In Lighter Vein: Irony of the Iron Man
by Virendra Parekh on 17 Sep 2009 1 Comment

Sardar Patel must be smiling wryly in the heaven. Even a statesman of his foresight could not have foreseen that there would be so many claimants to his mantle of the Iron Man of India. Morarji Desai claimed to be the political heir of Sardar Patel, just as Jawaharlal Nehru was Mahatma Gandhi’s. There was a small difference, though. Nehru was anointed by the Mahatma himself as his political heir. Morarjibhai, the self-made man that he was, did the job himself. Down the line, Gujarat chief minister Chimanbhai Patel liked to be called Chhote Sardar, a sobriquet later attributed by some to Narendra Modi.

Some people are bemused, some are amused and most are confused by such attempts at appropriating the legacy of departed stalwarts. However, it is one of the smaller nuisances of democracy.   

But one must give it to the Iron Man of BJP, Lal Krishna Advani. Recently, many people big and small have raised queries about the stuff of which he is made. We never had any doubt about it. If anybody could be called Iron Man of BJP, it can only be him. In fact, as we shall see, Advani has done certain things which Sardar Patel did not.

Sardar Patel led a highly active life, weighty enough to break the back of a weaker man. He knew no rest until death. Advani also gives the impression of being around till fate would permit him. And he has already crossed the age at which Sardar left us. Only someone with a deep and abiding interest in the cut and thrust of his chosen profession can summon the will to remain in the thick of battle for such a prolonged period.

However, in the case of Advani, the determination is all the more remarkable in view of the demoralising defeat which his party suffered in the last general election. Advani himself experienced a personal setback since his ambition to be prime minister was thwarted. Adversaries mocked him as Prime Minister in waiting in perpetuity. But like a brave man, he shrugged off the reverses and ridicule in a manner that can only evoke the admiration of his admirers. In a moment of weakness soon after the election results were announced, he offered to resign. But soon, the iron in him came to the surface and he decided to hold on. Could Sardar have done that? We have our doubts.

The past three months have been particularly harsh on Advani. From being the BJP’s tallest leader and one of the most respected figures in politics, he has suffered a steep fall in public esteem. He has been mercilessly attacked by former colleagues, uninhibitedly lampooned by renowned journalists and deserted by his favourite though misleading advisers. The unkindest cut is that he is mocked by a Twitter generation whose imagination he sought to capture though a blog.

This is not all. He is beset by controversy after controversy, Kandahar included, that may make it difficult for him to face Parliament. Yet he soldiered on. His supporters announced that he would be BJP’s leader in Parliament not just for the five years but many more. This is the mark of a real Iron Man.

Lest you regard it as obstinacy or lust for power, he has also shown willingness to vacate the post at a time of his choice. Is this not the mark of a great statesman—to be firm and pliable at the same time and to the same set of people? 

Sardar Patel built Congress into a formidable organisation with deep roots across the whole of India. Advani also nurtured BJP with dedication and foresight. Sardar Patel, however, could not or would not fulfill Gandhiji’s wish of disbanding Congress and converting it into a social service organisation. Advani would preside over the decline and fall of BJP that would gladden the hearts of its enemies.

Sardar Patel has reason to bless Advani. There would be no more claimants to his mantle of the Iron Man of India—not until Advani’s memory survives.

The author is Executive Editor, Corporate India, and lives in Mumbai

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