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Mumbai(TNN): Had Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel become PM, India would have “gone on the lines of Pakistan, our democracy would have collapsed”, Dalit activist and author Kancha Ilaiah said at the Times LitFest on Sunday. Joining him at a discussion on ‘Re-imagining the Republic’s icons: Patel, Nehru and Ambedkar’, BJP member Sudheendra Kulkarni said the country’s first home minister ranked lowest on the list, “the least contemporary, doesn’t contribute to social unity, equality or political consensus”.
“Patel figures because in the 2014 elections, Narendra Modi had said India’s journey would’ve been different if Patel had been the first PM,” Ilaiah said. “He (Patel) wouldn’t have allowed Ambedkar to write the Constitution. He was close to Hindu Mahasabha… Believers of Manusmriti would’ve written it. We would’ve gone on the lines of Pakistan, our democracy would’ve collapsed. But for the first 17 years of democracy, India would’ve been Pakistan.”
Kulkarni, chief of the Observer Research Foundation, added to the damning assessment, saying, “Patel is least useful in addressing today’s concerns. We don’t need an Iron Man, we need leaders with heart who have an inclusive approach.”
With Patel finding no defender on the panel, which included Ananya Vajpeyi of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and D Shyam Babu of the Centre for Policy Research, the discussion came down to Ambedkar and Nehru and, occasionally, Gandhi.
Ilaiah sought to bring the cow into the picture, given the recent “intolerance” debate featuring beef and cow slaughter. “Gandhi was for cow worship and cow going into the Constitution. He drank goat’s milk. Why didn’t he ask for goat safety,” the activist wondered.
Vajpeyi described Nehru and Ambedkar as the “operative duo” in framing the Constitution and giving India its republic character. They’re increasingly “coming into the discourse” because they stand for a “progressive attitude about caste” and “a basis consensus on secularism”, she said.
While she pointed out that Nehru was “vilified” and Ambedkar “appropriated”, Ilaiah added that the appropriation of Ambedkar was for electoral gains. Kulkarni, who insisted on including Gandhi on the list, declared, “The project of the government and (Sangh) Parivar to denigrate Nehru isn’t going to work. His contribution to the freedom struggle and modern India can’t be brushed aside.”
On Ambedkar, though, Kulkarni had a different standpoint. “Ambedkar allows himself to be appropriated. He was unsympathetic to Muslims. He felt embracing Christianity and Islam (non-Indian religions) would denationalise him.” Babu added that it could’ve been part of a “strategy” to cosy up to the “Hindu Right” to “accomplish his goals on caste”.
Another ‘icon’ Kulkarni wanted re-imagined was Jinnah. “We need to de-demonise Jinnah. This can bring India and Pakistan closer.” In one last addition, he said, “Veer Savarkar is deeply problematic but can’t be ignored.”