necessary. Deeply influenced by Gandhian philosophy, he remained a staunch supporter of Mahatma Gandhi; so much so that he even stepped down from the candidacy of the Congress President at the latter's call in 1946 despite being the most popular face after Gandhi and first choice of people for leadership knowing well that the Indian independence was near and the one who is elected as Congress president would also be a natural choice for heading the interim government as prime minister. At Gandhi's wish, he accepted the second position after Nehru and continued his uncompromising ways for the consolidation and integration of the nation till his death on 15 December 1950.
Integration of Princely States
Sardar Patel is mainly admired for his role in integration of the princely states after independence. In the post-independent India, Sardar Patel became the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's cabinet. As Home Minister, he had perhaps first and foremost task of dealing with around 562 small and big princely states for their future relationship with the Indian Dominion. While leaving India, the British rulers had left these states with two alternatives with certain qualifications attached; one alternative was to join either India or Pakistan; the other was they could choose to retain their independence. The latter clause posed real challenges, complications and a mammoth task before the new Congress government in achieving their integration with India.
Actually on partition, the territories under the direct British rule were divided into two parts namely the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan on the basis of contiguous Muslim and non-Muslim population. So the real issue remained about the fate of the large number of princely states which were scattered like numerous islands under the suzerainty of the British Crown: under the existing arrangement, their internal affairs were in the hands of their hereditary rulers, while the control over external affairs and defence remained vested in the British Government of India through the Viceroy. Though the British had given them option with certain guidelines either to join India or Pakistan but many of them were uncertain or keen to remain independent of the either Dominions. It was in these circumstances that Sardar Patel with the assistance of VP Menon used his political acumen and administrative abilities that led to the most of the princely states to accede to India. Instead of threat and coercion, he relied more on conciliatory yet firm approach emphasizing the unity of India while simultaneously safeguarding common interests of the princes through the Standstill Agreement and the Instrument of Accession.
While the Standstill Agreement assured the continuance of the pre-existing agreements and administrative practices, the Instrument of Accession achieved the ruler of the princely state in question agreeing to the merger of his state to the independent India, granting the latter control over the specified subject matters. The strategy of Sardar Patel worked in so far as most of the princely states agreed for a peaceful merger with the Union of India. However, a few states namely Hyderabad, Jodhpur, Junagarh and Kashmir either remain uncertain for long or expressed their desire to remain independent. While the issue of Jodhpur was amicably resolved by putting in some extra efforts, the Muslim rulers of Junagarh and Hyderabad refused to join while the Hindu King of Kashmir remained uncertain for long. Ironically, while Junagarh and Hyderabad largely remained in the domain of Sardar Patel who finally achieved their merger after application of mild force, Jawaharlal Nehru chose to personally handle the affairs of Kashmir leading to its belated part accession, first Indo-Pak War in 1947-48 and an unsettled Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan. The events leading to the accession of these princely states are briefly illustrated in the following paragraphs.
Annexation of Junagarh
Junagarh was a small princely state in Gujarat surrounded from all sides of its land borders by India and a small outlet onto the Arabian Sea. The state had a majority Hindu population (about 80%) and a Muslim ruler Nawab Muhammad Mahabat Khanji III, who was inclined to join Pakistan, much against the wishes of people. The Nawab unilaterally declared accession to the Dominion of Pakistan on 15 September 1947 and Pakistan readily endorsed it on 16 September 1947 violating the condition of geographical contiguity and ignoring the advice of Lord Mountbatten. This triggered retaliation from two principalities of Babariawad and Mangrol under the suzerainty of the Nawab claiming independence from Junagadh and accession to India. In retaliation, the Nawab militarily occupied these principalities leading to unrest and uncertainty within the state, including the neighbouring princely states that dispatched their troops to the Junagadh frontier and made appeal to the Government of India to intervene.
Almost simultaneously, Samaldas Gandhi, a freedom fighter and relative of Mahatma Gandhi formed a government-in-exile with the active support of citizens to symbolize wishes of the majority population that wanted merger with India. As the princely state was contiguous with the Dominion of India with an overwhelming Hindu population, Sardar Patel formally offered Pakistan to reverse its decision and hold a plebiscite in Junagarh. The unsettled conditions in Junagadh had already led to cessation of all trade with India leading to a precarious food supplies and civic unrest. Unable to handle the crisis, the Nawab fled to Karachi with his family leaving behind Diwan Shah Nawaz Bhutto to deal with the situation. Following this conundrum, Sardar Patel eventually decided to use force for restoring order in the state. Facing serious financial crisis, lack of strength and resources to withstand, the Junagadh state government too ultimately offered the Government of India to take control. Following these events, a plebiscite was organized in Junagarh, in which approximately 99.95% of the people preferred India over Pakistan.
