An unseemly argument has been going on between the Congress and BJP over who are the true inheritors of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patels's legacy.

The BJP's not so disguised attempts to arrogate it for itself in a bid to give itself a nationalist movement genealogy is a tawdry attempt to rewrite history. What Sardar Patel thought of the RSS is a matter of record. He minced no words about what he thought of it - that it was fascist and narrow minded, and was responsible for the climate of hatred that led to Gandhiji's assassination. The BJP has started venerating Savarkar and what Patel thought of him and his role in the Gandhi assasination is a matter of record.

But the Congress's attempt to rediscover the Sardar's legacy and claim exclusive rights over it is also no less tawdry. It is well known that the Congress had little time for the Sardar's legacy till Narendra Modi tried to don it. Even when LK Advani tried it was not taken seriously. But like the Sardar, Modi too is a Gujarati and that has a certain resonance in that state. We know how strongly Modi feels about the Gujarati identity. His unwillingness to insure the Asiatic lion against extinction by translocating a few prides emanates from this.

It is well known that there were serious differences between Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel. It was less a clash of personalities as it was a clash of ideologies. The Sardar espoused a more robust and practical nationalism, and laissez faire economic policies.

Nehru was more internationalist, more leftist than realist, and preferred central planning to free market policies. Their policy inclinations were as different as chalk and cheese. But both were patriots tempered by the nationalist movement and both were popular leaders of the Congress rank and file, and the nation as a whole. Above all both were thorough gentlemen and whatever their differences never disrespected each other and subverted each other with factional intrigue. Theirs preferred a moderation in language that would now been seen as a sign of weakness. They preferred to conciliate rather than divide.

It is also well known that after the death of Sardar Patel, something akin to a purge took place in the Congress and the Congress leaders who preferred to support the policies and politics espoused by the Sardar were shown their place or shown the door. The party donned socialist colors and its transformation was complete. With this physical purge, the intellectual purge of the Congress party also gathered pace, and Sardar Patel was practically airbrushed out of the Congress pantheon. For all practical purposes Sardar Patel became anathema for the Congress party, particularly after the advent of Indira Gandhi. Its another matter that after its ideological peregrinations for half a century, the Congress party under PV Narasimha Rao returned to the very same laissez faire economics favored by Patel and rejected by Nehru. It is also a matter of record about how the present Congress leadership insulted the memory of Narasimha Rao.

Congress "spokespersons" who now claim to be legatees of Sardar Patel would hardly know of him and what he stood for. For a start their language is different. Those days they belonged to a very different school of politics. Politics as about policies and grand ideas. To qualify in politics nowadays, one has to be a graduate of the school for scoundrels, where sycophancy and personality worship are the main attainments needed. Congress and BJP are alike in this respect.

Sardar Patel had a thriving law practice he abandoned to heed the Mahatma's call, Jawaharal Nehru was a superbly educated and highly evolved personality and politics to him was a calling not an occupation. What did Sonia Gandhi or Narendra Modi have or give up to enter politics? The difference in the quality of the discourse shows how much they lack.

Neither Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi have much in them to claim such legacies. They are symptomatic of the sad days that have befallen the nation midwifed and contemplated by Nehru and Patel.