In his address at a forum as innocuous as the All India Conference on Livestock and Dairy Development, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi called upon every village to donate pieces of iron from their tools to help construct a statue of unity in Ahmedabad as a tribute to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Home Minister of India, popularly called the ‘loh purush’ (Iron Man) of India.
“We need iron to commemorate the Iron Man, and that too iron used in farming, because after all Sardar Patel was the son of a farmer. This would be a perfect means to mobilise workers at the grassroots level, who would spread out through India’s myriad villages - including the South - to collect iron,” Modi said.
This mobilisation would also spread Modi’s ideology to the villages and the cadre. With this iron gesture, Modi also created a new symbology. It was a not-so-subtle signal of the political iconography moving away from the Nehrus and Gandhis to Sardar Patel - a man seen as an uncompromising leader of Indian Independence and also a Gujarati.
Modi has been creating a fresh approach to emblems of Indian history and heritage: earlier, he had invoked Swami Vivekananda, India’s spiritual guru, as his personal icon and undertook yatras in his name. Now, with the call for farmer participation to donate iron that cuts across religion, caste and creed, Modi plans to forge a new identity for India and himself.