A ‘World Class Monument’ nowadays, it seems, needs to be twice the height of the Statue of Liberty to qualify as one. Such are the beliefs that appear to inform the plans of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gujarat’s proposed Statue of Unity, a looming, lumpy homage to Vallabhbhai Patel, all 182 metres of him, to be planted in the midst of the waters of the Sardar Sarovar dam. It may seem curious that a leader of the BJP, a party existentially opposed to the Congress, should want to spend several hundred crores memorialising an important Congress leader. But it’s symptomatic of the confusing contours of our political argument.
Patel was Nehru’s close colleague in the struggle for independence—and also sparring partner when they became members of free India’s government. They disagreed on much—and to some Patel has come to represent a wished-for alternative to the choices and path Nehru took. The 2014 election has finally offered a chance to take that supposed other path: the Congress party is firmly ejected, now to depose Nehru in favour of a different ancestral lineage, with different heroes.
Does India need new heroes? By god, yes. The North Korean style political lineage—‘The Great Leader’, who begat ‘The Supreme Leader’, who begat ‘The Great Successor’—is hardly one suited to any democracy, let alone ours.