Merger of Hyderabad
The Nizam of Hyderabad, Nawab Osman Ali Khan, a Muslim ruler chose independence rather than joining the Dominion of India at the strength of an irregular army known as Razakars, largely recruited from the Muslim aristocracy. Like Junagarh, the majority population in the state of Hyderabad too was of Hindu origin and the Nawab was also facing popular uprisings in the Telangana region. The Nizam even announced trade representatives to the European countries and initiated discussion with the Portuguese for an access to sea through Goa. However, his request to British crown for grant of the status of an independent constitutional monarchy under the British Commonwealth was rejected by Lord Mountbatten. Sardar Patel persuaded the Nizam to sign a Standstill Agreement with the assurance to maintain the status quo whereunder while Hyderabad's foreign affairs would be under the Indian government but Indian troops would not be retained. However, there was a huge agitation and demonstration by Razakars in Hyderabad against the proposed agreement and plan shelved by Nizam.
Finally in November 1947, Hyderabad signed a standstill agreement with the dominion of India. However, under the strong influence and pressure of Islamists from the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) and irregular army of Razakars, the administration under Nizam continued to violate model codes under the agreement. In fact, fearing the popular Hindu civil uprisings in the kingdom, the Nizam himself had earlier allowed the voluntary militia of Muslims called the Razakars, totaling to about two lakh in the state. The MIM was a communal organization and the army of Razakars was committed to uphold Islamic traditions and domination in Hyderabad and Deccan plateau even by resorting to violent means. Despite the Standstill Agreement, Hyderabad continued violating all clauses of the agreement: for instance, in external affairs, it continued intrigues with Pakistan and even secretly loaned her 15 million pounds; in defence, by building up a large semi-private army of Razakars who were unleashing terror and violence on the majority population; in communications, by interfering with the traffic at the borders and that of the Indian railways, and so on.
Finally, Sardar Patel started losing patience with the continuing reports of anarchy and excesses over the majority population of the state by Razakars and Nizam's failure to control it. Available accounts suggest, Nehru was keen to end the impasse but was against applying force and wanted a solution through the peaceful negotiations. However, amidst growing atrocities of the Razakars, Sardar Patel adopted a hard line and decided to annex Hyderabad in what was termed a "police action" code named Operation Polo. Thus Indian armed forces entered Hyderabad in a decisive move against the Razakars and Nizam in September 1948. The swift operation took only five days for the annexation and the Razakars and Nizam's army was subjugated without much resistance and bloodbath. However, the operation also triggered large scale violence on communal lines leading to an estimated death of 30,000 to 40,000 people. It was largely on account of Sardar Patel's political acumen, courage and resolve that the Nizam of Hyderabad finally signed the Instrument of Accession and one of the largest princely states was merged with the independent India.
Annexation of Jammu and Kashmir
Jammu & Kashmir comprised of three divisions Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh: on overall basis the state had the majority of Muslim population and a Hindu king; however, out of three divisions, Kashmir had a majority of Muslim population, Jammu a majority Hindu population and Ladakh sparsely distributed majority of Buddhist population. Initially, Maharaja Hari Singh appeared indecisive with no inclination of joining India and Pakistan either. He offered a Standstill Agreement to both the countries: Pakistan readily accepted it but the agreement was never signed while India offered discussion on terms of the agreement. Impatient Pakistan resorted to economic blocked of the state in the beginning of September 1947 to force annexation triggering tension and the state turned to India for the supply of essential items.
Pakistan covertly engineered rebellion in Poonch arming the rebels. Things started deteriorating and on 22 October, Pakistan launched a full throttle invasion of Kashmir sending armed Pashtun tribes and militia backed by army with an aim to capture the capital Srinagar. Unable to stop the invasion, Hari Singh requested India for the immediate military assistance. Available historical accounts and developments suggest that Nehru was personally interested in Kashmir matters retaining portfolio with self and Patel had limited role in decision making. In the above scenario, India agreed to airlift troops provided Maharaja met three conditions of signing the instrument of accession to India, democratizing internal administration under a new constitution and permit National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah (later condition obviously on behest of Nehru) to lead in the troubled Valley.
