Invoking Sardar Patel's secularist legacy, Narendra Modi today launched a frontal attack on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saying the country needed secularism of the kind followed by the 'Iron Man' and not the one that was linked to votebank politics.
"The Prime Minister said Sardar Saheb was a true secularist, we also say that. The country needs Sardar Patel's brand of secularism and not votebank secularism. Sardar was secular but his secularism did not come in the way of building Somnath Temple. The kind of secularism followed by Sardar Patel does not divide the country but unites it," he said.
The BJP's prime ministerial contender was speaking at the foundation laying ceremony of 182-metre tall 'Statue of Unity' of Patel, independent India's first home minister, that would be the tallest in the world.
Modi's advocacy of Patel's brand of secularism was in apparent response to the prime minister's Tuesday barb at the Gujarat Chief Minister, whose secular credentials have often been questioned, reminding him that the 'Iron Man' of India was a "secularist to the core".
Singh and Modi had engaged in a public spat over Patel's legacy at the inauguration of the renovated Sardar Patel Museum where Modi had said the country's "fate and face" would have been different had Patel been its first prime minister.
Singh had quickly responded, reminding Modi of Patel's unshakable commitment to secularism and his association with the Congress.
Today it was Modi's turn to get back at Singh as he deprecated attempts by Congress to appropriate Patel's legacy.
"Associating Sardar Patel with any party would do great injustice to him. His greatness is associated with India's history. We must not divide our legacy," he said, adding nobody, neither the history nor himself, can deny that Patel belonged to a particular party.
"Rana Pratap, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru are highly respected. Were they BJP members? Will only those who belong to the BJP be given respect and honour. Country is greater than the party and those who sacrifice themselves for the country are greater," Modi said.
"If we look at history, no other Indian after Chanakya has done as much as Sardar Patel for the unity of the country," he said.
He said Patel had not discriminated against the rulers- who belonged to different religions, communities, traditions and linguistic backgrounds- while integrating the country.
Known for his penchant for attacking the Nehru-Gandhi family, Modi once again sought to portray Patel as one who did not get his rightful place in history.
"Sardar's voice was throttled for many years. Many in the gathering must have heard his voice for the first time in their lives," he said. A recording of Patel's voice was played at the ceremony.
"On earlier birth anniversaries of Sardar Patel, no advertisements were seen. Today, newspapers across the country have advertisements on Sardar Saheb... This is the Gujarat effect," he said.
Modi, who has been trying to reach out to Muslims and other sections, who do not form the traditional vote base of BJP, referred to Bhimrao Ambedkar, whom he described as a "god-like" figure for Dalits, saying his life and struggle served as inspiration for all.
Widely perceived as a divisive figure, Modi repeatedly emphasised the need for unity in his speech.
"If we have to reestablish India's glory, we will have to spread the mantra of unity in each home, each alley, and unite all hearts. Sardar Patel's statue, his memory, will be a great inspiration in our endeavour."
"There are many states, but country is one, many paths but goal is one, many colours but our tricolour is one, many societies but India is one. India's uniqueness lies in unity in diversity. Our unity alone is the guarantee to our bright future," Modi said.
Modi, still a pariah for many political parties, invoked Mahatma Gandhi to seek an end to "political untouchability".
"Mahatma Gandhi worked for eradicating untouchability throughout his life. However, untouchability has crept into politics and it is time to eradicate this political untouchability," he said.
He also attacked the Centre for the delay in constructing gates at the Sardar Sarovar Dam.
"I have repeatedly asked the Prime Minister to allow us to build the gates at the Sardar Sarovar Dam. A meeting that would give approval has been pending for 8-9 months. Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, which have to take care of rehabilitation have completed their work, but the approval for the gates is pending.
"I am prepared to erect a huge plaque with inscription that the Congress government in Delhi has done this work. I will not even visit the inauguration and allow them to cut the ribbon, if they so want, but there should be no politics over it," he said.
BJP patriarch L K Advani, who was also present, hailed Patel for uniting the country.
"Amidst migration of lakhs of people due to partition, amidst killing of lakhs of people during partition, in a short span, Sardar Patel completed the humongous task of unifying the country by annexing 565 erstwhile princely states," he said.
At 182 metres, the Rs 2,063 crore 'Statue of Unity' will be more than double the size of New York's 'Statue of Liberty' standing at 93 metres, and many times taller than the statue of 'Christ the Redeemer' in Rio De Janeiro.
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