Iron man, imported steel and exalted egos

By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal. Dated: 11/4/2018 8:01:46 PM

Finally, the Narendra Modi led BJP government has delivered on one of its election promises in 2014 - the construction of 182-metre high statue of Sardar Patel built on an island on the Narmada river and completed at a cost of nearly Rs 3000 crore. But how does it really change the fate of India, except for lifting up the ego of those already high on the misplaced idea of India about to become the next super-power, a notion that mocks at the face of the ugly reality of poverty, disparities, corruption and poor governance. The exalting height of the statue, a world record, allows them the luxury of boasting about the tallest statue in the world. If tall statues and structures are to be counted as a measure of the country's greatness and superiority, the United Arab Emirates would perhaps qualify as a super-power with its ruler's penchant to lavishly spend a fortune on tallest buildings, biggest book store and whatever one can name.
What does the statue mean to the BJP-government other than enabling its tall boast of a sculpted larger than life size Sardar Patel in metal? With the installation of the statue, the BJP has put its final seal on the ownership of a national hero it never had or could have. India got its independence 70 years ago after consistent struggles of freedom fighters who belonged to different ideologies. None of the BJP-RSS stock were part of the Indian freedom movement. The RSS had virtually sided with the British, though for years the BJP has been laboriously trying to re-write history in abject defiance of facts. Since independence of the country is not very old, the legacy of Indian freedom struggle is something that carries a huge political legitimacy among liberal thinking Indians. The appropriation of Patel, thus, has been a long-time project of the BJP in a bid to acquire that legacy. Patel is also their best bet in view of his historical inconsistencies with respect to his secular values. The legendary politician known for his commitment, simplicity, skills as administrator and organizer, however, was known also for his dualism over secular ideas. As India's first home minister Patel did ban the RSS and vehemently opposed communal violence, but many criticize him for pandering to Hindutva interests in Hyderabad and for his contempt for Hindus.
The BJP has consistently built up this campaign to both appropriate Sardar Patel as its own and also pit him as larger and taller than Nehru and Gandhi. The statue also gives them a handle to jeer at Congress for having let down Patel and not giving him enough recognition. As if, statues are the keys for keeping ideologies of great personalities alive. If that were true Gandhian values would have been thriving across the length and breadth of the country with a multitude of Gandhi statues erected in his honour in almost every city. Statues are merely symbolic. The Patel symbol has come at a huge price that the country battling its basic problems of health, illiteracy and poverty can ill-afford.
Four times higher than the Statue of Liberty, it mocks at the aspirations of millions of teeming poor and increasing sense of insecurity of the minorities of this country due to the divisive politics of the dreamers of this project. Called 'Statue of Unity', the naming of the statue is more than ironic. On the day that prime minister Narendra Modi chose to inaugurate the monumental statue and link it to national pride, the dislocated Tribals, who lost their lands and fields to the multi-billion rupees project rose up in protest and wrote a graffiti in blood: "Narendra Modi Go Back." 90 protestors were jailed so that the statue could be flaunted as the super strength and might of the strong nation. A fine tribute to the 'Iron man'.
Unity cannot be imposed on the country through statues. At a time when communal poison has reached new levels of dangers, lynchings and intimidating discourse has become the norm and BJP is fishing out its brazen Hindutva agenda openly to contest the next elections, it is preposterous to believe that a statue will inspire unity. Unity is the last thing one could associate with the Sardar Patel. Based on historical records, noted intellectual A.G. Noorani describes Patel as rabidly communal in his outlook and called him a man with aversion to Muslims. "Patel was, instinctively, pro-industrialists and unsympathetic to labour. His vision was narrow; his concerns were limited. As Nye noted, he was intolerant of dissent. Let alone communists, even the Congress Socialist Party received short shrift from him. He was the quintessential Hindu communalist," he wrote in an article some years ago.
The statue is neither a symbol of unity nor is Indian pride hinged to it. India's pride lies in its essence and values of diversity and secular polity. It can be enhanced not by bequeathing to the nation lavishly built structures but by harmonizing communities through inclusive growth and development, by targeting poverty, providing economic structures that ensure sustainable development and jobs; and by focusing on issues of health, environment and education. The statue cannot bring so much pride as to cover up and hide the shame of scams like Rafale and Vyapam.
The BJP is pushing India into a dangerous vortex of politics of parochial regionalism and communalism and of legitimizing these by turning legendary figures, whatever they stood for, into lifeless steel imported from China. Unable to explain its multiple failures in government, BJP is now putting its weight behind statues and architectural marvels, none of which truly symbolize unity. It is bringing Ram Temple out of its bag and another 700 feet temple complex with a theme park, auditorium and helipad is already under construction in Uttar Pradesh. These are just attempts to ruthlessly distract the nation's attention from issues of poverty, corruption, intolerance and communalism. At best, India can just about win a couple of Guinness World Records.



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