The Maharaja had no option but to accept these conditions. The Instrument of Accession was signed on 26 October, Sheikh Abdullah was appointed as the Head of Emergency Administration to run the affairs in Kashmir with the Maharaja withdrawn to Jammu. The instrument was accepted by the Governor-General and Indian troops air-lifted to Kashmir on the following day to start operation to evict Pakistani invaders from the Kashmir Valley. The war between the Indian forces and invaders continued till early 1948 and India at the personal desire and initiative of Nehru sought intervention of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the resolution of the issue. The UNSC passed a resolution on 21st April 1948 which inter alia provided for the immediate cease-fire of hostilities, the Government of Pakistan to secure the withdrawal from the state of Jammu and Kashmir of all tribesmen and Pakistani nationals and the Government of India to reduce its forces to the minimum to create conducive environment for holding a plebiscite in the state on the question of accession to India or Pakistan.
The UNSC passed more resolutions on the subsequent occasions to resolve the Kashmir issue. However, the condition of withdrawal of tribesmen and Pakistani nationals from the occupied territory was never met by Pakistan. Successive Pakistani leaders continued repeatedly using plebiscite as a political tool for keeping the Kashmir issue alive while illegally occupying a significant north and western territory of the state. Article 370 of the Constitution of India supplemented by Article 35A through a Presidential Order in 1954 too remained a significant cause why the Jammu and Kashmir has not become an unquestionable integral part of the nation so far like the remaining states. This Article was included at the behest of Pandit Nehru despite grave reservations of Sardar Patel and many other members of the Constituent Assembly.
Reportedly, Article 370 was the brain child of Sheikh Abdullah, the then appointed Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru himself, who had retained the Kashmir portfolio with self. It is a widely known fact that the Law Minister BR Ambedkar had refused to draft the proposed legislation for the Article 370 and it was then written by N. Gopalswami Ayyangar, another Member of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution. It is a part of history now how Sheikh Abdullah, driven by his secret ambition of heading an independent Kashmir, in later years pressed for a plebiscite and in the process even connived with Pakistan. Finally, Pandit Nehru had to come in terms with reality by ordering arrest of Sheikh Abdullah for sedition in August, 1953 and he was kept in jail for almost eleven years from 1953 to 1964. Ironically, the only princely state directly handled by Pandit Nehru became a cancerous issue that continues to bleed India with four costly wars with Pakistan and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. On the other hand, over five hundred princely states were seamlessly integrated joining the mainstream nation, largely thanks to the political acumen and administrative skills of Sardar Patel.
National Interests Vs Personal Ambitions
Sardar Patel was a staunch follower of Mahatma Gandhi and rendered unclenching support to Gandhian politics and principles while other contemporary Congressmen including Pandit Nehru are known for the latter's criticism at occasions. The best illustration in this context could be the election of the Congress President in 1946 when it was crystal clear that the incumbent party President would also get an opportunity to lead the independent India. Towards the end of World War II, there were clear indications from the British that the India?s dream of freedom was nearing fructification and in such an eventuality the Congress President shall be invited to form the Interim Government at the Centre.
In the above background, the position of the Party President had become very crucial among the then aspirants and power brokers in Congress. Gandhiji's fondness for Jawaharlal Nehru as his preferred choice was well known which he is known to have expressed even before the process was set in motion in 1946. However, despite Gandhi?s leaning in favour of Jawaharlal Nehru, the majority in Congress wanted to see Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as the Congress President (and thus an obvious choice as the first Prime Minister of free India) because of his seniority, political acumen, administrative and executive skills, organizing ability and effective leadership. The majority Congress men across the country as the only legitimate bodies to nominate and elect the Party President, i.e. 12 out of 15 Provincial Congress Committees nominated Sardar Patel for the post in the process with none of them favourin the election of Jawaharlal Nehru. Thus Nehru remained without any support of the 15 Provincial Congress Committees till the last day of filing the nominations for the President i.e. April 29, 1946.
As it appears, Gandhiji tasked JB Kripalani in finding the proposers and seconders in Delhi for Nehru's candidacy which Kriplani did dutifully by mobilizing necessary numbers. Once Nehru's candidature was formally proposed, efforts began to persuade Sardar Patel to withdraw his nomination in the former?s favour. Available record and account of the crucial CWC meeting suggest that before advising Patel to withdraw his nomination, Gandhi did give a hint to Jawaharlal that none of the provincial committees had favoured his candidature except a few CWC members, to which he (Nehru) maintained a stoic and embarrassing silence. The message was clear that Nehru was not willing to accept second place (subordination) to any Congress leader and might stay away in the event of the interim government formation. Thus Gandhi sacrificed his most trusted and faithful colleague (Patel) in favour of the glamorous and westernized Nehru.
