Even Gandhi would remain incomplete without Patel, prime minister Narendra Modi said, while launching the Run for Unity programme to commemorate Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s birth anniversary. That Sardar Patel’s birthday will finally be an event for national commemoration and not just a small sideshow or one limited to his home state of Gujarat has deeper political significance. The move sends a strong political message that national icons need to be rescued from the obscurity which the Congress reserved for them. However, while giving neglected icons their due, the Modi government should not give the impression that it is marginalising existing ones or pursuing a politics of vendetta.
The question arises because the fact that Vallabhbhai’s birthday coincides with Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary has given the Congress an opportunity to allege that the government is ignoring the latter. But, this is exactly what the Congress did all these years when it paid scant attention to the Sardar and went overboard in observing days associated with the Nehru-Gandhi family. Yet, this very coincidence gives a chance to both the government and society to demonstrate that no one is forgotten.
The evenhandedness is necessary because India has many national heroes and heroines, ranging from historical figures to those who fought for freedom or devoted their lives for the emancipation of the downtrodden or played a sterling role in spiritual, social, cultural, literary and scientific fields. In addition, each region of the country has its own idol who is revered along with the rest. Their names cut across all barriers of caste and community. It is imperative that the births and deaths of all of them are observed with due joy and solemnity. It is also an ongoing story for more names will be added to the list as the years go by. Indeed, textbooks should devote more than one chapter to them to inspire the youth. Vallabhbhai’s birthday and Indira’s death anniversary are occasions when the others can also be remembered.