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Nothing wrong in calling Amit Shah, but will this top school also call Rahul or Kejriwal?

By Rajiv Shah 
A letter, reportedly signed by group of former students from the school in which I spent 12 long years – from the nursery to the 11th -- New Delhi’s Sardar Patel Vidyalaya (SVP) took me back to my SPV days, late 1950s and the entire decade of 1960s. In the “open letter”, which has been published in full in The Wire a day after the news agency PTI released a news on it, the 300 plus signatories, all school alumni, question the decision to invite Union home minister Amit Shah to the school as chief guest on the Sardar Patel Jayanti, which fell on October 31.
Founded by HM Patel, I was a little saddened to see that there is little on the SPV’s site about the school’s history – except a mere 56 seconds video. A known right-winger who joined the Swatantra Party some time in 1960s, HM Patel was close to Sardar Patel, but was out-and-out secularist and a democrat. One who became civil servant before the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) was founded, he was instrumental in the preparation and implementation of the crucial document “The Administrative Consequences of Partition.”
Among HM Patel’s major contributions was, as defence secretary between 1947 and 1953, he ensured reduction in the powers of the Indian Armed Forces because it was feared that they might take over the country. He also succeeded in separating finances from the Forces by pushing for the civilian government to pass a separate budget for defence in Parliament every year. HM Patel, who continued as one of India's highest-ranking civil servants till 1958, post-Emergency, from 1977 to 1979 also served as Finance Minister and Home Minister.
Looking back, today I am proud to be part of the school – and surely not because it is considered one of the best (or should I say a most sought after?) elite schools of Delhi – but because it was founded by HM Patel, whose contributions surely outweigh his later day political meanderings. The school management, under founder-principal Raghubhai Nayak and his wife, Jashiben, daughter of a prominent Gandhian educationist in Gujarat, were close to HM Patel’s worldview, and went out of the way to promote Sardar Patel – even as “remembering” Mahatma Gandhi.
The letter objecting to Amit Shah being called at the SPV function said, the decision undermined the SPV’s “ethos, that stands for the Constitution and pluralism.” Claiming that under the “current climate of hate and violence” Amit Shah has been responsible for “flagrant disregard of constitutional values”, it continued, “We are a school that encourages questioning, democratic ideals of dissent, argument and debate”, insisting, “As a senior leader of the BJP -- the political front of the RSS -- Amit Shah stands in opposition to the ideals of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, that have been inculcated in us by SPV.”
Noting that the BJP has lately appropriated Sardar Patel in the recent years, the letter said, he “banned the RSS in 1948 after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination while he was the home minister”, even as quoting from a communiqué issued of February 4, 1948, in which the Government of India said it was banning the organisation "to root out the forces of hate and violence that are at work in our country and imperil the freedom of the nation.”
The letter further quoted Sardar Patel as stating, he told Hindu Mahasabha leader Shyama Prasad Mookerjee on July 18, 1948 with regard to Gandhiji’s assassination, that “activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of Government and the State”. Sardar Patel made his views “explicit” on September 11, 1948, telling MS Golwalkar, that “all their (RSS) speeches were full of communal poison” and that “it was not necessary to spread poison in order to enthuse the Hindus and organise for their protection.”
The letter believed, based on these facts, “The politics of the current ruling party represented by Amit Shah is at complete variance with the ideology of Sardar Patel, and therefore goes against the very ethos of what this school and this country stand for.” It added, "Our Vidyalaya has taught us to respect diversity as we were encouraged to celebrate all festivals during morning assemblies, develop a curiosity for difference and the ability to learn from it.”
In late 1960s Vajpayee was called to make a speech – even though he and his party (Jana Sangh) then were virtual political non-entity
Though an alumnus of the SPV (I passed out in 1970 after spending 12 years in the school, nursery plus 11 years), ironically, I did not receive the letter. Nobody emailed it to me, though I am in touch with a few of them, and have even registered myself as an alumnus both on social media and the school site. Though there is nothing in its contents with which I would possibly disagree, I personally felt that insisting on not calling Amit Shah violated the very spirit of SPV about which the letter advocates.
Jashiben-Raghubhai Nayak, HM Patel
Perhaps a more prudent approach would have been -- it is all right you are calling Amit Shah, we disagree with his views, but the students, who were being made to listen to his views (of standards 10th to 12th) have all the right to listen to other viewpoints, too, of Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, Sitaram Yechury, to name a few. The children should be free to make their opinion after listening to all the viewpoints, and one just one, who happens to be a top politician.
I listened to to Amit Shah on YouTube, but I don’t know if he freely interacted with the school children, nor do I know if media was called to cover the event. Known to air political views without any limits, he had no problem in stating that had Sardar Patel been made India’s first Prime Minister, India wouldn’t have faced the problems which it faced post-Independence, over the last 75 years. 
Amit Shah, however, appeared to contradict himself a little later: He said, Sardar Patel “relinquished” the PM’s post and allowed Nehru to become PM. Of course, he conveniently didn’t recall, it was Gandhiji who wanted Nehru to take over the reins of power. Stating only half-truths, and obliterating facts which may be politically "harmful", is known to be a convenient pastime of our politicians. But who cares?
I remember, in 1968 (or was it 1969?), Atal Behari Vajpayee was called to make a speech during an SPV function – even though at that point of time, he and his party (Jana Sangh) were virtual political non-entity. Vajpayee praised the powerful rebellion in Czechoslovakia in which people protested against the country’s leadership of acting like a Soviet tutelage. In his strong speech, in which he spoke highly of democracy and freedom, he sharply criticised the Soviet invasion of the East European country which crushed the rebellion.
I wonder: If Vajpayee could be called in 1968, why couldn’t the school administration consider calling Rahul Gandhi, who has a much better political clout in India today than what Vajpayee had in those days? Rahul Gandhi has addressed many a school and college children, and is known to have interacted with them freely, answering all the questions without any hesitation. Would the school management call him, or Arvind Kejriwal, or Sitaram Yechury? Or, is it afraid of intimidation?
The other day, I was talking to one of my classmates, Durgesh M Mehta, currently in Mumbai. He recalled how one of the civics teachers, BD Mehta, would hold dummy Parliament in classroom, where children were divided between ruling and opposition parties, and there was debate between them. Surely, if such free, democratic spirit was sought to be inculcated then, why couldn’t it be done now?
As a post-script, after listening to Amit Shah’s SPV speech on YouTube, uploaded by the Haryana BJP, I was amused to listen to the lady who “thanked” the Union home minister; she said Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru were “complimentary” to each other ... and the video suddenly stopped. A fitting SPV reply to Amit Shah, who believed Nehru as PM was a great blunder? Let the organisers release the full, unedited video, including interaction, if any, with children.


Unknown said…
A wonderfully articulate article by a wonderful ex student of the school. It was a pleasure to read such a nice and complete article. It can only be when a very senior journalist of a Rajiv Shah in name could reply in such a comprehensive manner !!
Anonymous said…
Half-truths are now a way of life with many politicians.

The Sardar and the Pundit got along very well-differences were not unknown but there was no bitterness or venom. They and other stalwarts of the day thought of the country first and easily put aside their egos and differences. longer!


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