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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 47 New Delhi November 10, 2018

Remembering Our Nation-building and its Legacy

Monday 12 November 2018

by Arup Kumar Sen

A scholar of nationalism, Gabriella Elgenius, reminded us that “national symbols, of various kinds, are essential as expressions of nationhood and as such are able to ignite passions and conflicts of a larger, as well as a lesser, kind”.

The recent construction of the gigantic 182 metre-high Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Statue of Unity at Kevadiya in the Narmada district of Gujarat, built at a cost of Rs 2989 crores, has ignited “passions and conflicts” of various kinds.

The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in justifying the decision of the government to construct such a giant statue, said (October 31, 2018): “It was due to Sardar Patel’s round-the-clock effort that the map of India is what it is today...This year’s Sardar Jayanti is special,with the ‘Statue of Unity’ inaugurated today on the banks of the Narmada. ‘Dharti Putra’ (Son of the Soil) Sardar Patel will stand tall in the skies, to guide us and inspire us.”

Days before the formal inauguration of the ‘Statue of Unity’, voices of dissent were recorded by the local inhabitants of the construction site. Reportedly, the headmen of 22 villages situated near the Sardar Sarovar Dam wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, saying that villagers would not welcome him at the inauguration of the ‘Statue of Unity’. The local tribal leaders also announced a boycott of the programme citing destruction of natural resources. The letter signed by the sarpanches of 22 villages stated: “These forests, rivers, waterfalls, land and agriculture supported us for generations. We survived on them. But everything is being destroyed now and celebrations are also planned. Don’t you think it’s akin to celebrating someone’s death? We feel so.”

While celebrating the contributions of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to our nation-building, we often forget his anti-RSS position. Let us recollect what he said in his address delivered in Madras in 1949: “...We in the government have been dealing with the RSS movement. They want that Hindu Rajya or Hindu culture should be imposed by force. 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...” [The address of Sardar Patel has been reproduced from S. Irfan Habib (ed.), Indian Nationalism: The Essential Writings, Aleph, New Delhi, 2017, pp. 169-71]

The irony of history is that on the day the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Statue of Unity was inaugurated by the Prime Minister, the Delhi High Court delivered a verdict that testifies that something is wrong with the long legacy of our nation-building exercise. “Thirtyone years after the Hashimpura massacre near Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, the Delhi High Court...reversed a trial court acquittal order and sentenced to life imprisonment 16 personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), who have since retired, for their role in the killing of 38 Muslims.” The Division Bench of Justices S. Muralidhar and Vinod Goel characterised the actions of the PAC personnel on May 22, 1987 as “brutal and bone-chilling”. (See The Indian Express, November 1, 2018) The judgment recorded that a “disturbing aspect of the present case is the targeted killings of persons belonging to one minority community”.

While celebrating our nation-building and its legacy, we should not forget the dark side of the moon.

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