Incidentally, then Sardar Patel was about 71 and Nehru 57 years of age. The former was not only senior in age and experience but also had established himself superior in administrative skills and organizing abilities among the existing lot. Considering age, it was the last opportunity for him while Nehru still had many years in his favour. It is understood, many other senior leaders including Rajendra Prasad, who later became first President of India, were not happy with Gandhi's choice but then for the sake of unity and in reverence to Gandhiji everyone endorsed his choice. Putting own ambition, if any, at the backburner, Sardar Patel, an icon of ethics and morality, gracefully accepted to take the second position to Nehru for two reasons: firstly, for him service of the motherland and safeguarding national interests was more important than any post or position; and secondly, he did not want any split at the top leadership at that crucial juncture due to Nehru?s silent yet adamant attitude hinting that he would either take number one spot or stay away from the government formation.
Later in his autobiographical book "India Wins Freedom", Maulana Abul Kalam Azad made startling revelations and observations. Among the contemporary Congress leaders, mutual friendship, fondness and camaraderie between Pandit Nehru and Maulana Azad is a well-known. Hence one should have no reasons to doubt the factual accuracy of the averments made by Maulana in his book to illustrate the unethical and compromising game that followed just before the independence.
In Chapter 12, Prelude to Partition of India, Maulana wrote that there was a general demand for his re-election as the Congress President as he had been in-charge of negotiations with Cripps, with Lord Wavell and with the Cabinet Mission in early 1946. But he had been President for almost last seven years so he decided to retire but was keen that the next President should be one who agreed with his point of view to carry the same policy forward. In that context he had a feeling that the election of Sardar Patel would not be desirable, so with Gandhi's backing he proposed the name of Jawaharlal Nehru on 26 April 1946 for the Party President with an appeal to party men to elect him unanimously.
In the same sequence, he subsequently wrote the following in his own words:
"*I acted according to my best judgment but the way things have shaped since then has made me realise that this was perhaps the greatest blunder of my political life. I have regretted no action of mine so much as the decision to withdraw from the Presidentship of the Congress at this critical juncture. It was a mistake which I can describe in Gandhiji's words as one of Himalayan dimension.*"
In the following paragraph, he acknowledged:
"*My second mistake was that when I decided not to stand myself I did not support Sardar Patel. We differed on many issues but I am convinced that if he had succeeded me as Congress President he would have seen that the Cabinet Mission Plan was successfully implemented. He would have never committed the mistake of Jawaharlal which gave Mr Jinnah the opportunity of sabotaging the plan. I can never forgive myself when I think that if I had not committed these mistakes, perhaps the history of the last ten years would have been different.*"
Maulana Azad also admitted in his book that he had reservations about the elevation of Sardar Patel, in spite of his seniority and administrative acumen, on a perception that he may not be fair and favourable to minorities (Muslims) and then he himself admitted that it was his blunder not to propose Patel at the crucial juncture. A comrade and close friend of Pandit Nehru, when Maulana Azad regrets not favouring Sardar Patel and cites the entire episode of the election of the Congress President in 1946 as a blunder of Himalayan dimension, it speaks volumes of what was done that should have not been done, and leaves no doubt about the wrongs committed at the time that proved too costly to the nation in the following years.
Post-Independence Congress Legacy and Sardar Patel
On face, it may appear a little harsh but the truth is that following the partition and independence, India was ruled by Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister till his death in May 1964. After his death, reigns of the country remained directly or indirectly in the hands of the Nehru-Gandhi family for the maximum period. In the post-independence history, the contribution of the leaders like Sardar Patel was almost forgotten for long. One would find hundreds of monuments, places, roads, developmental programmes and schemes across the country in the name of the members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. In contrast, the Congress has seldom glorified contributions of Sardar Patel and other prominent leaders in the freedom struggle and nation building after independence.
