By Shaina NC
Gujarat has always been known to produce great business people. Think Ambani, Sarabhai, Mafatlal, Adani. The list is practically endless. What is less widely perceived is an equally impressive list of political luminaries who contributed to creation of the country, based on solid paradigms of dignity and development.
Mahatma Gandhi’s global resonance and humongous contribution to the ‘Indian cause’ camouflage his Gujarati roots exceedingly well. And justifiably so, especially in an era when sub-national identities overshadowed a nascent national identity. But many of his crusades for Indian independence and dignity were anchored in Gujarat. Kheda movement and the Dandi salt march were both designed and implemented to address the autocratic policies of the British rule in Gujarat. He set up his ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad, where he spent large spans of time directing the course of the nationalist movement and perfecting his principles of swadeshi, self-reliance, satyagraha, and so forth. From an overall context, it would seem to be parochial to call Gandhiji a politician from Gujarat. However, his strong sense of perspicacity revealed to him that conditions in Gujarat were ripe for his kind of political agitations that were strongly rooted to the Indian socio-economic ethos. His decisions were always well thought-through, and launching his agitations in Gujarat was one of them.
The next stalwart that emanated from Gujarat was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. His contribution has been largely forgotten by the present generation, or has been undersold by the liberal left-leaning intelligentsia due to his strong Hindu identity. But this was the man who worked tirelessly to create the Indian identity, something that we almost take for granted in the commercialised modern day. He emerged from Mahatma Gandhi’s formidable shadow to carve his own identity after Bardoli satyagraha that he spearheaded, and eventually left behind a rich set of values and convictions that we have ignored to our own peril. He created a nation from fragments of sub-national, localised identities, and bequeathed a strong sense of nationalism to the people of the country. While we still divide ourselves on parameters of caste, religion and language, it was Sardar Patel who gave us the identity that we display proudly when the Indian cricket or hockey team takes on its opponents. It’s a widely shared belief amongst large chunks of the population that he was the best Prime Minister we never had.
Mohammed Ali Jinnah was also from Gujarat, and while media and political class have largely associated him with the creation of Pakistan, he was a shrewd politician who contributed to freedom and to the vision under the garb of a secular polity in equal measure. His stirring policy speech on August 11, 1947 highlighted his conviction about keeping religion separate from politics and statecraft. While the Indian media painted the Congress as ‘good’ and Jinnah as ‘evil’, and the Pakistani media returned the compliment. Even today, the political class suffers from abject lack of clarity in these matters, and to think he espoused his views several decades back. Perhaps Pakistan deserved Jinnah to live for another few years, for it to materialise into a progressive state.
The next eminent name that comes to mind is Morarji Desai. This is one political luminary whose vilification is complete in a largely unforgiving national media. However, he stands apart as a leader who brought exemplary personal convictions and integrity to the Indian political system. If the Prime Minister today wears his personal integrity on his sleeve, it’s because he has a strong precedent in Morarjibhai. To call him a politician from Gujarat would be fair game, since he served the state for years in different capacities, including Chief Minister. He had the conviction to challenge the might of an Indira Gandhi, and split the Congress for the first time in 1969. To him, this didn’t represent disruption as much as his conviction to non-dynastic rule that was democratic not just in letter but also in spirit too. His contribution to the development of Gujarat is significant for its magnitude and its well roundedness. He also made some notable achievements despite heading one of the most fractious Governments at the Centre – Constitutional amendment that prohibited alteration of the basic spirit of the Constitution, best-ever relations with Pakistan in post-Independence era, etc. His strong set of values was misconstrued as rigidity, and therein lays the tragedy of our incorrect belief about the man.
That brings us to Narendrabhai Modi. He has unleashed an unprecedented paradigm of all-round development in the state that is progressive, inclusive and stakeholder-friendly. He has turned several negative social and economic parameters to positive, through sheer weight of strong governance based on quick decision-making, solid implementation, efficient monitoring and accountability at all levels. It is today the most investment-friendly state, gobbling up massive chunks of mega—and micro—investments that are changing people’s lives quite rapidly for the better. His personal integrity is again beyond any doubt, but the model of governance based on the twin pillars of all-round development and accountability is not being replicated in many other states as well.
This list is by no means exhaustive. It just gives us a flavour of Gujarati politicians who have made significant contribution to the nation. One remarkable thing is the ahead-of-times thinking preached and practiced by each one of them. Another one is personal integrity amidst an ocean of corruption. It must be due to consuming the waters of Sabarmati. Or is it?
(The writer is a social activist and member BJP national executive. She is a fashion designer by profession.)