Next Republic Day, four months before the 2014 General Elections, when Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, lays the base of Sardar Patel’s statue facing the Sardar Sarovar Dam on Narmada River, will the Congress party be present at the function? What is wrong with a great Congress leader, the country’s first Home Minister, unifier of the Indian state, being appropriated by the RSS-BJP? Maybe there is something common in the DNA of the Congress and the BJP. We are all Indians, after all.
The statue, to be completed in five years, will be the tallest in the world, twice the size of the Statue of Liberty. Heaven knows who will be Prime Minister then. If it is Narendra Modi, the ceremonies will be an extravaganza on a global scale. Will the Congress refuse to attend?
If, by a quirk of fortune, Rahul Gandhi finds himself in Race Course Road, will he complete the project begun by Narendra Modi? Or will he, in a spell of Nehruvian pique, abandon the Patel statue. Who knows, in his creative unpredictability, he may embark on an even taller Nehru statue.
He will not be allowed to by the party. The national mood, Rahul will be told, is more Patel than Nehru, which paraphrased means more saffron than secular. If it is a complicated transformation to communicate, let me try explaining. Imagine the Congress and the BJP on a stage as two puppets, holding hands and jigging, the accompanying song would be:
In form and feature, face and limb
I grew so like my brother.
That folks went taking me for him
And each for one another.
Patel may well be the perfect symbol of this synthesis. And Nehru? A discard? On which perch do we place, poor Maulana Azad who, with touching naiveté, hankered for a united India which ironically RSS ideologue HV Seshadri also wanted?
When Nehru switched and supported the Partition plan, imagine the pain and bewilderment with which Maulana Azad must have looked at him. Et tu, Jawaharlal? Nehru was mesmerized by the Maulana’s intellect. In a letter to Indira Gandhi he describes him “too erudite”. The Maulana dedicated India Wins Freedom to “Jawaharlal Nehru, friend and comrade”. As Congress President from 1939 to 46 he successfully negotiated with the British Cabinet Mission and handed over to the party a plan for a united India. Who wrecked it? And we have arrived in this twilight between hard and soft saffron primarily under Congress rule.
This Patel debate is something that neither the Congress nor the BJP can be sanguine about. How does one square Modi’s admiration for Patel with the Tragic Story of Partition, by the RSS ideologue, HV Seshadri. He has taken both, Nehru and Patel, to task for having partitioned the country. Modi’s difficulty is this: Patels are the only caste in India who control agriculture and business. Without their support in Gujarat he is a cipher. The statue ensures his security in the state, in case of a tumble on the national stage.
Seshadri wrote: “when the new Viceroy Lord Mountbatten announced on June 3, 1947, the plan for transfer of power, it came as a stunning blow to the people. For that plan, approved by Nehru and Patel, had envisaged cutting up Bharat and creating Pakistan! The great and trusted leaders of Congress had turned their backs on the sacred oaths they had taken, and the pledges they had administered to the people.”
If you are inclined to take the Seshadri version with a pinch of salt, let us read the version of someone who was present at the Congress conclaves in those fateful days: Ram Manohar Lohia. In his Guilty Men of India’s Partition, he describes Nehru “throwing a fit”, when Lohia urged that Congress leaders should reject the Two-Nation theory. Did you know that Congress leaders had accepted the “Two-Nation” theory, that Hindus and Muslims constitute two nations? Why has the Congress not spelt it out ever? Everything would have fallen in place. Indian Muslims would not have been marginalized by deception; they would have been confronted for a bargain. And it may well have been a grand bargain. In Lohia’s version, Nehru was exhasperated with “this continual harping on Hindu and Muslim being brothers or one nation, when they were at each other’s throat”. He described as “fantastic, this continual debate with Mr. Jinnah”.
Nehru smiled at Lohia’s quip: “as a results of the Civil war, had Americans from the north and the south ceased to be brothers and one nation?”
Lohia is something of a red herring for most Congressmen. Let us, therefore consider the following version of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad: After Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948, at Birla House, the Home Minister, Sardar Patel came under a scanner.
“At a meeting held in Delhi to express our sense of horror and sorrow at Gandhiji’s death, Jayaprakash Narayan said clearly that the Home Minister of India, Sardar Patel, could not escape responsibility for what had happened”. He sought an explanation. It was only when his colleagues had put him in the dock, that Patel ordered the arrest of RSS Supremo Golwalkar.
After the bitter experience of the 1946 interim coalition government with the Muslim League, Sardar Patel became a “greater believer in the two-nation theory than even Jinnah”. The Maulana is unable to disguise his pain at his good friend Nehru, Patel and later even Gandhiji, accept the plan for partition, leaving him and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan twiddling their thumbs.
Little wonder the Muslim has many issues with the Congress. What has become of him in the 60 years of Congress rule, he was able to see in the mirror of the Sachar Committee Report in 2006. Why, he asks, does he hear the same slogan, riot after riot?
“Mussalman ke do sthan.
Qabristan ya Pakistan.”
(There are two places for the Muslim: the graveyard or Pakistan)
Is it because the Congress allowed the misapprehension to persist that the Muslim divided the country and then stayed on? If that were the case why have Seshadri, Lohia, Maulana Azad and scores of others taken the Congress to task as the Guilty Men of India’s Partition? Of course, the BJP shouts the morbid slogan, but it is the Congress which created conditions over the past 66 years for that slogan to carry.
Is there a way out? Of course there is. But first let us find the courage to discuss history.
(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)