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Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Wednesday ruled out removal, replacement or dismantling of legendary sculptor Ram Kinkar Baij’s Gandhi statue in Guwahati. “Sonowal has made it clear that there is no question removing, replacing or demolishing the historic Mahatma Gandhi statue…’’ Sonowal’s media adviser, Hrishikesh Goswami said hours after The Indian Express reported that the Kamrup (Metro) district administration had decided to remove the statue. “Instead, the government will ensure that the sanctity and heritage of such a national treasure would be protected.’’
Goswami said that Sonowal had directed officials to ensure that the statue is conserved. “It is a heritage sculpture involving not just two great names, Mahatma Gandhi and Ram Kinkar Baij, but is also testimony to Assam’s respect to the two great souls,” Goswami said. He said that Sonowal has directed officials to enhance beautification of Gandhi Mandap that stands atop Sarania Hills in Guwahati. “This statue, which is probably also the only piece of work of Baij in the Northeastern region, is a pride possession of Guwahati,” Goswami said.
A decision to replace the statue was taken at meeting Deputy Commissioner M Angamuthu had chaired on Monday. Gandhi’s “distorted image’’ in the statue was cited as a reason for it. “The chairman has put up the issues of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi which was sculpted long back gives an distorted image of Mahatma Gandhi. Therefore meeting has decided to sculpt another statue and replace the old one,’’ a resolution passed at the meeting said.
“Look at the statue. Look at the disproportionate hands and feet. They do not resemble those of the Mahatma in any manner. His face is distorted, as also the pair of glasses. That is why we have decided to dismantle it and place a new statue there,” ruling BJP MLA Siddhartha Bhattacharyya had said. He was present at the meeting along with minister Naba Kumar Doley, Mayor Mrigen Sarania and former Union minister Renuka Devi Borkataki. Visva Bharati’s Acting Vice-Chancellor Swapan Dutta had on Tuesday described the decision to replace the statue as unfortunate. “Baij is one of the most important artists in contemporary Indian art. … there can never be another Kinkar. There are sculptures he has made, which we have at Visva-Bharati, of Sujata and Gautam Buddha. These sculptures do not look like Sujata or Gautam Buddha. And that is the point, it is an interpretation, it is art,’’ he said. “There are thousands of pictures and paintings of Mahatma Gandhi across the country, which look exactly like he did. Art is not about looking for similarities.’’
Several freedom fighters and artists too had objected to the proposed move to replace the statue, which was unveiled in October 1970 two years after it was commissioned.