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On a momentous occasion, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi shared the stage at Ahmedabad on Tuesday evening at a function marking the inauguration of a museum dedicated to Sardar Vallabbhai Patel.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi said that Sardar Patel had the credentials to lead India post Independence and that he, rather than Jawaharlal Nehru, should have become the country's first Prime Minister.
Speaking at length on Patel's ideology and policies, he said India would have had a very different fate if he had become the first PM.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who took to the stage after Modi, emphatically stated that the first Home Minister of India and Nehru had a relationship based on respect and trust. He quoted the iconic leader from Gujarat, saying Patel himself had said it was his good fortune to have advised Nehru on matters of administration and this would not have been possible if there was no trust between the two men.
Emphasising that Sardar Patel was in pricinple a secular man, he said at this juncture, it was paramount for every leader and social worker to remind themselves the high ideals of secularism, tolerance and compassion for every citizen on which the modern nation of India was founded.
"Sardar Patel was secular to the core. He had a deep faith in the integrity of India. He believed that the whole country was a village and people of all communities here were his relatives and friends," he said at the function.
Modi and Manmohan appeared briefly together, exchanging words and laughs, as the two posed side by side for photographers.
Congress wasted no time after the inauguration function in accusing Narendra Modi and BJP of trying to "hijack" Sardar Patel's legacy, questioning whether BJP or "Swayamsevak Modi" endorses Patel's view that the "communal poison of RSS" killed Mahatma Gandhi.
Union Minister Salman Khurshid also took a dig at Modi over his remarks that Patel should have been the first Prime Minister of India.
"Modi is too preoccupied with the thought as to who should be or should not be the Prime Minister. May be he can give us a list of those he wanted to be the PM," Khurshid said reminding the BJP leader that it was Patel who had banned RSS.
In another reaction, Union Minister Manish Tewari said, ďFor the last few months, BJP has been