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Mahatma Gandhi’s iconic statue, part of Parliament’s identity, site of protest and veneration

Parliament House officials told The Indian Express that the statue would be placed at the main entrance of the new building, once it was complete.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi | Updated: November 26, 2020 7:53:37 am
The statue in front of which thousands of visitors to Parliament House pose for pictures, was unveiled on October 2, 1993 by then President Shankar Dayal Sharma.

Once the construction of the new Parliament House begins, the iconic statue of Mahatma Gandhi, perhaps the most identifiable symbol of India’s Parliament after the building itself, will be shifted to a temporary location — to be kept safe, and to be eventually brought back to the premises.

Parliament House officials told The Indian Express that the statue would be placed at the main entrance of the new building, once it was complete.

A witness to history

If statues could record the goings-on before them, this 16-foot bronze statue of the Father of the Nation would be among the most valuable repositories of India’s contemporary history. The Mahatma, seated in lotus position, has been a mute witness to both intense, thought-provoking debates as well as cacophonies — uproarious protests and slogan shouting — in Parliament for close to three decades. And a large number of lawmakers have at one time or the other over the years stood or squatted at the statue in symbolic protest.

It was in front of this statue that Rahul Gandhi held his first protest against the “frequent disruption” of Parliament by BJP MPs. The first pictures of Rahul as an active Lok Sabha member showed him — with Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is now with the BJP, to his right — and other young MPs like Jitin Prasada, Kuldeep Bishnoi, Sachin Pilot, and Ajay Maken, sitting in front of the Gandhi statue holding signs that said “Please Hear Us” and “We Also Want To Speak” during the 2005 Budget session.

The late TDP MP Naramalli Sivaprasad had photographers flocking to him every day during the Budget session of 2018 when he appeared before the statue in various get-ups — wearing a sari, dressed as Adolf Hitler, as a Christian priest, as Lord Krishna, as a maulvi, as Narada, etc.

During Parliament’s Monsoon session this year, held amidst the Covid pandemic, eight Rajya Sabha MPs including Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress and Rajiv Satav of the Congress, staged perhaps the first overnight sit-in protest at the statue, spreading sheets on the small lawn in front.

A reminder of values

MPs cutting across party lines say the statue holds enormous meaning for them.

Senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe said the statue represents the sense of gratitude the country has for the contribution of Mahatma Gandhi to the world, his values and simplicity.

For the CPI’s D Raja, who served as MP for 12 years, the statue symbolises love and compassion for everyone, and non-violence — a message that no MP should ever forget.

Congress MP Hibi Eden, who entered Parliament for the first time in 2019, said the statue was never just a decorative piece. “It means a lot of values and principles we should look up to. Whenever there is injustice — against the people or when the Opposition is denied justice — we go in front of the statue which symbolises tolerance and non-violence. It also reminds us of the expectations that the common citizen of the country has from us,” Eden said. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

Planned for elsewhere

The statue in front of which thousands of visitors to Parliament House pose for pictures, was unveiled on October 2, 1993 by then President Shankar Dayal Sharma. It was donated by the Urban Development Ministry, according to the Rajya Sabha website.

Some Parliament officials said the statue was not meant for the spot where it was ultimately installed, rather it was meant to be placed under the canopy at India Gate from where a statue of King George V had been removed in the mid-1960s. But it ended up at Parliament House after several leaders and Gandhians opposed the idea of placing the Mahatma on a pedestal vacated by the King of Britain.

A former senior official of Parliament recalled that the late socialist leader George Fernandes raised the matter in Parliament. “He accused the (Congress) government of leaving Gandhi in the middle of the road. So the government immediately made arrangements to bring the statue to Parliament, and place it in front of Gate No. 1,” the official said. Another official said there was also a plan to install the statue near Nirman Bhavan.

The sculptor and his creation

The statue was the creation of Ram V Sutar, now 95, who has also designed the Statue of Unity, the world’s tallest statue, of Sardar Patel, in Gujarat. When Sutar was asked to design a statue for India Gate, he had made a small model of Mahatma Gandhi in meditative pose, recalled Anil Ram Sutar, Sutar’s son.

“There was a competition, and participants were asked to make a statue 2.5 feet high. Prime Minister Morarji Desai came to examine the entries when they were displayed at the Central Public Works Department (CPWD). He liked what my father made the best. He was so fascinated by it that he took it home to keep looking at it for a few days, and then returned it,” Anil Ram Sutar told The Indian Express. “Then Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister, and she too checked all the statues and liked my father’s creation the most,” he said.

Everyone was impressed by the “serenity and the peaceful expression” on the face of the Mahatma, Anil Ram Sutar said. There are two copies of the statue, he said — one is in Gujarat and the other is in Hyderabad. “There is also a similar statue, 27 feet high, for the Karnataka Vidhan Sabha,” he said.

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