Why Invite to HM Amit Shah by Sardar Patel Vidyalaya Undermines Patel’s Legacy
Image Courtesy: Edufever School
As part of the school choir, a song that we mandatorily sang every 31 October for Sardar Patel Jayanti was called ‘Shilpi Pravar’s—tribute to the ‘Iron Man of India’. An important part of the song lyrics is: Tumne diya aazad Bharat rajneetik roop me, ab hum karenge mukt usko dharm, jati swaroop me (You gave as a free India in a political form, now we will ensure its freedom in the form of religion and caste). Having sung and heard it multiple times, the lyrics are etched in my mind as an ideal to aspire for—a country free from divisions created on the basis of religion and caste.
It is most shocking, therefore, that Sardar Patel Vidyalaya—my alma mater, a place where we learnt the most important lessons on inclusivity and equality—would choose to invite Union Home Minister Amit Shah for the Sardar Patel Jayanti function, whose party (Bharatiya Janata Party) and politics stand in stark contrast to the ideals of Patel and the school.
One only needs to read Patel’s own statements about the RSS, which he banned in 1948 after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination while he was the Home Minister, to know how distant his politics was from that of the RSS-BJP today. Critics may argue that Patel was soft on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent body of the BJP. And they would be right to an extent, but it is also true that after Gandhi’s assassination, Patel took an unambiguous and categorical stand against the organisation.
As the protest letter, signed by at least 380 SPV alumni at last count also says, the communiqué issued by the government on 4 February 1948, said the RSS was being banned “to root out the forces of hate and violence that are at work in our country and imperil the freedom of the Nation”. It also said 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.”
In July 1948, Patel had written to Hindu Mahasabha leader Syama Prasad Mukherjee, saying the “activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of Government and the State”, and in September 1948 he wrote to MS Golwalkar, the second RSS chief, stating that all RSS speeches were “full of communal poison” and that “it was not necessary to spread poison in order to enthuse the Hindus and organise for their protection”.
In a speech in February 1949, Patel also said the RSS wants “that there should be Hindu Rajya or Hindu culture should be imposed by force” and that “no government can tolerate this”.
“There are almost as many Muslims in this country as in the part that has been partitioned away. We are not going to drive them away. It would be an evil day if we started that game… We must understand that they are going to stay here and it is our obligation and our responsibility to make them feel that this is their country,” he had said.
Contrast this with the current political climate where there is little to no regard for constitutional values, communal rhetoric and hate speeches have become normalised, and those who dissent against the government are penalised and incarcerated.
As a senior leader of the BJP, Shah has been the face of its divisive politics. Just prior to the Delhi Assembly election, he urged voters to “press the button” on his party’s lotus symbol so hard the “current” goes “straight to Shaheen Bagh” forcing them to leave their peaceful and democratic protest to demand citizenship. The Citizen Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 is just one of several policy moves by this government to deepen differences among communities—the exact opposite of the unity Patel advocated.
It is for this reason that one must be critical of the decision of the Gujarat Education Society—which runs the schools—to call Shah for the programme. In the last few years, the party in power has made attempts to co-opt and appropriate Patel, including building Patel’s largest statue, and asking educational institutions to mandatorily celebrate his birthday. However, this displays nothing but the sheer desperation within the BJP to poach national leaders in the absence of any of their own during or after the freedom struggle.
In this attempt, they have time and again pit Patel against Nehru. In his speech at the function on Monday, too, Shah said, “There is a common opinion that if Sardar had become the first PM of the country, the country would not be facing many of the issues it is facing right now.”
While there were differences between Nehru and Patel undoubtedly, it would be prudent to remember that on Nehru’s 60th birthday in 1949, Patel had written: “It was in the fitness of things that in the twilight preceding the dawn of independence he should have been our leading light, and that when India was faced with crisis after crisis, following the achievement of our freedom, he should have been the upholder of our faith and the leader of our legions. No one knows better than myself how much he has laboured for his country in the last two years of our difficult existence…”
This kind of distortion of history, coupled with diktats and unquestioning obedience is what characterises the current dispensation. At our school, our teachers taught us to question. We were encouraged to have a scientific temperament. Some of us gained notoriety for questioning our teachers, arguing with them on a range of social and political topics—but at no point were we told it was not allowed. Our thoughts and ideas were shaped by lively discussions in classrooms, going far beyond what was written in textbooks.
I distinctly remember my history teacher, late Chitra Srinivasan, telling us once in class that while we needed to remember the contents of our textbooks to score well in our exams, the subject was far more complex than the one-dimensional way in which were being taught. In today’s time and under this government, alternative version of histories are being suppressed and history re-written to fit a certain political narrative. To call Shah, therefore, undoes all the effort and energy put in by our former teachers who inculcated in us the values of critical thinking, fairness and justice; and made us the progressive, thinking beings we are today.
Many of the songs we sang in school were in keeping with the larger spirit of progressiveness and inclusivity, some of them even borrowed from the India People’s Theatre Association. As another song ‘Kiran Punj’ sung on Sardar Patel Jayanti goes: “Ye tera, ye mera ki laghuta mitane; nayi chetna, shram, lagan la rahe hain (To erase the limitations of this is yours, and this is mine; we come with a new consciousness, effort and passion). As Patelians, it is these ideals of inclusivity and equality that we are striving to uphold and protect – ones that are increasingly under threat in this country by this government.
The author is an alumna of Sardar Patel Vidyalaya. The views are personal.
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