What’s In A Statue?

lenin statue

The past few days have been crazy for statues all across the country. I even saw one sweating with worry over his fate the day the Saffrons and the Reds clashed on the streets of Kolkata. I told him he was safe given Didi’s quick dispersal of police squads, who faced the odd predicament of manning blocks of stone over the next few days.

Statues have held a pretty central role in our political lives. Statues are not dumb things. They are manifest of our ever rising egos. Take a look at India’s ambitious plan to build not one but two of the world’s tallest statue. In a game of one-upmanship with China (which has the tallest statue at present) we are here to teach the world how to do that twice! Two-upmanship is so much better, huh.

One statue is 240 metre tall Vallabhai Patel who will look austerely down over the pithy folks of the inundated Narmada villages. Every Indian’s chest should fill with pride to know that the project will cost the country’s exchequer a whooping $320 million. The other is a 270 metre tall Shivaji statue for which according to Maharashtra’s CM, the state’s people have been breathlessly waiting for 15 long years! You see, development takes some time and careful thinking. Caution! Diversion of funds ahead. Politicians at work.

Some statues get a bath while others are left with bird shit covering their eyes. The youth wing of Lalu Prasad Yadav RJD thought it very demeaning to the stature of Socialist Ram Mahonar Lohia’s statue when a lower caste former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi garlanded it. Activists of Lohia Vichar Manch decided to bathe Lohia in Ganga water instead of drowning themselves in it. As an aftermath to the Red-Saffron clash, the Saffron party decided to cleanse Mookherjee’s statue with Ganga jal and milk. Which is an odd decision because Dove body wash does not recommend milk.

Statues are of political significance. Whether it is Gandhi’s statues that the Congress holds dear, or the Left’s forgotten Lenin or BJPs profound thinker Nathuram Godse, every statue is a statement. A statement of political ideology. A stamp of authority in the neighbourhood. A battle of might of the hoodlums aka party youth wings who bring each other’s statues down. A mark of neglect till muck is smeared on the face of the bust or the limbs chopped off.

None had so much as heard of Lenin till he was brought crashing down, post the Left defeat in Tripura. Conversely, I think it may be true that, many of us had not heard of Tripura till the mayhem over Lenin’s statue was covered by the media! The Left was not to be silenced and it surreptitiously attacked BJPs Bengal icon Shayam Prasad Mookherjee’s statue. Marx’s dream has been realised. The workers of the CPIM Tripura and Kolkata offices have united! Lenin has decided that the coveted Lenin Peace Prize be given to the brave hearts of the Indian establishment Left, who laid down their arms and waved the white flag even before the election battle had begun in Tripura.

When one talks of statues it is hard to not mention Mayawati, the Dalit BSP leader in UP. She became the Chief Minister in 2007. Then she built an elephant. Then one more. Another. And more. A part of Lucknow now, has started resembling an elephant reserve. Now we know, identity politics is very important and one must have enough reminders in public spaces, of the work the leader has done. But what if every reminder is another elephant? Mayawati actually had to state in her State election agenda 2017 that she will not use up the State funds for making more statues. Maybe if her party people demolished the elephants, people would begin forgetting her ‘monumental’ mistakes. Right now each of those statues works as a contrary reminder of what she did not do.

What about statues that are of ecological significance? Can we spare a thought for them? These statues are ecologically significant, as in, they are extremely damaging to the environment. This is where humour runs dry. The ecological disaster that is the name of Adiyogi Shiva statue funded by a highly corrupt Isha Foundation whose head is Jaggi Vasudev was inaugurated last year by none other than our PM Modi. The statue touted as the world’s largest bust stands in the heart of a sensitive wetland area in the foothills of the Western Ghats in Coimbatore. Modi was advised by concerned citizens to not visit the place as it lacked environmental clearances but his Bhakti got the better of him. Now, how can you say no to a 112ft tall Shiva statue?

Nowadays statues are being made at such fast rates that the sculptors have little time to assess if their final work does in fact replicate the person at all. We find that increasingly poorly sculpted figurines are getting mistaken for the generic looking grandmothers (as it happened in the unveiling of Deigo Maradona statue in Kolkata last year) or resembling a close friend of the personality (unveiling of Jayalalitha’s statue has exploded the twitterarti who claim that the statue marks a strong resemblance to her aide Sasikala rather than the TN CM herself). It is time to pause. For once let the political bandwagon really play the game of ‘Statue’ as we have played as kids. To just stop demolishing the old and constructing new ones.  Just stop! I say, Statue!

Debjanee Ganguly, PHD, SSS/JNU


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