Appropriating Patel

The Shadow of the Sardar

Kunal Chattopadhyay

Narendra Modi has many admirers. They see him as the upholder of development, dignity, Hindutva, so many different things. And they are unwilling to hear any criticism of Modi. Anyone criticising Modi is berated as a pseudo-secular, a supporter of the corruption of the Congress, a leftist who is perceived as a defender of the worst tyrannies of the Stalin era. Above all they are opponents of democracy and defenders of dynasty raj, according to the binary vision that is attempted to be imposed. And foremost among these Modi-lovers is not Swapan Dasgupta, or Arnab Goswami, or any other media figure, but Narendra Modi himself. And therefore, Modi, through his police, has struck at those who would dare to question development, dignity, Gujarat's pride, Hindutva's ascent. These people are horrible. But who are they? And why this anger of Modi?

Narendra Modi has been spending the money of the Gujarat government in massive advertisements all over India, in newspapers and in TV channels, highlighting the even more massive statue of Sardar Patel. The BJP–RSS has a fascist agenda, as people have been arguing for a long time. But in order to win power, merely sectarian politics cannot suffice. So they want to appropriate as much of Indian nationalism as is possible. Given that their direct rival for governmental position is the Congress (I), they are on one hand trying to run down the Congress as a Nehru-Gandhi family affair, (along with other types of attacks on it) and at the same time seeking to appropriate whatever element of nationalism they can from the Congress. This is particularly important for them, becetuse in the pre-independence period, the RSS had a sorry role in the freedom movement, and therefore needs to clothe itself somehow whenever presenting its nationalist face. This is where Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel presents such a useful alternative. Sardar Patel was a Gujarati. For the chief minister of Gujarat, who is trying to project himself as an all India figure based on his real or alleged achievements in Gujarat, the Patel legacy is useful. He cannot fall back upon the other illustrious Gujarati, for by no stretch of imagination can the RSS show Mohandas Gandhi in its pantheon. Patel was a traditional conservative. But Patel was also a staunch nationalist who used every means at his disposal to incorporate all erstwhile princely states in India, and who as Home Minister used ruthless force to put down left wing militancy, in Telangana as well as elsewhere. Patel, unlike Nehru, had never toyed with socialistic phrases. Patel had been a firm anti-communist who as Union Home Minister tried to take steps to curb all the radical left parties. Even earlier, it was Patel, who controlled the Congress organisation in the 1930s, who had been instrumental in ensuring that while the left carried the burden of left of centre campaigns for the elections of 1937, the candidates would be quite right of centre, and the Congress governments at the provinces would be committed to capitalists and landlords. While this does not turn Nehru into a socialist, this does stress that the free-market right wing economic aspect of the BJP agenda, along with its utmost hostility to any idea of the working class as a class, makes it possible to appropriate Patel in a way that it cannot appropriate Nehru.

The flaw in all this is, as a Union Home Minister, Patel also displayed a right-wing, but non-communal nationalism, and he was to ban the RSS immediately after the murder of Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, an RSS member who had dropped his membership not out of principled change of heart, but because he did not want to get the RSS involved directly in his activities.

Nonetheless when the BJP is seeking to win over the centre-right support base from the Congress, appropriating Patel is a sound tactical effort.

And so, Narendra Modi has been involved over the past three years in having built, near the Sardar Sarovar Dam, a massive statue of Patel. There will be a 597 feet high statue, which is to be far bigger than the Statue of Liberty. The proposal is for a project involving a bridge connecting the statue on Sadhu island to the bank of the Narmada river, a memorial, visitor centre buildings, a memorial garden, a hotel, a convention centre, an amusement park, research centres and institutes. The total cost is currently estimated to be Rs 2500 crore (US $ 406.5 million). To understand the meaning of this figure one may cite just a couple more figures—Gujarat's budget for 2013-14 shows a revenue surplus of Rs 4602 crore while the allocation for labour and employment is Rs 841 crore.

The problem with all this all-India, possibly global drum beating of Modi, where he is virtually seeking to put up his own statue under the shadow of the Sardar, is the opposition by locals. Villagers of Kevadia and a number of other nearby places were bitterly opposed to all this. Activists of Radical Socialist, trade unionists, environmental activists, and local people, have pointed out that the Kevadia Area Development Authority, a body under the government of Gujarat, had clearly projected plans to turn the place into a tourist spot. In order to do so, Sarpanches of 52 villages got letters from the KADA that they should agree to hand over their villages for tourism purpose or else face consequences.

This is an area where six villages had been compelled to hand over their land back in the early 1960s for the Sardar Sarovar Dam, to build the Staff Colony, Government Offices and Guest House. Only recently, a few days back, Modi agreed to some of their demands, as a result of adverse publicity at a time when he was trying to showcase the Statue of Unity. Till then, these villagers were not even treated as project affected people.

Building the Statue and the project that goes along with it will deprive tribal people from land, livelihood, and forest. As a result, they have been fighting Modi for a considerable time and facing the wrath of the Modi government.

Then raids had been carried out on the evening of 30th October. Rohit Prajapati, Trupti Shah, Amrish Brahmbhatt, and Sudhir Binniwale, who are widely known radical activists of Gujarat, were travelling from Vadodara to Rajpipla. They were apprehended at Rajpipla and forcibly confined in a house without any reason being given. It has further been reported that a significant number of people have been arrested from at least seven villages. The full list of the names of the arrested is not known. However, this includes Lakhan Musafir, Dhirendra Soneji, Dipen Desai, Rameshbhai Tadvi from Indravarna village, Shaileshbai Tadvi from Vagadia village, Vikrambhai Tadvi from Kevadia.

Vol. 46, No. 23, Dec 15 -21, 2013

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