The Congress on Tuesday accused the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi of trying to appropriate the legacy of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, on a day Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Gujarat Chief Minister shared a platform in Ahmedabad. “Those who have any recollections of history,” Congress spokesperson P.C. Chacko said, “will remember that Patel is the man who banned the RSS after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.”

The occasion was the inauguration of an upgrade of a museum in Ahmedabad, dedicated to Patel. The revamp of the museum, run by a trust headed by Union Minister Dinsha Patel, has been funded by the Centre with donations from the people of Gujarat. On October 31, the 138th birth anniversary of the 'Iron Man', the State government will lay the foundation of a statue of Patel.

The statue, to be named the Statue of Unity, will be made by collecting pieces of iron from farmers across India. Responding to this fact, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said: “First they promised a Ram temple to us, collected donations but the temple was not built...they sold off the bricks, now they will sell iron.”

A promotional film on what is billed as the tallest statue in the world describes Patel as the “architect of modern united India”, as someone “who understood our country”, and ushered in an “Indian model of governance”.

What has drawn the Congress’s ire is Mr Modi’s effort to appropriate the legacy of someone who belongs to the ruling party’s pantheon. Its leaders say the statue project is the Gujarat Chief Minister’s way of saying he is the true inheritor of Patel’s legacy, and point out that he likes to be called “Chota Sardar”.

Mr Modi’s letters of invitation to some Central Ministers to attend the foundation laying ceremony have drawn sharp responses. Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, for instance, has written to him saying he finds it “odd” that he should attempt to usurp the legacy of Patel, “ whose approach and beliefs militate against all that is personified by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, whose nominee you are”.

Speaking here, Union Minister of State for information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari also hit out at the BJP: “History is witness to the fact that those who do not have any history of legacy,” he said, “try to appropriate that of others. My advice to the Gujarat Chief Minister... is that he should study the legacy... he is trying to appropriate.”

Mr Tewari recalled that on September 9, 1948, Patel had written to RSS founder M.S. Golwalkar on the role of Sangh organisations in spreading communal poison that led to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. “Does Swayamsevak Modi agree with Patel, whose legacy [the BJP] craves?” he asked.

With Mr. Modi under attack, the BJP waded into the war of words, accusing the Congress of ignoring Patel's legacy while promoting the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Expressing surprise at the Congress’s objections to the Gujarat government’s “historic decision to erect a memorial for the icon of the unity in India”, senior party leader M. Venkaiah Naidu said Patel was not given his due by successive Congress-led governments.