Updated: December 19, 2021 10:26:10 am
The ongoing Winter Session of Parliament started on an explosive note. The Rajya Sabha suspended 12 of its members for the entire session. Their suspension meant that these MPs could not participate in Rajya Sabha’s deliberations or the meetings of parliamentary committees. Since then, the suspended MPs have been protesting in front of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi inside the Parliament complex. For the last 29 years, the 16-foot-tall bronze statue has been the site for MPs across ideologies to express their disagreement.
The Parliament House complex has 50 statues/busts of national figures. In 1941, three busts of the Indian royalty made it to the Chamber of Princes in the Parliament building. These busts were of the Maharaja Madhavrao Scindia of Gwalior, Maharaja Bhupindra Singh of Patiala, and Maharaja Ranjitsingh of Nawannagar. All three were the chamber’s founding members, and the latter two had also been its presiding officers. But it was only after Independence that the placement of statues in the circular building came up for consideration. The Parliament House complex comes under the purview of the Speaker of Lok Sabha. In 1951, its first Speaker, G V Mavalankar, set up a committee to propose a scheme for decorating the nation’s legislature. As part of its discussions, the committee considered placing the statues of national leaders in the 50 or more niches on the ground and first floor of Parliament.
Following the committee’s reports in 1953, work started on painting murals on the ground floor walls of Parliament. It was only a decade later that the first statue was unveiled in the Parliament Estate — a 12-foot-tall statue of Motilal Nehru. A bust of Gopal Krishna Gokhale would follow in 1966, followed by another 12-foot-tall statue, of B R Ambedkar, in 1967. In the 1970s, a statue of Lala Lajpat Rai and a bust of Sri Aurobindo would be the only additions to the Parliament complex.
After an 18-year lull, in 1993, President Shankar Dayal Sharma unveiled the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. The unveiling occured during the term of the minority government of P V Narasimha Rao, who earlier in the year had survived a controversial trust vote. The Speaker of Lok Sabha, Shivraj Patil, revived the earlier plan of placing statues in Parliament. He announced that a committee of senior parliamentarians had recommended the installation of statues of “the great sons and daughters of India”. The first statue, he stated, would be that of Mahatma Gandhi.
For a long time, there had been discussion about installing a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at a prominent location in Delhi. In 1965, political activists vandalised the marble statue of King George V that occupied the canopy behind India Gate. After the authorities relocated the vandalised statue to Coronation Park in north Delhi, the empty canopy was considered a possible location for a Gandhi statue. However, the plan never materialised and, in the Nineties, the idea got bogged down in litigation.
One artist who was in the fray for making the Gandhi statue for this location was Ram V Sutar. After the plans for the statue at the India Gate canopy did not fructify, the government approached him for sculpting the Gandhi statue for the Parliament complex. Sutar had studied at the J J College of Arts, Mumbai, and in the 1950s, had helped in the restoration work at Ellora caves. He had extensive experience in immortalising Mahatma Gandhi in copper and stone. Over the years he had made Gandhi busts that the Government of India had gifted to more than 60 countries around the world.
The Gandhi statue — of the Mahatma in a meditative pose — was going to be his first creation inside the Parliament complex. In numerous interviews, Sutar said that recreating the peaceful expression on Mahatma Gandhi’s face was an immense challenge. He is also the artist who made the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (Statue of Unity) in Gujarat.
Since the installation of the Gandhi statue, 43 more (14 of them sculpted by Sutar) have found a place in Parliament. Over the years, deciding on the personalities whose statues and portraits would be placed in Parliament has required political parties to arrive at a consensus. It is their spirit of dialogue and accommodation that has resulted in the Parliament Estate being filled with the iconography of leaders from across the ideological spectrum. And perhaps it is the same spirit that parties need to tap into to foster debate in the two Houses of Parliament.
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