Patel or Indira: The irony of October 31

THE CYNICOct 31, 2016 | 15:46

Patel or Indira: The irony of October 31

In the misty haze of Diwali-induced pollution there is a war raging in Lutyens' Delhi. It is the war of trees; the fight is over which dead person will adorn which tree.

If the BJP-controlled NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Council) has claimed trees on the left curb of a road then it is the Congress party and its affiliates who have taken over the available big trunks on the right.


If one tree trunk reminds the people that October 31 marks the birth anniversary of the great unifier of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the other reminds the country of the "martyrdom" of Indira Gandhi on the same date.

The grabbing of tree trunks is not restricted to opposite sides of the street, at some places the signage is on the same side. Other roads in the diplomatic area of New Delhi even have a beaming Sardar Patel and a pensive Indira Gandhi staring down from alternate trees.

A day earlier, on October 30, four crows were found dead at Indira Gandhi's memorial - Shakti Sthal. The birds were suspected to have died due to bird flu and the administration shut down Shakti Sthal till further notice.

The Congress party issued a communiqué stating that the commemoration programme to mark the death anniversary of Indira Gandhi on October 31 will not be held at Shakti Sthal as it has been closed because of bird flu scare.

According to the animal husbandry department, the samples from the crow carcasses have been sent to the High Security Animal Diseases Laboratory in Bhopal for tests and results would take a few days.

Congress VP Rahul Gandhi remembers former Indian PM and grandmother Indira Gandhi on her 32nd death anniversary. (Photo credit: @OfficeOfRG)

While listening to the radio in the morning, in the programme Aaj Savere on AIR FM GOLD, the two radio commentators charting out the importance of October 31, towards the end started listing out the birth and death anniversaries of famous people for this day and their contribution to the forging of modern India.

Many names were mentioned amongst them author Amrita Pritam and music maestro SD Burman and of course the original Iron Man Sardar Patel but they forgot to mention the only sitting prime minister of India who was assassinated by her own security detail.

One may like Indira Gandhi and one may dislike her, either intensely or in passing, but there is no ignoring the fact that she was killed in saddle and that impacted the country in more ways than one.

I do not know whether it is a directive given to AIR to ignore mentioning her death or it was a moment of memory lapse that the two gentlemen suffered aaj savere but the news that followed did mention that the prime minister in a tweet remembered his late predecessor.

The listener would no doubt be overwhelmed by the magnanimity of the prime minister in acknowledging the death anniversary of his biggest dead rival, a person whose deeds he has often derided over and over again.


The tussle over appropriating Patel by the Right-wing Sangh Parivar from the clutches of the Congress party has taken many twists and turns over the past three odd years.

The Parivar has been trying to build up an alternate narrative where Sardar Patel, though a life-long member of the Congress party and a minister in Nehru's cabinet, had symbolised all the strength and goodness of being a Hindu leader while Nehru and particularly his daughter had stood for minority appeasement, dynasty politics and most ignominiously a philandering disposition.

A massive statue of Sardar Patel, the biggest in the world, is coming up in Gujarat and the government of India since 2014, when Modi came to power, has been very forcefully pushing the marking of October 31 as National Unity Day or Rashtriya Ekta Diwas in memory of Sardar Patel.

The logic of the Sangh Parivar stems from the feeling that for long has the history of India been dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi's to the exclusion of others who too played stellar roles in India's development and that this obsession with Sardar Patel is but a correction of historical knowledge.

The image they want to project is one devoid of nepotism where the Sangh is not rooting for one of their own leaders but Sardar Patel who was a diehard Congressman after all.

The government of the day is only thinking about the greatness of India and not bowing to the pettiness of previous governments who ignored great leaders like Patel.

The fallacy of the logic evades them that the making of India is beyond the definition of good and bad. Things happen, events take place and people in power react/interact in response to situations to further their own vision of the future - the effect is borne by the entire nation whether it was for individual or collective good is subjective to a person's understanding and/or social acceptance.

So while the Nehru/Gandhi led Congress may not have given Sardar Patel his due but ignoring the Nehru-Gandhi leaders in marking history only perpetuates the lopsided rendering of it thereby again creating a situation when some other Modi or a Gandhi of the future will find the excuse to correct history all over again.

Meanwhile the Congress lost out on a golden chance of showing how they may have learnt from their mistake and reclaimed their lost icon in Patel. Their posters and advertisements and banners could have celebrated and remembered the life and times of two strong willed Indians; both Congress party members; both of them instrumental in the shaping of the India that we know today; one was born the other died on an October 31 - Iron Man Sardar Patel and Iron Lady Indira Gandhi. The irony is that the Congress again failed to strike the iron while it was hot.

In Delhi, the two opposing camps engaged in the surreptitiously proxy tussle over how history should be read has once again completely ignored the monstrosity and ugliness of the makeshift signage across one of the most beautiful portions of Delhi.

Be it Sardar or be it Indira the posters and banners are looking ugly on the beautiful green trees of the city and both sides would do greater service to the memories of the late leaders if they take the posters down immediately. There is enough pollution in the air over Delhi and politics need not add to the visual contamination of this choking city.

Last updated: October 31, 2016 | 17:26
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