Modi’s Ploy: Mahatma Gandhi & Sardar Patel!

The importance accorded by Prime Minister Modi to cosmetic symbols attached with life and personality of two historical figures demands analysis. These two are Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhai Patel. Those familiar with regional origin of both would naturally instantly link them with Gujarat. Naturally, one is tempted to deliberate on whether their regional affiliation with both has something to do with Modi going overboard in displaying so much importance for both these figures. It is possible.

Let us look at another side of the issue. New generation of people and a majority of common Indians are most likely not very familiar with the political background of both these figures. Not many, in all probability, are aware of their political association with BJP’s key rival party, that is Congress. Both have even led Congress for a particular period. But Modi is apparently not at all concerned about this aspect. What bears greater relevance for him, apparently, is that most Indians are not too familiar with the political affiliation of both Gandhi and Patel.

Paradoxically, the Congress party has also not given much importance to its historical figures being given so much importance by Modi, that too in a positive light. Of course, Modi and his saffron brigade associates have paid attention to other Congress leaders too, during their electoral campaigning, but they have been largely targeted on negative lines. Of this, most popular jargons are blaming Gandhi family (Sonia, Rahul and others) for confining hold of Congress to one family; projecting Rahul as a weak leader; the foreign origin of Sonia and so forth.  

Sardar Patel was the 49th President of Indian National Congress in 1931. He served as the first Deputy Prime Minister of India. During the same period, from August 15, 1947 till his death on December 15, 1950 he was also the Minister of Home Affairs and the first Commander-in-Chief of Indian Armed Forces. During this period, Dr Rajendra Prasad was the President and Jawaharlal Nehru the Prime Minister, both of whom were Congress stalwarts. While Prasad headed the Congress in 1934 and 1935, Nehru led it in 1936 and 1937.

From no angle, Patel can be viewed as of not being a strong member of the Congress. Neither can Congress be blamed from not recognizing his political credentials. The situation would have been different if Patel had not been accorded any ministerial portfolio and not been made the deputy prime minister, after the country secured freedom from the British colonialism.

It is rather astonishing that a Congress-stalwart is being paid so much importance by Modi. The issue would have been different if Patel was not a member of Congress. Considering that BJP views Congress as its key rival and has not spared the party and most of its leaders in virtually verbally lashing out at them particularly during its campaigns, elevation of Patel does spring a surprise. This includes construction of a 790 ft tall statue of Patel in Kevadiya colony, Narmada district, Gujarat. Begun on October 13, 2013, when Modi was the state chief minister, the statue was completed on October 30, 2018. It was open for public on October 31, 2018.  Named the “Statue of Unity,” the project was called “Gujarat’s Tribute to the Nation.”

In all probability, if Patel was not a Gujarati and/or if held some other name, Modi may not have taken so many steps to display the importance he gives to him. Patel is a common Gujarati name and represents a community whose votes have great significance. Clearly, Modi has gone overboard to win electoral support of Patels by displaying the respect he has for Sardar Patel. Modi’s political strategy on this front has been primarily confined to India.

With respect to Mahatma Gandhi, there is no denying the fact that he enjoys great respect across the world. A statue or some other symbolic tribute to him is visible in a number of countries. As is well-known, he played a great role in helping India achieve freedom through a non-violent movement. His life-style and other symbols associated with him, from his dhoti, foot-wear, spectacles and others bear their own distinct importance. He served as 43rd President of Congress in 1924. As indicated earlier, Gandhi’s linkage with Congress probably bears little importance for Modi. What certainly carries great significance for him is the worldwide image of Gandhi.

Clearly, Modi’s communication strategy directed towards associating his cleanliness drive with Mahatma Gandhi aims to enhance his own diplomatic image. He launched Swachh Bharat Mission on October 2, 2014, saying, “A clean India would be the best tribute India could pay Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th anniversary in 2019.” Modi’s strategy has succeeded diplomatically with his being conferred Global Gatekeepers Award from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for Swachh Bharat Mission, this September, during his visit to US. However, a lot more needs to be done to assure basic facilities as a part of Modi’s cleanliness drive, including construction of toilets in rural areas, along roadways and so forth!