Three months ago, Pune-based sculptor Abhijit Dhondphale was contacted by the Rajput Regiment of the Indian Army to make a sculpture of late Lt Gen Nathu Singh Rathore, who served as a Division Commander in Burma during World War II and later as the commander of the Eastern Army, a post he held till 1954. When Dhondphale was briefed about Rathore’s background and achievements, he was excited and got to work right away. “The satisfaction and happiness one gets as a sculptor in making a sculpture of a person whose achievements we are aware of is very unique. His (Rathore) personality is also very dynamic. I thoroughly enjoyed working on this sculpture,” says Dhondphale.
The story goes that a few years after India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru appointed the first British Chief of the Indian Army Gen Rob Lockhart, a serious crisis broke out in Kashmir. Lockhart, unable to handle the crisis and facing criticism from Nehru, resigned the post. An emergency meeting was called to select the new army chief and it was attended by Maj Gen K M Cariappa, the then defence minister Baldev Singh, and Nathu Singh Rathore and several other experts.
It is said that during the meeting, Nehru stated, “I feel it is better to appoint a British man as the army chief since we do not have a capable and experienced army man in the country.” To which Rathore replied, “You see sir, we don’t have a man with enough experience to lead our nation too, so shouldn’t we appoint someone from Britain as the first Prime Minister of India?” The statement filled the room with silence.
Then Nehru asked Rathore if he is ready to become the army chief. Instead of answering in the affirmative, Rathore said that his senior Gen Cariappa was far more deserving of the post. Cariappa was made the commander-in-chief and the rest is history. Made in bronze alloy, the sculpture is a life-size bust and has already been dispatched from Pune to be installed at the Rajput Regiment Headquarters in Fatehgarh, Uttar Pradesh.
“It took me at least three months to finish the sculpture,” says Dhondphale, whose other works include a nine-foot bronze statue of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, which is installed at the Southern Command Headquarters, a life-size bronze statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in Karad, a statue of Gen Arun Vaidya and a bust of Tehmi Grant, wife of the late Dr K B Grant at the Ruby Hall Clinic.
In August 2015, he also made a mural that was installed at the 19th Rajput Regiment’s post in Jammu. Last year, Dhondphale was praised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Mann Ki Baat for his efforts towards promoting eco-friendly Ganesh idols.