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3 November, 2019 00:00 00 AM

Redefining October 31

Unlike the Congress that identified October 31 to Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the BJP links it to Patel and his dream of a new Kashmir
Kumkum Chadha
Redefining October 31

Till the BJP came to power, October 31 was observed as Martyrdom Day by the Congress regime: the day was earmarked to  remember and mourn the brutal assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who was shot down by two of her security guards, both Sikhs, on 31 October 1984.  

Indira Gandhi it may be recalled had ordered military action in the Golden Temple, a shrine for Sikhs, in 1980: a decision for which she paid with her life.

 Till BJP assumed power, the Congress did not allow the nation to forget Indira Gandhi and made it a point to mark her memory with her achievements and contribution in making India as it stands today. It was then a teary-eyed party that remembered the late Prime Minister who had touched many lives.

To quote from The Marigold Story: Indira Gandhi and otherswritten by this author:

“She (Indira Gandhi) had ruled with an iron hand for almost sixteen years and for most parts, turned around the country when few had the grit and determination to steer the fortunes of hundreds and thousands of deprived Indians. Equally it was true that she did not encourage a second line of leadership, making it clear that none other than a Nehru or Gandhi was fit to rule India.

Indira Gandhi’s death decidedly created a vacuum. For people like me, who were a generation apart, it also posed the ‘who next’ question. Sanjay Gandhi, the obvious heir-apparent, had died before his mother, and Rajiv Gandhi, the reluctant one, was a novice. More than Indira Gandhi’s death and the sorrow that came with it, what worried me was India’s future and the lonely road that lay ahead.

“….Of course, Indira Gandhi was no messiah. She was more of a cross between a goddess and the poet’s vision of a rough beast. Among the uninitiated, she was worshipped; in the politics she practiced, her opponents likened her to a typhoon which destroyed at will. At one level, she had built India; at another, perhaps, destroyed its core. But as I had felt then, and do so even now, I believe that she did more good than harm.

“….Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi, India’s third Prime Minister, was allergic to marigolds.

Throughout her life, her lieutenants stopped people from taking the gold-flower near her. While no one could stop her admirers from bringing them in bunches, the garlands were immediately taken away, and the petals were swiftly brushed aside.

If someone managed to still smuggle the flower in, Indira Gandhi would frown to show her displeasure. Her silence was signal enough that she hadn’t taken well to the aberration. But her anger was never directed at people who spent days, often weeks, to meet her. It was her staff who had to face her ire, for they were trained rigorously to handle her likes and dislikes. It was incumbent upon to ensure that things went the way she wanted: perfectly, with clockwork precision. A slip-up may not have cost them their jobs, but it did earn her indignation. For the faithful, including the man who routinely carried an umbrella over her head, it was worse than being booted out.

It was therefore ironic that in her death, several such details were missed out. Were Indira Gandhi to have her way, she would never have allowed for what she may have described as ‘violations’. But she lay still and lifeless: her bullet-ridden body bedecked in marigolds. The gold- flower that was kept away during her entire life, clung to her in death….”

Equally many remembered her carrying marigold garlands to her final resting place. They invoked her memory with tears and mostly the marigold that she was allergic to all through her life.

Once the BJP rode to power in 2014, it changed it all recasting the Congress driven martyrdom day to National Unity Day. With one single stroke it also changed tears into smiles and mourning into celebration and replaced Indira Gandhi’s painful memory with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s happy one. The BJP, in a bid to erase the indelible stamp of the Gandhis, replaced the larger than life image of Indira Gandhi, also known as Iron Lady, with Iron Man Sardar Patel’s. It decided to push her back and her martyrdom to bring Patel and his birthday centre-stage. With that it transformed mourning into celebrations.

Sardar Patel, an Indian  politician, served as the country’s first Deputy Prime Minister.

Since 2014, Indira Gandhi has been relegated into the background and Patel has dominated. In 2014, the BJP led government christened October 31 as National Unity Day in a bid to “re-affirm the inherent strength and resilience of our nation to withstand the actual and potential threats to the unity, integrity and security of our country”.

Last year, India  unveiled the world's tallest statue of Sardar Patel , in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat.

The 600-odd feet high structure in the western state,  is nomenclature the  "statue of unity".

While unveiling  the statue at a grand inaugural event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called it "a symbol of India's integrity and resolve."  Air Force planes showered flowers on the statue, which was designed by decorated Indian sculptor Ram V Sutar.  

So also this year, as Prime  Minister offered floral tributes, flower petals were showered on the statue by an Indian Air Force helicopter.

Apart from administering the  'national unity pledge' to the multitude of people who had gathered on the occasion,  Prime Minister Modi watched 'Ekta parade' in which personnel of the Gujarat Police, Jammu & Kashmir Police, Central Reserve Police Force and Border Security Force took part.

Mock drill demonstrations were conducted by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), National Disaster Response Force and National Security Guard.

Even while CISF personnel gave a demonstration of how to deal with terrorists at airports, and NDRF demonstrated rescue operations during earthquakes and gas leakage, the NSG presented a demonstration of how to foil a terrorist attack.

This year marked another significant development on this day too: the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir that was proposed in Parliament on August 5 also took effect on October 31.

The two new federal entities are the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and the Union Territory of Ladakh. The Governor of Jammu and Kashmir is now the Lieutenant Governor, who is now the principal administrator.  Laws passed by Parliament are now applicable to Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. Earlier, Article 370 prevented the automatic application of such laws in Jammu and Kashmir.

Linking this development to Sardar Patel, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s dream of a united India had been realised.

 “Sardar Patel had said that had the Kashmir issue been put on his shoulders, it would not have taken so long. Today, on his birth anniversary, I dedicate the historic decision taken on August 5, today to Sardar Patel," PM Modi said.

He added that, from today, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh “will walk towards a new future, on the birth anniversary of the Iron Man of India.”

PM Modi said that in the last three decades more than 40,000 people had lost their lives due to terrorism in J&K. “How long could the country witness the death of so many incident people? The wall has been broken down, and Sardar Patel's dream has come true,” PM Modi said. "We must stay united to fight against anti-Indian forces," PM Modi said, adding that it would be a true tribute to Sardar Patel.

Under the Modi regime,  definitions of the past are History. So also with October 31, where under Modi’s  new India it has  been  redefined.

Unlike the Congress that identified October 31 to Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the BJP links  it to Patel and his dream of a new Kashmir and an India which is surging ahead: at least , as the BJP perceives it. And while doing so, it has intentionally, decidedly and clearly pushed Indira Gandhi into oblivion.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (


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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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