Off With His Head

It appears they have filed for copyright protection of ‘statue destruction as a method of protest’ and asked destroyers to pay them royalty. “We gave this to the world,” the filing says, and draws attention to the two Buddha statues of sixth century vintage, in Bamiyan in Afghanistan, then the highest standing statues of Buddha in the world, that they reduced to rubble in 2001, against entreaties from around the world. “And you said we were off our rocker then.” So, does the Taliban get the last laugh?

Could they have taken their cue from developments in the land of the free where pulling down statues is rapidly gaining favour as the means of righting wrongs? Or is it the other way round? Difficult to say. Easier to say that traditional forms of protest have been found to be ineffective.

“Merely saying sorry is not enough,” as Bill Maher, the American TV host, so eloquently said in a recent talk. “Statues have to be pulled down,” as he equally eloquently did not say.

“Sorry” does not quite have the same impact, as India realised when it asked Theresa May, then Prime Minister (PM) of UK, to apologise in 2019 for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919. A year later, who remembers the apology, or expression of regret as it was called? For that matter, who remembers May? It would have been a lot simpler to build a statue of May, who was not even a gleam in her parents’ eyes in 1919, and then pull it down. The good thing with this form of protest is, it can still be done. And again. And then once more.

Full marks to the UK for having retained its basic political identity during the hundred year period so that they could be held liable. Makes one wonder what would have happened if, say, an apology was expected from Yugoslavia? Would we ask Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Croatia, or Macedonia, or Montenegro, or Serbia, or Slovenia, to do the honours?

“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Victor Hugo may not have realised the significance of this declaration, his own, but the modern human certainly does.

As demonstrated by the expression of regret by the then PM of UK, descendants can now be held accountable for crimes perpetrated by a person. Not merely the immediately following generation, but coming at any point of time in the future. Not merely direct descendants, but anyone either remotely connected in any way or not remotely connected in any way. In short, anyone can be held responsible for anything.

Talk about beauty, apart from lying in the beholder’s eye, being in simplicity. This law, presently in the early stages of conceptualisation, would be hard to better for its simplicity.

As can be forebears. Not merely the immediately preceding generation but having existed at any point of time in the past. As pulling down of statues demonstrates.

In these charged times, Christopher Columbus has emerged as an unlikely favourite. Indigenous people of America are pulling down his statues as they blame him for discovering America which led to their displacement and marginalisation. Minority groups are pulling down his statues for discovering America that led to centuries of colonisation and segregation. And, believe it or not, Indian officials are preparing to erect statues of Columbus so that they can be pulled down. Why? For setting out to find India, but discovering America instead. “How dare he? Because of him losing his way, India lost the opportunity of becoming America. He has much to answer for. We all know what happened after that. Babur showed up in a few years with his hordes from Central Asia and the rest, which would have been history regardless, is history.” Descendants of Columbus are trying to come to an agreement on whose statue to erect for destruction. “Why was India not where he went? He had to discover America instead, where he is now a reviled figure. India needs to answer for that.” 

There is urgency and palpable excitement everywhere. The Orissa government has commissioned a statue of Emperor Ashok for waging the bloody Kalinga war in the fourth century BC, so that it can be taken down. Statues of Kauravs, from the epic Mahabharat, are sprouting up around the country like weeds during the monsoon, to be pulled down for their criminal acts against the noble Pandavs. The PM designate in the newly formed government in Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has vowed to create statues of Ram, Laxman, Hanuman, and all major characters in the epic Ramayan. You guessed it…so that they can be pulled down, for showing Lanka and Lankans in poor light.

In a far-sighted move, and recognising the problem being faced by people in having to erect statues that need to be pulled down, the Indian government has decreed that every individual sculpt a bust of themselves and deposit it at the newly constituted Bust Bank (not to be confused with any Nationalised Bank, though both might mean the same thing) so that many years hence, when it is realised that the twenty first century human indulged in despicable practices like binge-watching Netflix, endlessly swiping mobile screens with one finger, running behind a bouncing round object on a football pitch, or even trying to meet with other people face to face, and the need arises to pull down their statues, they are readily available. The PM is expected to bless the initiative by giving it a name which, after a few days, he will explain the real meaning of.

Even as the present day rulers erect statues of invaders who repeatedly, well, invaded (is there a better suited word?) Indian territory for several centuries starting about 800 AD, to pull down in protest for being the cause of the misery faced by its people in the twenty first century that they are unable to solve, the common man in India, has, finally, started to ask for identification of the self-serving rulers who failed in their primary duty of protecting their people and real estate from invaders, and capitulated, repeatedly, for several centuries starting about 800 AD. To erect their statues and then pull them down.

