Indians ‘Run for Unity’, parties battle over Patel’s legacy (Roundup)

New Delhi, Oct 31 (IANS) As the birth anniversary of independent India’s first home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was commemorated with a ‘Run for Unity’ in Delhi on Saturday, both the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress indulged in a political slugfest to claim Patel’s legacy.

Speaking at the ‘Run for Unity’ event at Rajpath here on Saturday morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined a new initiative ‘Ek Bharat, Shresth Bharat’ (one India, best India) while praising Sardar Patel on his 140th birth anniversary.

However, he also used the occasion to attack “dynastic politics” that he said had “polluted” Indian politics.

“The way nepotism has polluted our politics… the life of Sardar sahab is an example… No name from his family has figured on the political map of this country so far,” said Modi.

“It reflects how he made efforts to keep his family away from politics,” he said.

Modi also paid tributes to former prime minister Indira Gandhi on her death anniversary. “Tributes to former prime minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, on her death anniversary,” the prime minister said in a statement.

Paying tributes to Sardar Patel, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi pointed out that the “Iron Man’ was against “fundamentalists”.

“My tribute to Sardar Patel on his birth anniversary. One of the founding fathers of our nation, a patriot and a great Congressman,” Rahul Gandhi tweeted.

“His contribution to unifying India and guarding against fundamentalist forces will always inspire us,” he said.

The main salvo, however, came from Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, who said it would have been better if Patel was made independent India’s first prime minister instead of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

“History has not done justice to the memory of Sardar Patel for whatever reason. It is our duty to see he is remembered,” Naidu said.

Naidu said he was of the opinion, like millions of others, that “if Patel was the first prime minister, the face (of the country) could have been changed more”.

“But what happened happened,” Naidu added.

Top Congress leaders, including former prime minister Manmohan Singh, party president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi also paid tributes to Indira Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

They paid tributes to Indira Gandhi at the Shakti Sthal memorial site dedicated to her.

“We pay tribute to Indira Gandhi today (Saturday). A leader with courage and compassion. She protected the poor and died for India,” Rahul Gandhi tweeted.

The Congress has alleged that the mega celebration of Patel’s birth anniversary was to overshadow the observance of the death anniversary of Indira Gandhi, and was an attempt by the BJP to stake a claim on Sardar Patel, who was a leading Congressman. The Congress youth wing put up hoardings nearby about Sardar Patel’s action of “banning anti-India RSS”.

“Many many salutations to ‘Iron Man’ Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who unified the country and banned anti-India RSS,” read the message on one of the hoardings put up by the IYC on the India Gate roundabout.

The Youth Congress also put up hoardings to pay tributes to former prime minister Indira Gandhi on her death anniversary on Saturday. Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984, by two of her bodyguards.

The hoardings were visible to those who passed through the area after participating in the ‘Run for Unity’ flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma accused the BJP of trying to appropriate the legacy of Patel and dismissed the ‘Run for Unity’ as “hypocrisy” against the backdrop of protests by artistes, writers and scientists over “rising intolerance” in the wake of the Dadri lynching, beef row and other incidents.

“They do not have heroes and icons; therefore, they are borrowing them and borrowing them foolishly…. Sardar Patel had taken important decisions and one of them was to ban the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,” the Congress leader said.

He hit back at Naidu’s comment: “The decision to make Nehru the first Prime Minister of India was taken by a pantheon of leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel. Naidu has not read what Sardar Patel has written about Nehru. I will send it to him…. Nehru was one of the tallest leaders in the world.”

Meanwhile, the ‘Run for Unity’ at Rajpath here saw the participation of thousands of people early Saturday morning, who sported Sardar Patel’s photographs on their T-shirts.

Under the ‘Ek Bharat, Shreshth Bharat’ scheme, a state of India would choose another state every year to promote its culture and language.

The scheme would be launched soon to bridge the cultural gap in the country and increase interaction between people living in different states.

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