Sardar Patel would’ve scoffed at any comparison between him and Indira Gandhi who was more than forty years younger than him, and was only thirty years old in 1947 when Sardar came into his own. For him, she was just a daughter of his ‘junior’ colleague. He also wouldn’t have known that she’d die on his very date of birth, or rather assassinated on his date of birth. Congress is miffed with BJP, and understandably so, for unveiling the Statue of Unity to honour Sardar Patel on this very day. They say that BJP is trying to undermine the legacy of Indira Gandhi.
However, Congress itself needs to take the blame for this. Apart from Gandhi and those from Nehru-Gandhi family they’ve discarded most other important historical leaders, even though they were congressis. Be it Sardar Patel, PV Narsimha Rao or Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, they’ve all suffered alienation from successive generations of congressmen. It also must be noted that these three weren’t sycophantic adherents to Nehru-Gandhi family, unlike many others who continue to enjoy some degree of reverence amongst congressmen. It’s their contempt for Sardar which prevented them from honouring him with Bharat Ratna, which was given by PV Narsimha Rao govt in 1991.
It’s therefore not surprising that congressmen consider Indira Gandhi more important than Sardar Patel. However, if you see, there’s no real comparison between the two. Sardar towers over her and many others by hundreds of notches. He was a unifier whereas Indira was a disrupter. After independence, in less than a year and a half, Sardar managed to merge all 565 princely states except one, Kashmir, which was being handled by Nehru. In comparison, Indira is discredited with fomenting trouble in Indian Punjab as well as in Sri Lanka where she sponsored the Tamil Tigers, among other things.
Sardar Patel was one who gave up what was rightfully his, whereas Indira imposed Emergency on the country in 1975 to retain the PM’s chair which she thought was rightfully hers. On the contrary, Sardar abdicated his claim for being President of Congress thrice, first in 1928 in favour of Motilal Nehru and then twice in 1929 & 30 in favour of Jawaharlal Nehru, all on the instance of Gandhi. After Sardar’s successful Bardoli campaign where he made the British yield to the demand of the farmers, there was a groundswell in support of Sardar. He would’ve become the President of Congress but Gandhi prevailed over the wishes of the workers and appointed Motilal Nehru. The same sequence played out for two more years, this time in favour of Motilal’s son, Jawaharlal Nehru. Finally, in 1931 he got his due. Even at the time of independence, we know very well that 12 out of 15 Congress Working Committee members wanted Sardar to be the PM. However, once again Gandhi prevailed over them to anoint Nehru as the PM. On the other hand, we have Indira Gandhi who, broke-up the Congress party in 1969 just to remain its President.
However, one must give the devil its due. Indira Gandhi must be credited for successfully waging the 1971 war against Pakistan. However, here too she frittered away the advantage which the forces had bestowed her with, at Shimla, when she coolly handed over 93,000 prisoners of war to Bhutto without asking for rest of Kashmir in return. As we’re all very well aware, we’re still living with the dangers of her Kashmir legacy.
As would be obvious by now, there’s no comparison between the two leaders. Indira Gandhi is no match for the legacy of Sardar Patel.