WITH the BJP and the Modi Government swamped by scams, scandals and crises dogging almost every one of the country’s institutions, sectors and sections of people, they are increasingly relying on divisions and distractions to avoid accountability and change the political narrative.
The 597 feet tall ‘Statue of Unity’ of India’s first Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, touted to be the the world’s tallest statue, is the latest diversionary attempt of the Modi Government. Modi, dwarfed by his broken promises, lies and scandals, is trying to make himself look taller in the name of Vallabhbhai Patel.
In Modi’s narrative, Patel was Nehru’s antagonist, representing Hindu nationalism rather than Nehru’s secular nationalism. When Modi and the BJP say ‘Unity’ they mean ‘uniformity’ - in other words, the majoritarian imposition of one faith, one language, one diet on all Indians, projecting diversity itself as anti-national and a source of disunity. This is, in fact, the RSS definition of ‘unity’: RSS founding leader Golwalkar, in his Bunch of Thoughts, made it clear that for the RSS, Muslims, Christians, and even Buddhists and Sikhs were divisive and communal because they refused to call themselves Hindu; and Tamil people were divisive for refusing to embrace the Hindi language!
Modi and the BJP have also been dishonest in their attempts to appropriate Patel and pit his legacy against Nehru’s. Nehru, it is clear, invited Patel to be India’s first Home Minister in a letter calling him “the strongest pillar of the Cabinet.” Moreover, as Home Minister, Patel did not hesitate to ban the RSS, issuing a communique saying that “The objectionable and harmful activities of the Sangh have, however, continued unabated and the cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the activities of the Sangh has claimed many victims. The latest and the most precious to fall was Gandhiji himself.” Patel also wrote, in a letter to Shyamaprasad Mookerjee, “There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in the conspiracy [to kill Gandhi]. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of Government and the State. Our reports show that those activities, despite the ban, have not died down. Indeed, as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure.” Patel wrote directly to Golwalkar also, telling him that as a result of the communal poison spread by the RSS, “the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji,” following which “RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death.” Whatever the differences between Patel and Nehru, they were both certainly united in their opposition to the violent communal politics that the RSS represented, and their belief that it was this poisonous politics that claimed Gandhi’s life.
Patel’s is not the only statue looming large over India’s political map towards the 2019 elections. The UP Chief Minister Adityanath is reported to be toying with the idea of announcing a statue of Ram at Ayodhya that is even taller than the Patel statue. These massive statues are meant to distract from the glaring failures of the Modi and Yogi Governments, leading to the worst ever crises of unemployment, agricultural distress and corruption in India.
What is the social cost of the towering Patel Statue? The statue cost Rs 2,989 crore - an amount that could, according to IndiaSpend, have instead funded two new Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campuses, two news AIIMS campuses, five Indian Institute of Management (IIM) campuses and six Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) missions to Mars. It could have been used to irrigate 40,192 hectares of land, cover repair, renovation and restoration of 162 minor irrigation schemes and the construction of 425 small check-dams. 75,000 tribals across 72 villages in Gujarat’s Narmada district, who had been displaced without rehabilitation by the Statue project, protested the inauguration of the Statue. 1,500 farmers of four Gujarat districts who are waiting in vain for Rs 12 crore in dues for sugarcane sold by them to the Sardar Sugar Mill in Sankheda, also protested the inauguration of the Statue.
Ironically, the Modi Government did not invite even a single Opposition leader to the ‘Statue of Unity’ inauguration event - making a mockery of any talk of ‘unity’. For the Modi Government that is spreading the greatest disunity and division this country has ever witnessed - resulting in a flood of incidents of communal violence, lynchings, and hate speech by BJP leaders - the ‘Statue of Unity’ propaganda is mere eyewash. The Modi Government and BJP are also living landmarks of shameless impunity - manipulating institutions to evade responsibility for the worst crimes against humanity. The latest instance of this is, of course, the evidence given in court by a witness in the Sohrabuddin murder case, revealing that former Gujarat police officer DG Vanzara gave a contract for killing former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya. Who can forget that Vanzara, while in jail, had written an open letter to Modi reminding him that all the murderous crimes Vanzara and other police officers were accused of, were committed in Modi’s service and at the orders of his henchman Amit Shah? Can any statue, however tall, ever overshadow a series of heinous politically motivated contract killings?
For India’s diverse people, the best assertion of unity is to come together against the fascist forces hell bent on dividing India and destroying India’s democracy.