Dear Prime Minister,
You are once again thrusting India into the dangerous politics of statues; the politics of pandering to regional and other identities; the politics of turning real heroes into the lifeless steel and stone kind — for any pigeons to freely relieve themselves on; the heinous politics of clever, but criminal distraction from the life and death issues of poverty, corruption, injustice and inequality in India.
A couple of years ago it was in Gujarat that Sardar Patel and his important legacy for modern and secular India were commandeered by you for political purposes. He was one of the tallest warriors and leaders of the Independence movement. No tribute could ever fully express the debt India and Indians owe him. But you decided to reduce that tribute to the so-called tallest statue in the world, commissioned at a cost of Rs 3000 crores ($440 million US), a significantly large amount of money, that Patel would have said, could be put to better use for the basic needs of Indians. To make matters worse, the proposed artificial lake around the statue would submerge 12 square kilometres of land that could be utilised for many other more useful purposes in a country that boasts grinding poverty at least for a third of its citizens.
Prime Minister, now a statue of another important historical figure is being requisitioned in the service of the politics of statues. It is none other than the highly esteemed Shivaji whose legacy too is being confiscated for the politics of pandering. His statue is being brought to us by you, as was the Patel statue. It is estimated to cost Rs 3600 crores (about $500 million US). And to satisfy your own penchant for the dramatic and the grandiose you have decided to outdo yourself by ordering the Shivaji statue to be 190 metres high — a full 8 metres taller than Sardar Patel’s statue. Shivaji and Sardar Patel are held in the deepest respect and sky-high esteem by Indians. The stone and steel statues can’t ever plumb those depths or ascend those heights. The government you head, of political panderers, is seeking reflected glory by erecting statues of the heroes gone by. It matters not to you that the government’s stony dreams will, just in the case of Sivaji’s statue alone, negatively impact — and may in fact destroy–the livelihood of 1.5 lakh fishermen with 1500 big and 400 small fishing boats.
Prime Minister, we know the budgets for such projects are notoriously and upwardly elastic. These two statues would probably cost close to $1.00 billion US, give or take a few million. What this money could buy or do to improve Indian lives is a legitimate question. If you cared enough to scour and scan the pages of newspapers in India, you would find them replete with statistics about what this money could do for health, education, sanitation of Indians or for the plight of the drought affected, debt ridden and suicide committing Indian farmers.
PM Modi, if they could magically reappear in flesh and blood on the Indian soil, how would Shivaji and Patel, icons of India, respond to being cast, nay imprisoned in stone? One can — I am sure you can too — imagine them literally taking bulldozers to the statues in progress, Sardar in Gujarat and Shivaji in Maharashtara, calling them economically and ethically grotesque and politically treacherous. In your mind’s eye, aren’t you able to picture them speaking to the entire Indian nation urging an end to poverty, injustice, inequality, corruption and the politics of corrupt pandering? I can see myself listening to the giants in silence, feeling dwarfed by their brilliance and dedication to India, and you in mute bewilderment, shocked by their utter rejection of the planned statues.
Prime Minister, India is littered with statues including those of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar. None has made an iota of difference in the economic fortunes of ordinary Indians. The lifeless replicas of Indian heroes in marble, stone, steel or bronze can’t hear the wails of poor toddlers trying to sleep on hungry stomachs in the dead of winter in the shanties, under the flyovers, at railway stations or anyplace else they have to call home in the very difficult journey of their young lives in the corruption laced society. Shivaji, Gandhi, Patel and Ambedkar would be appalled by your government’s heartless splurging of national wealth on any statues. They would brand them a waste of scarce resources of a country in which over a third of its population lives below its’ less than life-sustaining poverty line. Statues wouldn’t lift a single life out of poverty, wipe one tear off an anguished eye, offer a moment’s respite to a life destroyed by corruption’s unlimited cruelty or give succour to a single soul tormented by injustice or inequality–they would say. They would be the first to argue for the ‘surgical’ and total destruction for their own and others’ statues.
And Prime Minister, if they — Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Dr. Ambedkar and Shivaji — could together come back to earth today, they would realise that you are spending Rs 6600 Crores of Indians’ hard earned money for nothing more than your own political popularity and for the statues to acquire and accumulate nothing more than grime and bird droppings. Since they all had a healthy and robust sense of humour, they would mock their own statues in unison by quoting Ettien Bonot de Condillac, the 18th Century French Philosopher:”The statue is… nothing but the sum of all it has acquired”. And we all know what a statue acquires.