On account of his less than kosher behaviour, as viewed in today’s context, Maher had the temerity to suggest rehab and sensitivity training for God, his God, to the point of saying “God is cancelled.” Should we open up other Gods for a twenty first century performance evaluation? Or, let sleeping Gods lie?

Tall and Taller…

It is an established historical fact known to all Indian politicians that the height of a statue determines the stature of a person. Sorry, that came out wrong. Let me clarify. Not the stature of the person whose likeness the statue is, but the politicians associating themselves with building that statue. And the benefits it delivers to people. The taller the statue, the greater the benefit delivered to people.

Like the “Statue of Unity” dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, known as the Ironman of India, credited with uniting hundreds of principalities and fiefdoms under the umbrella of a single nation at the end of the British Raj, whose statue, on the banks of the Narmada river, has recently been inaugurated by the Prime Minister. At a height of 182 meters, it is said to be the tallest statue in the world. In a touching gesture, the statue has been dedicated to the nation. Built by the money of the nation, built by the labour of the nation, built by the technical expertise of the nation, there must have been many choices for the dedication, assuming one was required, but still the leaders chose to selflessly dedicate it to the nation. The nation should be grateful.

The government of Maharashtra led by Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief Minister, is under pressure from their coalition partner to announce that the proposed statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the seventeenth century Maratha warrior, who single-handedly waged successful battles against the might of the Mughal empire, and carved out a kingdom for his people, will be the tallest in the world. They also want a name for the statue. What is a staue without a name, even if it is of a famous person? If the Ironman’s statue can have a name, why not that of Chhatrapati? “Statue of Courage” is the favoured option.

Not to be outdone, Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has lost no time in announcing the construction of a statue dedicated to Lord Ram, on the banks of the Saryu river. Lord Ram, the mythological character, protagonist of the Hindu epic Ramayan, the seventh reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, and an epitome of Hindu virtuosity. And a rallying point for Hindu votes.

“Do I need to clarify? You guys should read the news,” he chided reporters asking him for a cost-benefit analysis of building the proposed statue. “The Gujarat government has clearly stated that the Statue of Unity has been built to boost tourism in the state and generate direct jobs for more than fifteen thousand tribal people every year. It is an established model.” He added, “Not only that, despite being built with people’s money, their technical expertise, and labour, it will be dedicated to the nation.”

When it was pointed out that there were no tribal populations in the state, at least not in any significant numbers, he responded, demonstrating deep understanding of both tribals and non-tribals, “Have you seen the way people live in our state? Do you think that the living condition of tribals would be worse than that of people in our state, leaving politicians aside of course?”

Mayawati, a former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and credited with the vision of converting public spaces and open lands into constructed-over memorials with hundreds of statues of Dalit leaders, is laughing all the way to the bank. The political vote bank. “I will appropriate today what other political leaders might think of appropriating five years later,” is her new slogan for the upcoming elections. She has promised to construct a tallest in the world statue of Babasaheb B R Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian Constitution and the Indian Republic, and a symbol of Dalit pride.

State governments with no known plans of building a tallest in the world statue are worried.

The Chief Minister of Bengal is understood to have floated a proposal within the party to construct a statue of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore at the renowned Viswa Bharti University, founded by Gurudev, apparently with the money he received for his Nobel prize, in Shantiniketan, that will be the tallest in the world. This proposal has met with stiff opposition from a section of the party who want the tallest statue in the world to be that of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, leader of the Indian National Army, who had defined an alternate path to independence from the British and vanished, never to resurface, in mysterious circumstances in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1945, and who feel that Netaji has not received his due recognition in the struggle for attainment of independence.

The government in Tamil Nadu is waiting and watching. They have drawn up a list of leaders whose tallest in the world statues they will construct along Marina Beach in Chennai. But only after the others have constructed theirs so that they know how tall to build it.

Descendants of Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay, the RSS ideologue and former leader of the Jan Sangh, a forerunner of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party at the Centre, are miffed. Why has he been relegated to having only colleges and the Mughalsarai train station named after him? “Could a tallest in the world statue that boosted tourism and gave direct employment to over fifteen thousand tribals not have been constructed at Mughalsarai station?” They have queried.

A cartoon carried by today’s The Hindu newspaper:

26thcartoon-2

I am beginning to understand the meaning of a tall leader. And taller. But not our leaders. They only understand the tallest.