Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's appropriation of Sardar Patel, a giant of the freedom struggle who is remembered for uniting India after Independence, was complete when he feted the `Iron Man' as an icon next only to Mahatma Gandhi. The consecration of India's first home minister on his birth anniversary stood out also because of the diminution of significance of Indira Gandhi's death anniversary .
Under successive regimes, the day when the former prime minister was killed by her Sikh bodyguards has been observed as the most important date on the calendar, with Patel barely finding a mention. The tables were turned on Friday with observation of Indira's death anniversary almost reduced to a Congress affair - the PM's tribute to her and President Pranab Mukherjee's presence at Shakti Sthal notwithstanding.
After 10 years, there were no government advertisements remembering Indira. In contrast, new-found official patronage saw Patel loom large.
In fact, Modi, whose government has decided to celebrate the day as `National Unity Day', lamented that the birthday of a man who welded disparate principalities into a nation saw the killing of thousands of Sikhs in retaliation against Indira's assassination. “Thirty years ago, a ghastly incident happened when thousands of our own people were killed. This was not a wound inflicted on one community, but was a knife in the heart of an order that has existed in India for thousands of years,” Modi said at a function to flag off `Run For Unity'.
Apart from a tribute to Indira on Twitter, Modi also mentioned her death anniversary in his speech. But his emphasis on the massacre of Sikhs was at sharp variance with the way Congress has marked Indira's death -as a sacrifice for national integrity.
Modi left no doubt that he considered Patel, and not Jawaharlal Nehru, to be the natural successor of Mahatma Gandhi. Recalling the sacrifice that Patel made at Gandhi's instance when he gave up a flourishing practice abroad to join the freedom struggle, drew farmers to the movement and played a crucial role in Dandi March, Modi said, “When we look at Gandhi, it seems that he would have been incomplete without Sardar saheb. They shared an unshakeable bond. They formed an unbreakable partnership.”