Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's plans for Independence Day appears to be courting controversy.
He has announced that he will celebrate Independence Day, August 15, this year, not in the state capital Gandhinagar, as has been the tradition since 1960 when Gujarat was formed, but in the historic town of Patan.
Someshwar Pandya wants to tell the truth!
Fair trial is a human right, says NHRC chief
Patan retains the heritage of its imperial past with stunning monuments dotting the city such as the Rani ki Vav (Queens well with steps descending into the well), a heritage structure built by Queen Udaymati in the 11th century, and the Sahastralinga Talav (Lake of a thousand Shiva shrines).
The state government has drawn up elaborate programmes over two days to mark India's 56th Independence Day anniversary, which appear to have a distinct Hindu flavour. On August 14, between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm, the Patan district collector has asked the city's residents of Patan to light more than 1,000 lamps and take out a procession, to be called the Sahstra Jyot Yatra, up to the Rani ki Vav.
The other programme is the Ghantnad [tolling of bells], scheduled for 6.30 am on August 15. The city's residents have been 'officially' told to create 'sounds' at all the religious places and in the main market area.
The Gayatri Parivar of the Swaminarayan sect, one of Gujarat's leading religious sects, and scores of other religious groups along with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad are being roped in to make the events successful.
Modi has also planned the revival of the prabhat pheri [morning rounds] on August 15, at 6.45 am. During the freedom struggle, freedom fighters in Gujarat would take out prabhat pheris, singing patriotic songs to mobilise the people. In the first half of the 20th century, programmes like the prabhat pheris inspired a generation of Gujaratis.
Other events such as competitions for children, cultural programmes, workshops, a science mela, camps for blood donation, and a national integration rally have been planed for in Patan.
Achyut Yagnik, the Ahmedabad-based sociologist, claimed Modi drew inspiration from a Gujarati novel, Patan ni Prabhuta, written by K M Munshi. "It is obvious that Modi wants to revive the Hindu past of Gujarat and by doing so, he wants to deduct the Muslim chapters of history. His plan is to first exclude the Muslims and then marginalize them."
Yagnik, who is currently writing a book on the history of Gujarat, said since Gujaratis lacked a warrior-like hero such as Shivaji, the Queen of Jhansi or Rana Pratap, Modi has decided to use a historic city.
Selecting Patan also continues with Modi's 'Gujarat ni asmita' [Pride of Gujarat] theme. In the December 2002 assembly election, he spoke about the pride of the Gujaratis, and celebrating Independence Day in Patan would appear the next logical step.
Says Pravin Rashtrapal, the Congress MP representing Patan, "I don't know why Modi selected Patan, which is neither a business centre like Surat not a cultural capital like Vadodara."
Though he represents Patan in the Lok Sabha, Rashtrapal has not been invited to any of the preparatory meetings called by the district authorities and Patan's MLA, Education Minister Anandiben Patel.
"I am very upset at Modi's attitude and with his government for not following protocol. I have complained to the [Lok Sabha] Speaker about the same," he said.
Modi is unfazed by the criticism. Talking to rediff.com, he said when he was the Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary based in New Delhi, he saw the northern states' chief ministers hoist flags in small towns.
"When the chief minister goes to a district, the government machinery is activated and schools and colleges becomes charged-up. Otherwise in the state capital, you end up seeing the same old, boring 20 faces while hoisting the flag," he said.
Modi said he planned to hoist the national flag in different cities to mark Republic Day, January 26; Independence Day; and Gujarat Day, May 1.
He rebutted the notions of a Hindu tenor to his programmes. "What are you talking about? I can show you any number of official programmes where such cultural performances were arranged. I am doing nothing new. Even in [Jawaharlal] Nehru's era, such programmes were held," he said.
He was angry when asked about his ghantnad and Sahstra Jyot Yatra programmes. "This is too much! I cannot even organise what Gandhiji has created? At this rate, a day will come when you will tell me don't say 'namaste' because that has Hindu overtones," he said.
"People who are objecting to the lightening of lamps on August 15 are not just biased but are perverse. It is the bad luck of the country that a Shiv tandava (dance) is not appreciated, but objected to," he added.
"I am the chief minister of Gujarat. So I will market what is my tradition. Germany will market what they have. If I try to market Navratri to attract tourists, that too is not tolerated. The media brands it as the Hinduisation of tourism. This is more than merely a biased mind," he said.
Congress politicians claim politics is behind the Patan celebrations. They say he wants to enthuse the BJP party machinery in the area before the general election is announced next year. In last December's assembly election, the BJP got a little over 49 per cent of the votes while the Congress got 39 per cent of the votes, but a concentration of Congress votes saw the party fare well in many constituencies. Anandiben Patel, Modi's confidante for many years, won the Patan seat by a narrow margin.
According to Congress sources, the party plans to mob Modi in Patan on the midnight of August 14-15.
"The Congress will have a parallel flag hoisting ceremony," declares state Congress president Shankarsinh Vaghela, "Modi is exposed in Gujarat and that gives him the Tughlaqi idea of shifting the Independence Day ceremony from Gandhinagar to Patan."