Tale Of Statues
By Poonam I Kaushish
It’s been a week of stark contradictions in India’s ongoing political nautanki. At one end we have tall talk of an Opposition Mahagathbandhan to oust Modi’s BJP. On the other State funded perceived altruism to massage the public into deception of national and spiritual values. Exposing our fallacious tryst with good governance!
Last week the Prime Minister unveiled the Statue of Unity, a 183 metres monument dedicated to Sardar Patel, Independent India’s first Home Minister credited with uniting all 562 princely states into the Republic. Built at a cost of Rs 3050 crores by the BJP Gujarat Government on the banks of the Narmada its claim to fame is being the tallest in the world, 23 metres taller than China’s Spring Temple Buddha and almost double the height of the US’s Statue of Liberty’s 93 metres.
Undoubtedly, Patel was a true blue nationalist Indian whose contribution to unify the country was remarkable, a source of inspiration for generations and needs to be lauded. But spending crores of tax payers hard earned money on his statue? Even he would have balked at the idea.
Raising a moot point: What purpose does the Statue serve? Would not the money have been better spent on alleviating poverty and helping Gujarat’s 3.6 million people officially living below the poverty line or health, education and homeless feeding their hunger on the neon signs of a burger? Sic.
Why did the Government not spend BJP cash? And, why doesn’t it fulfil the mandate of solving people’s basic problems? Remember how the BJP criticized BSP’s Mayawati for splurging the aam aadmi’s money to prop up her own statues at a cost of Rs 1200 crores at Ambedkar parks in Lucknow and Noida.
Today, the boot is on the other foot. Why blame Modi? All others too are no different. Politicians and Parties use statutes to expand their voter base and political footprints to areas they have very little influence. Cast in stone or metal, they plan to take their icons to every nook and corner of the country, thereby following the well-trodden path of political competitiveness.
It’s all about leaving behind a legacy for future generation. Sic. Else who will remember one? Besides, aren’t memorials part of the fishes and loaves of office? Look at the huge bronze statues of powerful leaders to eka duka Party chieftains coming out of every nook and corner of Parliament house and its surrounding areas. All stand guilty. After all, Government money is nobody’s money!
Clearly, more than a colossal waste of public money, the statue represents the contempt our netagan have for the aam aadmi in whose name they govern. Predictably they will use, misuse and abuse everything even turning our iconic freedom fighters into a commodity of the bazaar.
All to satiate their lust for power and gaddi.
Alas, the statue spree continues unabated. Recall in 2016 Modi laid the foundation for a gigantic and expensive memorial to Shivaji in the Arabian sea near Mumbai at a cost of Rs 3600 crores. Ostensibly, the statue is to exploit Shivaji politically and appease Maharashtra’s majority Maratha community who worship him. Never mind if the statue’s cost is more than the budget for Mumbai’s schools and health care.
Think. Public funds allocated for everything from food grain to flood and drought subsidies inexplicably end up in the hands of our brazenly corrupt politicians. Who while swearing by democracy, love to glorify the past to justify their feudal ways. State-sponsored memorials are unabashed political projects, and no Party is an exception to this practice. Sab chalta hai.
Ironically even as the Congress lambasts the memorial sprees of others they seem to forget and refuse to explain the logic of naming nearly every airport, most Government statutory institutions and cultural hubs after the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty? Justifying it as ‘honourable collective remembering national” leaders. What to speak of re-naming roads, lanes, mohallas et al. Either way the fact is that no matter who builds what, all statues and memorials are political spectacles.
Ditto the BJP which last year celebrated RSS and Jan Sangh leader Deendayal Upadhyay Centenary by naming Agra airport after him, launching a skill development scheme to train rural youth to maintain mobile towers, repair optical fibres and fix other communication technologies across India along-with the ‘Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana’ for power sector reforms in rural areas and installing his statues or busts for which Rs 100 crores was allocated in the Union Budget.
The DMK too is memorial mania driven. In fact, Tamil Nadu is looked as the badlands of memorials. In 1961, Congress leader Kamaraj built his statue and got Nehru to unveil it. As the Party was waning with the DMK’s meteoric rise, it resorted to inscribing the cityscape with memorials as a part of its political propaganda.
When the DMK came to power in 1967, it lined up statues of its own leaders on the same road where Kamaraj had his statue unveiled. This is not all. Houses where Congress leaders lived, including that of Nehru, Shastri and Indira have been converted into memorials.
True, it can be argued they Parties are obliged to be seen as populist in the no-holds-barred free-for-all electoral race, as it would be stupid to wish away symbolism and political lollipops to entice the electorate.
Thereby, underscoring that what ails India and its burgeoning poor is not poverty, which can be corrected, but the ruthless heartlessness of our netagan who not only lack humility but also empathy for the garib. Worse, it exposes their sheer ennui and paucity of ideas along-with accentuating their moral bankruptcy. And a perspective completely divorced from reality.
Notably, sound economic sense has been surrendered to political gamesmanship as populist shenanigans yield better electoral rewards than reasoned issues and sustainable programmes. Also, given the economic logic that there is no such thing as a free lunch, a populist scheme is invariably paid for either in the form of higher taxes or increasing inflation.
Sadly, there is no agency which can stop public funds from being wasted, notwithstanding, expert views expressed by various committees. Thus, given the level of dishonesty, populism and irresponsibility which increasingly governs our political system along-with a leech-infested environment of the uundata takes it all, our carpetbaggars refuse to let up.
In the ultimate, given our narcissist polity with a proclivity for lack of integrity we need to evolve a code of governance to minimize the Executives’ unjustified misuse of public funds. Time now, for the Prime Minister to realize that populism will only provide immediate succour at the expense of the future. It is no remedy for neglect of poverty eradication schemes, education and health. What use building toilets in each home when there is no water?
He needs to concentrate on the big picture. Wherein, energies are channelized to address garibi through faster, broad-based growth, supported by well-functioning delivery mechanisms. The effort must be to reduce the number of people in need of handouts.
Modi needs to realize that it the statues and symbolism spree continues people will lose faith in politicians and the system of governance. Public accountability is indispensable in a democratic set-up. A democracy cannot allow exercise of public funds as private spending. Government money is certainly not Apna money, money! —– INFA