‘Iron Man is belittled by associating him with Congress, he belonged to the entire country’

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said India wanted “Sardar Patel’s true secularism” and not “votebank secularism.” He lamented that the Iron Man was being belittled by his being associated with the Congress, whereas he belonged to the entire country.

“Yes, the Prime Minister was correct, and I was proud to hear him say the Sardar was truly secular,” he said adding Patel’s secularism was genuine and not politically driven.

Mr. Modi was replying to Manmohan Singh’s statement on Tuesday that Patel was secular to the core and broad-minded. Speaking at a function here to inaugurate an upgraded Sardar Patel memorial in Ahmedabad , Dr. Singh also said the Iron Man belonged to the Congress, and so did he.

Mr. Modi said the 562 princely states that Patel integrated with the country belonged to different communities and cultures and represented a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. “This was his secularism.”

The Chief Minister earlier laid the foundation for the world’s tallest memorial of Patel, christened Statue of Unity, which is expected to come up in 40 months on Sadhu Island, 3.32 km downstream the Sardar Sarovar Narmada dam. The function for the 182-metre statue, double the size of the Statue of Liberty, was held near the dam site, in Kevadia Colony in Narmada district, in the presence of BJP veteran L.K. Advani.

To deflect criticism that the BJP was trying to appropriate the Iron Man’s legacy, Mr. Modi said: “It is a grave injustice to Sardar to associate him with any party [the Congress]. Sardar’s life and work is associated with India’s pride. His heart throbbed for India and so should our hearts, irrespective of any politics.” Rana Pratap, Shivaji, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were not BJP members, “but we are proud of them, for they lived and laid down their lives for the country.”

Without referring to the Congress, Mr. Modi said the time had come to bring an end to the “politics of untouchability and put the country on top of everything else.” Unlike in the past, all major newspapers in the nation were full of Central government advertisements on Thursday paying tributes to Sardar on his 138th birth anniversary. This he called a “Gujarat effect.” “Nobody commented when we set up the Mahatma Mandir [a sprawling convention centre in Gandhinagar], but why are they getting jittery with the Sardar memorial here,” he asked.

In his speech, Mr. Advani recalled the efforts made by Patel at unification of the princely states with the Indian Union and praised Mr. Modi for conceiving a “befitting statue” in memory of the first Deputy Prime Minister.