Of Statues and political Controversies
Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live, July 06, 2009
By Pradeep S Mehta
I was invited to speak at a seminar on WTO in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office of the UK Government in the second week of June this year. The event was held in the India Office of the hallowed portals of the British Foreign Ministry. The imposing room had huge oil portraits of all possible Viceroys and Governor Generals of British India, glaring down upon all.
I could not resist commenting that the UK government should recognise the current scenario and add portraits of Gandhi, among other great Indian freedom fighters, to these walls in their India Office. It brought about both mirth as well as scorn.
Perhaps the powers have heard what I said and the India Office will soon be adorned with portraits of Indian freedom fighters, as a befitting sequel.
Be that as it may, a second statue of Gandhi is now proposed to be erected in UK, at Leicester. The other one is in London.
This has had its fair share of controversy, as locals have launched an online campaign that statues of local heroes, such as footballer Gary Linecker or cricketer David Gower, should be put up rather than an Indian freedom fighter. The statue will cost about Rs10-16 lakhs and be put up in what is called Little India in the town of Leicester, where a large number of Indians live. In fact a local NGO floated by citizens of Indian origin, Samanwaya Parivar, has collected the money and procured the statue from an Indian sculptor in Kolkata. The area is represented by Keith Vaz, also of Indian origin and a former Labour minister.
Speaking about statues and money, Uttar Pradesh under Mayawati’s rule is creating history of sorts.
Between 2007 and 2009, Mayawati has erected 40 statutes of Dalit icons, including that of her late mentor, Kanshi Ram, and herself too. It has cost the taxpayers Rs 6.68 crores. This is not the end of the extravaganza. She has also splurged Rs 52 crores to erect 60 statutes of elephants, her party’s election symbol.
These facts were uncovered in by one Ravi Kant using the Right to Information Act, who then filed a public interest litigation.
Mayawati was so annoyed that she ordained that appointment of ministers will not be covered under the RTI Act. Furthermore, another occasion, she even insulted Gandhi as a ‘naatakbaaz’. This brought all round condemnation from all right thinking people in the state, including Murli Manohar Joshi, a BJP leader.
Not so long ago, our former BJP CM, Vasundhara Raje had unveiled a statue of Rajiv Gandhi in Udaipur which drew criticism from all the ‘wrong’ thinking people. Her response was straight forward and something which is sadly missing in today’s decadent political scenario, that Rajiv was a national leader. That he belonged to the Congress Party does not matter.
At home, Vasundhara’s successor, the Gandhian CM, Ashok Gehlot has ensured that more of Gandhi’s portraits are hung up in all offices, so as to remind people of the great son of India. Whether it will have the effect or not, at least the effort is commendable.