The 182 metre world’s tallest statue unveiled this week by the Prime Minister has evoked an avalanche of doubts, questions and even outright derision. Appreciation or praise, if at all, was quite muffled. Why is this so?
Aren’t we proud that we have the tallest statute in the world, twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty? We have spent Rs 3000 crore to build this gigantic statue to outdo even the Statue of Liberty. It is to venerate the memory of a great son of India – Sardar Vallabhai Patel. Even Gandhiji has not merited a statue of comparable height. Is it an inadvertent error that resulted in the Iron Man of India eclipsing the Father of the Nation in terms of statues? Or is it a deliberate act to stymie the Mahatma?
Are statues a sensible thing to do, in the first place? Is this not an outdated idea? Statues are a thing of the past, by today’s standards. Is the cost of building and maintaining a statue worth it? Is this a priority for a poor nation? Can we ignore these questions?
It is quite confusing to consider ‘unity’ in this context. The statements made by the government about the statue emphasise the unity of the country in terms of its physical or geographical unity for which credit is due to Sardar Patel, according to them. It would be facile to think that an expensive statue is called for in order to proclaim such a unified state. It’s a fact of history. The world acknowledges this and no proclamation is needed to do this.
I suspect that the idea of naming it as the Statue of Unity is nothing but a parody on the Statue of Liberty. If that is so, it is too small an idea for a great country whose unity is in its diversity, not in its statues or its statutes. Nehru’s famous quote ‘unity in diversity’also goes for a toss. Two birds with one stone.
If it were the unity of our country in terms of our oneness of spirit and our sense of patriotism, there would be some justification for a statue. It’s such a unity that is the dire need of today. We cannot polarise a society in terms of religion or language and still talk about unity. It would be an outright hypocrisy to do so.
There appears to be many unspoken motives behind the statue. One of them obviously is political. Sardar Patel is often juxtaposed against Pandit Nehru. While both of them were Congress leaders, the BJP mysteriously has appropriated Patel’s legacy mainly because he was an opponent of Nehru. Secondly he hails from Gujarat. By hailing Patel, they gain on two counts. They can minimize the importance of two great leaders – Gandhiji and Nehru.
If the statue was built to spite the Congress party it’s not a great service to the nation at such huge financial investment. Unwittingly though, if Gandhiji is made to look smaller in comparison with Patel, it’s a grievous mistake.
Both being Gujarathis, the comparison is inevitable and therefore justified.
Now the question of priority. Is the decision to spend a whopping Rs 3k crore a sensible decision? What about the future cost of maintaining this gargantuan monument? A few crores will have to be budgeted every year to keep the statue in good shape, what with birds looking for a safe abode. Of course we cannot ignore the vehement protest put up by the tribal people who are displaced and the environmentalists.
Contrast this expenditure with the measly Rs 600 crore sanctioned by the central government to Kerala in the wake of the worst floods that devastated the State. The loss is estimated at Rs 30000 crore by the World Bank-ADB team. The central government not only gave a paltry amount to the State, but it also stopped foreign governments and agencies like the World Bank from extending any financial aid to the hapless State. Is this not political one-upmanship and a travesty of justice?
Thousands have been rendered homeless and properties worth hundreds of crores washed away. Roads and bridges have been destroyed. Rebuilding the State is a challenging task. The central government should have stepped in, setting aside political differences. This is where statesmanship is called for.
It would be naïve to think that we can instil emotional unity by building a statue? Unity in a federal structure such as ours needs leaders with statesmanship and stature. Statues do not bring stature. While statues are physical monuments exposed to the elements of nature and the vagaries of vandals, stature is in the minds of people; it is spiritual or metaphysical, incorruptible and enduring. The great leaders of the freedom movement do not need statues, because they had stature that outlives all statues.
The best investment for creating unity is in building bridges that connect different communities, religions and languages across this great nation of ours. We need to rediscover our nationhood, the vital thread that unites us as a single people, for that’s where our unity will live unblemished and unbroken. Our unity and progress are assured only when our leaders rise above narrow parochial interests and short-lived political gains, and work tirelessly and selflessly for the larger good of the nation. Is that a mere mirage or a distant reality?
Mathew C. Ninan
Director, Little Rock Indian School, Udupi
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