Sardar Patel: Sonia vs Modi

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New Delhi:  There is a Sardar Patel tug-of-war on. Between the Congress and the BJP. And this time, the Congress has scored with a Sonia Gandhi message that trashes claims of differences between Nehru and Patel in Jaswant Singh's recent book.

Sonia's message, read out at a programme to inaugurate a new section at the Sardar Patel Memorial in Ahmedabad, says: "Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru may have differed in their views, but that never affected their deep respect, admiration and affection for each other and their ability to work together to strengthen India. That there was unbridgeable disagreement between Sardar Patel and Nehru distorts history."

In Gujarat, the Patels are an important community - and Chief Minister Narendra Modi plays the Sardar Patel card well, like when he banned the Jaswant Singh book recently saying it criticised Sardar Patel. The court overruled the ban, but in a crucial by-election, Modi was able to keep the Patel vote-bank happy.

In recent years, the BJP has tried to appropriate Sardar Patel's legacy and claim him as one of their own. In fact, Narendra Modi is often described within party circles as "Chhote Sardar" (Little Sardar).

This time, Union Minister of State for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Dinsha Patel attempted to press home the Sonia advantage.

The Congress leader, who is also the president of the Sardar Patel Memorial, said: "I feel proud that on such an occasion Sonia Gandhi has sent a message, telling the people of Gujarat and the country that there were no differences between Sardar Patel and the Nehru family."

Modi, meanwhile, has his own take on the Patel-Nehru equation, this time in the context of China: "While on his death bed, Sardar Patel, in November 1950, wrote a warning letter to Pandit Nehru demanding change in defence policy vis-a-vis China. History knows how right he was. Today China is a constant source of problem for India...Also, if Sardar Patel would have been the first PM of India, there would have been no militancy in Kashmir," he said.

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