A case in point, for illustration, could be the grant of Bharat Ratna in the independent India, the most coveted honour for the individual service to the nation. It was introduced in 1954 and Pandit Nehru was among its early recipients along with M. Visvesvaraya, civil engineer and statesman, in 1955. Till 1990, i.e. forty-three years after independence, almost two dozen people from various walks, including Indira Gandhi and other contemporary politicians of Congress and allies, were awarded Bharat Ratna but quite conspicuously Sardar Patel did not find a place or consideration in the coveted list. Then it was the Narsimha Rao Government in 1991 that acknowledged Sardar Patel's contributions and awarded Bharat Ratna along with Rajiv Gandhi, posthumously. The author is not giving further comments, instead leaving it to the wisdom of readers to derive their own conclusions.
Now after such a long gap, when the NDA government has taken initiative to acknowledge and honour the role and contributions of Sardar Patel with some other forgotten leaders of the freedom struggle, the Congress finds these initiatives as politically motivated and an attempt by others to snatch the past glory and take credit for the contributions of the grand old party and its icons. The fact is pre-independence INC comprised of many committed and selfless people who had joined the freedom struggle driven by their love and sentiments for the national cause often sacrificing own successful professional career and ambitions. On the other hand, the present political parties are largely comprised of opportunistic people, barring a few, driven by the greed for money, power, name and fame. So far as sharing the legacy of past, the one particular party claims it but, in reality, none of the present day political parties carry or deserve true legacy of the pre-independence INC. To illutrate this point, let us briefly analyse the nature and legacy of some left-centric and right-wing parties.
Most of the left-centric socialist parties' leaders with the tag of secular and socialist credentials treat Dr Ram Manohar Lohia as their mentor and Guru who was actually associated with the INC prior to independence and parted ways to form his own Congress Socialist Party. Even the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP)'s precursor the right wing Bhartiya Jana Sangh was founded in October 1951 by Syama Prasad Mukherjee (jointly with Deen Dayal Upadhyay) who was a committed INC member and the Minister of Industry & Supplies in Pandit Nehru's cabinet. Even the post-independence INC splitted in 1960s when Indira Gandhi walked out with the loyalists to form her own Congress (I) while the old guards stayed put together only to fade in time with the likes of Morarji Desai, who had later floated another party and briefly experimented with the coalition politics in seventies. Thus essentially they are all offshoots (or Offsprings) of the erstwhile INC now with own agenda and ideology. What is left in the Congress today is the Nehruvian legacy and his loyalists rallying behind one family while others having serious personal differences with Pandit Nehru or his political and socio-economic philosophy left and floated new political outfits at various points of time. It is of common knowledge how the party leaders like Narsimha Rao and Sitaram Kesari were either discredited or thrown out when they tried to deviate from the Nehruvian philosophy or insisted own authority.
Apart from the political controversy and criticism from the Congress about the legacy, magnitude and sources of expenditure, the Statue of Unity project also faced opposition from some local tribals, including the activist Medha Patekar, against the land acquisition for the tourism infrastructure. Some people in the nearby villages too have opposed the construction of the statue demanding the restitution of the land rights over the land acquired for various purposes. However, most of them were duly compensated with cash and land offers, including jobs. The role of some opposition politicians and political parties too is not ruled out in inciting people to cause such trouble. Political parties, mainly the Congress, also criticized government spending public money on statue and L&T outsourcing work to a Chinese foundry.
Opposition politicians and some self-proclaimed progressive intellectuals and liberals have opposed the development on the analogy that the money spent on the statue could have been used on the infrastructure development, education, healthcare and welfare of farmers in the country. They are the same critics and skeptics who would criticize space programme because the Indians still use bullock-carts. They are the same people who would oppose the induction of fast speed rail corridors because the country still has inadequate basic amenities and technological gaps in the existing railways network. For them, such innovations and initiatives appear a colossal waste of resources in an under-developed country. Going by their bizarre logic, there should be no innovations and technology induction till the basic needs of people are completely met, and perhaps all historical monuments and memorials too should be dispensed with.
The statue of unity is a fitting tribute to the role and contribution of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of the independent India. The man with iron will certainly deserves this national honour and tribute having played a key and decisive role in unifying India through merger and integration of more than five hundred princely states. Then such a monument would definitely popularize and augment tourism too in the state in the years to come thereby significantly contributing to business, commerce and employment in the region. The apolitical criticism and issues raised by the local inhabitants and tribals may have genuine grounds and should be addressed by the Gujarat government in the same spirit to their satisfaction. The other issues and criticism by the politicians and self-proclaimed intellectuals relating to the legacy and expenditure should simply be ignored.
Image courtesy: Business Today