Indian media: Sardar Patel celebrations debated

Indian politician Sardar Patel speaks a tribute rally to Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi in 1948. Sardar Patel was one of the founders of independent India

Papers highlight the political debate over Friday's celebrations marking the 139th birth anniversary of Indian independence leader Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

The event is being marked on an unprecedentedly grand scale, with government offices to stay closed and Prime Minister Narendra Modi waving the starting flag for a mass "Run for Unity" in Delhi, the First Post daily reports.

Nicknamed the "Iron man of India" and a native of Mr Modi's home state Gujarat, Patel was the first post-independence home minister and is ranked with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru as one of the country's founding fathers.

But the growing attention to his legacy has led critics to accuse Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of appropriating Patel and using him to downplay traditional Congress heroes Nehru and his daughter, former PM Indira Gandhi.

Some in Congress have voiced anger at the lack of official plans to - as in the past - mark the anniversary of the Indira Gandhi's assassination on 31 October 1984.

"Disgraceful that government is ignoring the martyrdom of our only prime minister who was killed in office in the line of duty. Oct 31 forgotten?" prominent Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said in a tweet quoted by the Deccan Herald.

Officially though, the Congress - which also sees Patel as a revered figure - insists it has no objection to the government's plans, with The Indian Express quoting top party official Ajay Maken as saying that "no one can overshadow the legacy of anyone".

The BJP itself denies any attempt to politicise the issue. "There is no question of anyone being pitted against anyone else," MP Chandan Mitra told The Hindu.

"But yes, Patel is finally being given the recognition he deserves," he adds. "It is not a question of undermining the Nehru-Gandhis, but of giving Patel his due as one of the architects of freedom."

'New era' in Maharashtra?

Another prominent story is Friday's inauguration of the new BJP chief minister of the western state of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, following his party's resounding win in state elections.

The press's main interest is whether Mr Fadnavis will be joined in government by its former coalition partner, the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena, which in the past tended to outperform the BJP in Maharashtra.

The Times of India believes it "may all be over" between the parties after it was revealed that Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray will be staying away from Mr Fadnavis's inauguration.

"The move to boycott the function shows that the two allies are set to part ways with bitterness and rancour," the daily quotes analysts as saying, adding that a divorce would mark a "new era in state politics".

Modi 'snubbed'

And finally, a leading Muslim cleric has sparked controversy by inviting Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to a high-profile family religious function, while snubbing Mr Modi, according to Firstpost.

Ahmed Bukhari, the imam of Delhi's principal mosque, the Jama Masjid, told the paper that Mr Modi's presence was not wanted because he had "never made any attempt to reach out to Muslims".

The prime minister is viewed with suspicion by some Muslims over allegations - which Mr Modi denies - that he failed to prevent the 2002 religious riots in Gujarat.

Mr Bukhari's invite to Mr Sharif is seen as largely symbolic as he is almost certain to not attend, according to The New Indian Express.

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