Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi who has written a biography of the country’s first home minister, said Patel certainly would not have felt at the time of 2002 riots in Gujarat that Modi fulfilled his ‘rajdharma’, a phrase used by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to chide Modi.
“I think it is quite obvious that he (Patel) would have been very disappointed, very pained and saddened not only as an Indian statesman but also as coming from Gujarat, that this should not have happened in Gujarat and the government of the time was not able to prevent it,” he said.
Talking to Karan Thapar in CNN-IBN’s Devil’s Advocate, Gandhi said that claims by BJP supporters or Modi himself to project him as Patel’s heir misunderstands and misrepresents Patel.
“If Modi can grow into that kind of image that would be wonderful, but by two reasons he has fallen short. After all Patel grew as a disciple under the umbrella of Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. Modi had his career under the umbrella of RSS and that makes a difference.
“Also Patel as an individual was always a team builder, other people were prominent in his daily life. Whether Modi is like that… I would like him to be like that,” he said.
Gandhi, however, accepted the criticism that Congress has forgotten Patel or relegated him to the background in the 63 years since his death.
He noted that Nehru was succeeded by Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and now Rahul Gandhi while none of Patel’s children inherited or benefited from his power.
Patel was proud to be a Congressman and accepted that Mahatma Gandhi’s decision to make Nehru Prime Minister was correct, Gandhi said, adding the Mahatma chose Nehru over Patel because he was older by 14 years and in poor health.
Nehru was also better known internationally, he said.
The ‘Iron man’, a popular term used for Patel, had appreciated the work of RSS during riots in 1947 but after Gandhi’s assassination, his attitude changed and he was thereafter an implacable opponent if not an enemy of the Hindutva organisation, he said.
Modi and Congress leaders have engaged in a war of words over Patel with the BJP’s PM candidate claiming that the country’s destiny would have been different had he been the first PM instead of Nehru.
Congress has hit back at him, saying he was trying to hijack Patel’s legacy as BJP lacked any icon.