Whose Sardar is he anyway?

This article of mine was published on The Indian Republic, India’s largest not-for-profit news portal on 31st October, 2013 over here.

Image Credit- PTI

Image Credit- PTI

Much has been said about Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, with both the Congress and the BJP seeking to stake claim to the Iron Man’s legacy. While the Modi led BJP government of Gujarat has been instrumental in the Statue of Unity project that is centred on the construction of a gargantuan statue of Sardar Patel at a total cost of Rs 2,200 crore, the Congress has been quick to point out that Sardar Patel was in fact a Congressman. Following the recent war of words between Modi and the Prime Minister, we decided to dig deeper to understand who should have a bigger claim over the Sardar’s legacy.

Was Sardar Patel really a Congress(I)man?

It is well known that Sardar Patel was in fact a member of the Indian National Congress and was India’s first Deputy Prime Minister in an Indian National Congress government. That should essentially seal the debate, right? But is the “Indian National Congress” of today, the Indian National Congress of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel?

A Tale of two parties – The Congress and the BJP

A quick glance through the history books will tell you that, many of the freedom fighters who formed the core of the Indian National Congress slowly left the party after the deaths of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel independence. Former President of the Congress and a staunch Gandhian- J.B Kriplani left the party to form the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party in 1951 as did the former Chief Ministers of Madras Presidency and West Bengal– T. Parakasam Pantulu [i] and Dr P.C Ghosh. Dr Rajagopalachari, the last Governor General of India left the party in 1957[ii].

In fact, the Indian National Congress (INC) existed as a united entity only till 12th November, 1969 when Indira Gandhi was expelled[iii] from the party for “fostering a cult of personality”. This led to a split in the Indian National Congress[iv] with the formation of two parties – the Congress (R) led by Indira Gandhi (later called Congress (I)) and the Congress (O) led by Kamraj and Moraji Desai.

It is interesting to note during the time of the split in the party, Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India. Some might argue that this was the reason that Election Commission recognized the Congress (I) faction as the official Indian National Congress post the split. However, the name Congress (I) stuck in the national and international media even as late as the 1990s.[v] [vi] [vii]

Freedom fighters and party stalwarts like K.Kamraj, Moraji Desai, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy and S. Nijalingappa, the father of modern Karnatka became part of the Indian National Congress (O) after the split while the Congress (I) essentially consisted of the loyalists of Indira Gandhi’s.

What does all this have to do with the BJP?

Surprise! The Congress (O) merged with other anti-Congress (I) parties to form the Janata Party in 1977[viii]. In 1980, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh faction of the Janata Party gave rise to the present day Bharatiya Janata Party i.e. the BJP. The official Janata Party of yore recently merged with the BJP.[ix]

So, whose Sardar is he anyway?



Flowchart: A tale of (more than) two parties

This brings us to the original question – which party has a bigger right over Sardar Patel’s legacy? If you haven’t figured out the answer by now, let me summarize my arguments:

  • The Indian National Congress of Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel split in 1969
  • The core group of freedom fighters formed the Congress (O) while the Indira Gandhi loyalists formed the Congress(R) which was also called the Congress (I)
  • Congress (O) merged with the Janata party in 1977
  • The Janata party gave birth to the BJP in 1980 and eventually merged with it in 2013

Therefore, the BJP- by virtue of its birth from the Janata Party which in turn was born from the Congress (O) – one of the two factions emerging from the split in the Indian National Congress, has as much of a claim over Sardar Patel’s legacy as the present day Congress.


[i] The Hindu: The saga of Third Front

[ii] Bendix, Reinhard; Brand, Coenraad M. (1973). State and society: a reader in comparative political sociology. University of California Press. p. 542. ISBN 0-520-024907.

[iii] India Today: 1969: Split Wide Open –

[iv] All India Congress Committee: Past Presidents – K. Kamraj:

[v] India Today: Party on hold

[vi] Los Angeles Times : Rao takes Oath in India, names his cabinet

[vii] Frontline : The Congress(I) flip-flop

[viii] History of India: Elections 1977 and Janata Party

[ix] The Times of India: Subramanian Swamy merges his Janata Party with BJP


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