The Prime Minister was greeted with flowers in Ahmedabad by the man who hopes to replace him in office, Narendra Modi
. The duo was seen laughing on stage minutes before they shared the honours of inaugurating a museum dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the iconic leader from Gujarat who became India's first Home Minister.
But the tenor changed considerably once the speeches began. Mr Modi went first. "If Sardar Patel had been the first Prime Minister, India would have been different," he said.
Mr Modi said that as Home Minister, Sardar Patel was instrumental in uniting the country after Independence. "That unity and integrity of the country today is under threat from all fronts, be it terrorism or Maoism," he said. (Watch
) Those remarks, made at the end of his speech, drew heckles from some in the audience, which comprised largely of Congress party workers and supporters.
The Prime Minister went next, stressing that Sardar Patel was a Congressman and committed to secularism, a principle that Mr Modi is often accused of lacking by his detractors. He said that Sardar Patel and other leaders from his era believed in values like the unity of India and a secular outlook. "I am sure those present here today will agree that there is a dearth of these values today," Dr Manmohan Singh said.
The battle over the legacy of Sardar Patel has turned ferocious in recent weeks, with the Congress appearing to belatedly realise that the BJP and Mr Modi have placed honouring the freedom fighter high on their agenda.
Mr Modi has vowed that a statue that is to be built in the middle of the Narmada river overlooking the Sardar Sarovar Dam will be the world's largest.
Senior Congress leader and Union minister Manish Tewari today dared Mr Modi to respond to Sardar Patel's remarks which blamed the BJP's ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh or RSS, for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.