After appropriating the legacy of Vallabhbhai Patel, the BJP may well be on its way to take over the legacy of another tall Gujarati leader -- Morarji Desai. On March 4, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to rename the Surat airport after Desai, a known anti-Congress figure and a son of the soil.
The letter comes soon after Swamy's recent Gujarat visit. He claims people of South Gujarat "are very keen" to see Surat airport be named after the 4th Prime Minister of India. "Recently I was in Surat, Navsari & Vapi to address a meeting and I found that the people of south Gujarat are very keen that Surat International Airport be named after former Prime Minister and Bharat Ratna Shri Morarji Desai," wrote the BJP MP.
He requested Modi to "direct" the Civil Aviation Ministry to do the "needful" so that an announcement can be made at the "earliest". Desai was born in what is known today as Valsad district of Gujarat. His growing up years were spent in this region itself. Desai went to a primary school in Savarkundla and later joined Bai Ava Bai High School in Valsad. So, its natural for people of the region to be emotional about him.
But it's much more than simple emotions. After appropriating the legacy of a fellow Gujarati and often neglected Congress icon, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Patel by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah dispensation, if indeed the PMO pays heed to Swamy's request to rename Surat airport after Morarji Desai, it will signal the ruling party is ready to champion his legacy as well.A
The BJP has often been accused of not playing a "part" in the country's independence movement. Usurping Morarji Desai's legacy will only bolster its claim to have played a decisive part in India's independence struggle.A
Moreover, unlike Patel, Desai's politics was known to be anti-Congress after independence. As long as he was in Congress, he came to be known as a fierce nationalist as against Nehruvian socialist. During the emergency, he was arrested like many other anti-Indira politicians.
After Jayaprakash Narayan's anti-corruption movement, Morarji Desai became India's first non-Congress Prime Minister, representing the Janata Party. All these characteristics may add to the liking of the ruling BJP whose first vow after coming to power in 2014 was to make India "Congress mukt".
Now even his family members are part of the BJP. Madhukeshwar Desai, one of his great-grandsons, is currently the National Vice-President of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the saffron party.
When contacted, Swamy told IANS this should be the first of a series of naming airports. He suggested Madurai airport should also be named after Muthuramalingam Thevar, a former colleague of Subhas Chandra Bose, whose legacy, too, has been adequately appropriated by the Modi government.
An RSS functionary who refused to be named said he would be happy if the government agrees to name Surat airport after Desai. He cited Desai's nationalist leanings that made him an outsider in Nehruvian dispensation.