STAT­UES ARE PO­LIT­I­CAL IDEALS CAST IN STONE

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - MYINDIAMYVOTE -

Stat­ues have been in the news a lot in re­cent weeks. On Oc­to­ber 31, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi un­veiled the 182m tall Statue of Unity, a statue of Congress leader and free­dom fighter Sar­dar Val­lab­hb­hai Pa­tel, pop­u­larly called In­dia’s Iron Man, and the per­son widely cred­ited with uni­fy­ing In­dia af­ter in­de­pen­dence by per­suad­ing princely states to join the union. Pa­tel was also in­de­pen­dent In­dia’s first home min­is­ter and hailed from Gu­jarat, which is also Modi’s home-state; the statue, on the banks of the Nar­mada in Gu­jarat, was com­mis­sioned when Modi was the state’s chief min­is­ter.

On November 7, Ut­tar Pradesh chief min­is­ter Yogi Adityanath an­nounced the con­struc­tion of a gi­gan­tic Ram statue on the banks of the river Sarayu in Ay­o­d­hya, where the Hindu God is be­lieved to have been born. A case on the dis­puted Ram Jan­mab­hoomi (lit­er­ally, birth­place of Ram) is pend­ing be­fore the Supreme Court. Adityanath him­self has not com­mented on the height of the statue but re­ports put it at 151m, with spec­u­la­tion that it will be placed on a base which is it­self 50m tall, thereby mak­ing God (Ram) taller than man (Pa­tel).

On Oc­to­ber 26, a man died in Mum­bai in an ac­ci­dent in­volv­ing a speed­boat on its way for the pre-launch pooja of the Shiv Smarak, a statue ded­i­cated to 17th cen­tury Maratha king Shivaji who is cred­ited with hav­ing found the Maratha empire. The statue, just off the coast of Mum­bai on a man-made is­land will be 126m tall and housed on a 84m tall pedestal. It is ex­pected to be com­pleted in 2021.

And south of the Vind­hyas, on Oc­to­ber 24, a statue of for­mer Tamil Nadu chief min­is­ter, the late J Jay­alalithaa ar­rived at the HQ of her party, the All In­dia Anna Dravida Mun­netra Kazhagam. It is ex­pected to be un­veiled soon, al­though its di­men­sions — it is only 8ft tall — are dwarfed by the other stat­ues men­tioned here; strangely, the Dra­vid­ian ob­ses­sion with cut-outs, gi­gan­tic, two-di­men­sional wood­board fig­ures of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and film stars doesn’t ex­tend to stat­ues. Tamil Nadu has sev­eral, of al­most every po­lit­i­cal leader of note, but no gi­ant ones.

In a newsy fort­night, stat­ues have clearly held their own.

Ear­lier, in March, stat­ues were in the news again. Across In­dia, stat­ues of Lenin, Syama Prasad Mookher­jee, BR Ambed­kar, EV Ra­masamy (Peri­yar), and Ma­hatma Gandhi were de­faced (some even had their heads knocked off) as var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal and caste groups protested against var­i­ous oth­ers and saw in the stat­ues an op­por­tu­nity to ex­press them­selves with lit­tle risk and lots of re­turn (the stat­ues can’t re­tort in kind, and de­faced stat­ues make good TV).

In a coun­try with a short­age of pub­lic spaces, stat­ues, and the com­plexes and parks around them are wel­come as long as gov­ern­ments that come af­ter the ones that built th­ese mon­u­ments con­tinue to main­tain them, and as long as their con­struc­tion didn’t in­volve any vi­o­la­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal rules – es­pe­cially for those lo­cated near sanc­tu­ar­ies, on or near river beds, or just off the coast. In­dia doesn’t cel­e­brate its mod­ern his­tory the way many other coun­tries do and aes­thet­i­cally­built memo­ri­als whose en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact is neg­li­gi­ble are worth the price – and sure to pay-off in terms of tourist foot­falls.

Stat­ues are al­ways po­lit­i­cal. This is true of the Statue of Unity just as it is true of the Shiv Smarak, the planned Ram statue, and many other stat­ues built by po­lit­i­cal lead­ers over the past sev­eral decades. Given re­cent de­vel­op­ments, it’s pos­si­ble that po­lit­i­cal lead­ers across the coun­try could em­bark on a com­pet­i­tive bout of statue build­ing re­sult­ing in gi­ant stat­ues mush­room­ing around the coun­try. Even the very act of build­ing stat­ues is po­lit­i­cal. The am­bi­tious park for­mer Ut­tar Pradesh chief min­is­ter Mayawati built in Noida — rather un­for­tu­nately, right next to the Okhla Bird Sanc­tu­ary — was pitched by the leader of the Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party as a sym­bol of the resur­gence of the Sched­uled Castes (SC). It houses 18 gi­gan­tic stat­ues of ele­phants, the sym­bols of her party, apart from stat­ues of Mayawati her­self, the party’s founder and her men­tor, the late Kan­shi Ram, and BR Ambed­kar, the au­thor of the Con­sti­tu­tion who is con­sid­ered a Sc-icon. Mayawati also built an Ambed­kar Park in Luc­know, once again fea­tur­ing gi­ant stat­ues of Ambed­kar, Shahuji Ma­haraj, Jy­otiba Phule, Kan­shi Ram, Sant Kabir Das, Sant Ravi­das, and the Bud­dha. For Mayawati’s core con­stituency — the Sched­uled Castes — th­ese struc­tures were pre­vi­ously un­think­able. Most made do with small Ambed­kar stat­ues, usu­ally sport­ing a blue suit, and car­ry­ing a red book (the Con­sti­tu­tion) that can be found across ru­ral north­ern In­dia. The most in­ter­est­ing thing about stat­ues, at least in the short-term, is that they are as much about the sub­ject as they are about the builders and their po­lit­i­cal objectives and am­bi­tions. In time, though, th­ese objectives and am­bi­tions be­come ir­rel­e­vant, leav­ing only the stat­ues which is why they need to be built to last.

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