An idea can be defeated by getting it discredited, or supplanted by another competing idea. Before the electoral battle is fought at the polling booths, the political battle has to be fought in the minds of voters. Thus it is that on October 31 this year, as on the same day last year, the BJP and the Congress fought a pitched battle over two great leaders of modern India. The Congress has been observing this day after Indira Gandhi was assassited on October 31, 1984, as a day of supreme martyrdom of a leader who won the 1971 war and strengthened the country against exterl aggression. After coming to power last year, the BJP-led NDA government decided to commemorate Sardar Ballavbhai Patel’s birth anniversary on October 31 as Rashtriya Ekta Diwas or tiol Unity Day to recognise the Iron Man’s contribution in integrating the country. This year the rendra Modi government pulled out all stops to make its programmes for the day a success. In fact, the preparations were on at full swing the day before, with the pledge for tiol unity administered at government offices across the country. On Saturday, the Prime Minister flagged off the ‘Run for Unity’ in the capital, before which he paid floral tributes to Sardar Patel’s statue and addressed a gathering, where he also remembered Indira Gandhi laying down her life on this day.
Not to be mollified at this passing reference to their leader, the Congress has scoffed at the Modi government for ‘borrowing icons of other parties due to the paucity of their own’. Pouring scorn upon the Modi government for its ‘hypocrisy’ in the backdrop of ‘rising intolerance’, the Congress has sarcastically advised the government to ‘work for tiol unity before running for it’. It has also challenged the Modi dispensation to release the speaking order of Sardar Patel banning the RSS and his correspondence with the then RSS leaders. Earlier, Union minister M Venkaiah idu ruffled Congress feathers by remarking that had Sardar Patel been India’s first Prime Minister, things would have turned out much differently for the country, but history has not done justice to his memory. The rancour between the two parties has hogged the headlines in the past few days with Congress leaders staying away from the PM’s banquet for African leaders at the India Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi. The Congress boycott was in protest against the ‘insult to Jawaharlal Nehru’ by the Modi government, as evident in its failure to refer to Pandit Nehru’s contribution as ‘the architect of India-Africa relations’. Last month, the Congress dubbed the decision by the NDA government to discontinue stamps of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi under the ‘Builders of Modern India’ theme, as a ‘sinister attempt to erase the memory of the two martyred prime ministers’. The government then chose to rub it in by arguing that the particular stamps series should honour leading lights of the tion and not ‘members of one family’.
What must have particularly irked the Congress was the move by the Communications ministry to include perceived Sangh Parivar icons like Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyay in that series. The Civil Aviation ministry’s decision last year to reme the domestic termil at Rajiv Gandhi intertiol airport in Hyderabad after Telugu Desam founder NT Rama Rao, as well as its reported move to change the me of Indira Gandhi intertiol airport in New Delhi to Mahatma Gandhi intertiol airport, have also drawn loud protests from the Congress. Having ruled the country for more than 50 years, the Congress has only itself to blame for ming at least 450 government schemes & projects, airports, academic institutes, tourments and stadiums after the Gandhi-Nehru family. The sycophantic culture in the grand old party has not left Assam untouched, with the Congress government here thinking it fit to me after Rajiv Gandhi among other projects, a petroleum technology institute coming up in Sivasagar to a busy square at Jalukbari in Guwahati leading to the historic Saraighat bridge. But the Modi government cannot afford to play a game of tit-for-tat over this peculiar Congress fetish and thereby lose precious energy and focus, like the Vajpayee government did previously over the then HRD minister Murli manohar Joshi’s much hyped exercise of re-writing textbooks of Indian history. The country is being forced to witness a seemingly never-ending contest in triviality, in which ruling and opposition parties are indulging in petty one-upmanship. This is a direct corollary of the intemperate political discourse in the country, played up by a section of the media. With the world’s largest number of extremely poor people in India, lagging behind in almost all major development indices, deprived of basic nutrition, health and education, battling a plethora of social ills — the slanging match by political parties over mes and icons is a cruel joke, to say the least.