Cutting across political, geographical and cultural loyalties, Indians fondly remember freedom fighters and national leaders who displayed vision, courage and integrity. Many of these heroes, like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Sardar Patel are so firmly embedded in the national psyche that there is no need for annual reminders by way of advertisements released by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting or the Directorate of Audio-Visual Publicity of the Union Government. Yet, since hundreds of crores of rupees goes out of the public exchequer on the birth and death anniversaries of national leaders, some assessment of how it is spent would be in order if we believe that political plurality is the essence of democracy.   
 
This is an opportune moment to examine this issue because there are many anniversaries of national leaders at this time of the year. For example, October 31 marked the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhai Patel and the death anniversary of Mrs.Indira Gandhi, the country’s prime minister for 15 years spread over two terms. The month of November saw three birth anniversaries – Maulana azad, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi on November 11, 14 and 19 respectively.
 
The Congress Party has found a thousand ways to remember Indira Gandhi. It has also done everything to underplay the contribution of Sardar Patel, who had the unenviable task of bringing about the political consolidation of India soon after independence. As VP Menon, the Secretary in the Department of States at that time, says in his book Integration of the Indian States “the largest unresolved problem” facing India on August 15, 1947 was the presence of 554 princely states within its boundaries. The British had announced that with their departure, these states would become independent and “it was widely feared that the new Dominion would break up on this account”. Yet, by the time the new Constitution came into force on 26, January, 1950, “all the states had been integrated into the pattern of the Republic”. The Sardar coaxed, cajoled and even bamboozled some states to fall in line and eventually achieved a miracle or a united India. As Menon noted after the arduous task was completed, “Today, for the first time in the country’s history, the writ of a single central government runs from Kailas to Kanyakumari, from Kathiawar to Kamarupa (the old name of Assam)”.
 
Yet, on October 31 while eight ministries took out half page newspaper advertisements in colour hailing Indira Gandhi, all that Sardar Patel got was a ritualistic, obligatory quarter page advertisement issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. No other ministry, including the Ministry of Steel, felt the need to remember the “Iron Man of India’. On the other hand, a private infrastructure developer paid a far greater tribute to Sardar Patel by sponsoring half page advertisements in colour on the front page of some newspapers which said “1.2 billion iron willed Indians salute the Iron Man of our nation”.  
 
Both Sardar Patel and Indira Gandhi were members of the Congress Party. Both of them held the office of Congress President. Yet, the All India Congress Committee put out a half page colour advertisement remembering Indira Gandhi, but ignored Sardar Patel. Can we blame the union ministries for going overboard?   
 
Although the union government has sunk in crores of rupees of public money in eulogizing India Gandhi on October 31, it splurged much more on her birth anniversary on November 19. This time, as many as eleven union ministries and three state governments – Delhi, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh – take out colour advertisements, mostly half page, in her praise. The Ministry of Steel, so thoroughly unimpressed by the achievements of the “Iron Man of India” tried cunningly to snatch away this title from him by declaring in colour that it was paying tribute to “The Iron Lady of India”.
 
We now come to November 14, the birthday of `Chacha Nehru”. Seven union ministries and two state governments (Congress-run) issued half page advertisements eulogizing Nehru. The Ministry of Steel, which thought nothing of Sardar Patel’s extraordinary achievement hailed Nehru as ‘the architect of modern India”.
 
Let us now turn to another national icon –Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, independent India’s first Education Minister. His birth anniversary was observed on November 11 as
`National Education Day’. Maulana Azad conceptualized and launched several national institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and the University Grants Commission (UGC). He inaugurated the IIT at Kharagpur in 1951 and the UGC in 1953. Other IITs, which were on the drawing board like the IITs at Mumbai, Chennai and Kanpur during his tenure, were all launched in the later part of the decade as also the prestigious School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi. Equally significant was Maulana Azad’s contribution to the promotion of the arts. He established several national academies and institutions including the Indian Council of cultural Relations, the Sangeet Natak Academy, the Sahitya academy and the Lalit Kala Academy.

Many of these institutions today command the respect of educationists and technologists around the world. But, how does the Manmohan Singh Government remember this great freedom fighter and visionary in the field of education? One half page advertisement in black and white issued by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting! But here too one can see sycophants at work, trying to re-write history. Just as the copy writers of the Ministry of Steel try so hard to deny the `Iron Man’ title to the Sardar, the copy writers of the Ministry of Human Resource Development try to underplay the phenomenal contribution of the Maulana to education. Instead of hailing him on November 11, the ministry remembers Nehru on November 14 in a half page colour advertisement and quotes Nehru as having made this earth-shattering statement: “No subject is of greater importance than that of education…………….”.
 
Again, how does the Congress Party remember the anniversary of the Maulana, who was its President for seven long years and during the Quit India Movement? By giving it a miss!
 
Moral of the story: You may be India’s greatest freedom fighter, visionary or statesman and you may be fondly remembered by the people across the land. But, if you do not belong to the Nehru-Gandhi Family, the Congress-run Government of India will not remember you. For how long will we allow the public exchequer to be milked for the political promotion of a single family and the icons of a single party?