October 31 has been a day of mourning for Indians since 1984
Since 1984, October 31 was more a date of national mourning for the family-centric Congress remembered Indira Gandhi, who was shot dead by her Sikh bodyguards on this day. The birth anniversary of Sardar Patel was secondary, just like late prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, who always remained a second to Mahatma Gandhi when it came to observing his birthday on October 2.
From 2014, it became an occasion for national unity
But in 2014, history took a different course of progress as Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to prioritise Sardar Patel's birth over Indira Gandhi's death on October 31 by flagging off a mega Run of Unity. For many, this is a deliberate politicisation of the national icons but in reality, it is a ruthless revenge of history.
What goes comes back: Congress realises
The Congress during its heydays did not think it was important to honour memories of its leaders who did not belong to the Gandhi family. By renaming almost everything its government launched after the names of one or the other member of the 'first family', the Congress did not ever set up a healthy precedent.
The party, which was once known for its popular basis, successfully transformed itself into a family affair and paving the way for its non-family icons to fade out from the popular memory. That was a political game of worst kind.
Congress witnessing helplessly how Modi is snatching away its pride
If the Gandhis are feeling worried today that Modi is snatching all their pride, then they should have thought about this well ahead. But the party remained so obsessed with power all these years that it lost the 360-degree view of history. Today, the party is in such a hapless position that it doesn't have the minimum ability to stop its main opponent running away it its icons and using them as he likes. What a pity!
Modi is playing a political game for sure but is there anybody who can stop him now?
Modi is strongly marching towards his goal of Congress-Mukt Bharat at the moment and there is little counter-weight to stop him. The majority government of the BJP at the Centre might commit some goof-ups in the process but such possibility is yet some distance away.
The 'Run for Unity' is a masterstroke by Narendra Modi to shed his 2002 baggage
And Modi is clever enough to involve the people's sentiments in whatever he does which leaves the margin of error even narrower. It means the Congress will have to wait for a longer period before they get an opportunity to turn the table on Modi like they did in 2004 by changing the Vajpayee government's banning official celebrations of birth and death anniversaries in 2000.
Run for Unity: Twin benefits for BJP
Modi is definitely engaging in a political game to hurt the Congress beyond redemption. The call of unity on the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel is a strategy which pays two dividends to the BJP. First, it helps it connect to the electorate more (the Delhi election may happen anytime and Run for Unity was a good opportunity for an informal campaigning by Modi) and secondly, the legacy of Indira Gandhi is pushed into the backseat. October 31, 1984, is seen as a day when the ugly face of divisive India was witnessed as the prime minister was assassinated by her own countrymen.
By changing that day into a occasion to remember the man who united the country after independence, Modi has sent a clear message to the people at the expense of Indira Gandhi: "I too stand for unity." This is a masterstroke to eclipse his own baggage -- the Godhra riots of 2002, as well.
The episode also speaks of the battle between centralisation and decentralisation in Indian federalism. Indira Gandhi was the symbol of a strong Centre which once dominated the entire federalism. But in the process, it chew up its own roots, paving the way for the forces of decentalisation to assert themselves. Narendra Modi, a former chief minister who became the prime minister, is a symbol of that decentralisation and it is taking its share back, with a lot of noise.