Sunday, June 28, 2009

Of statues and icons


It is good to have iconoclasts in society at any given point of time. They make you think; challenge the status quo and generally make wake society of somnolence. In Bengal, people still remember with gratitude the contribution of people like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and the others who founded and ran the Brahma Samaj, which pulled Hindu society out of the clutches of obscurantism.

Later on, you had Mahatma Gandhi, who was so much of an iconoclast that at one point, he became an icon himself. Dr Ambedkar was another iconoclast who became an icon. His ubiquitous statues in a coat and tie and holding the constitution close to his chest are every where. In the South, Periyar was one iconoclast that I know of whose influence lasts to this day and doubtless there are others.

But unlike the worthies above, who became icons by default and their iconoclasm was one of reform and inclusion; today we have a different class of people. If there is a Mahatma Gandhi Road in practically every town, it was not because Gandhiji wrote it up in his will, or that Ambedkar issued a dictat instructing those statues be erected in every village in the country.

But today in Mayawati , we have an upside down icon ; some one who insists on demolishing the work that others have done – however incomplete that work might have been (yes, I am referring to recent references to Gandhiji’s efforts for the upliftment of Harijans( as Dalits were called then as mere natakbaji or theatrics. And then to round it up, while she is busy rubbishing the work that others have done, the only visible activity that she herself seems to have done is constructing and erecting her own statues all over Uttar Pradesh.

Mayawati seems to be under the illusion that one can become an icon simply by erecting statues and then issuing a dictat that they should be suitably garlanded and venerated on all important occasions – her birthday for instance. As far as I know, in the current Dalit calendar at least in Uttar Pradesh, there is no other day more important than Mayawati’s birthday. Lives can be lost if this day is not celebrated properly. An engineer in UP, \ M K Gupta was murdered , allegedly due to Gupta’s refusal to contribute to the fund collection drive before Chief Minister Mayawati’s birthday.

Reminds me of the story of Herod the Great, a king of Bibilcal times. He was a tyrant and hugely unpopular and he had no expectation that even one person would be there who would mourn his death. So as he neared death, he had several prominent subjects of his kingdom imprisoned, with instructions that at his death, they all ought to be executed en mass. That way, he reasoned, at least some mourning would take place and some tears would be shed at his death, even though, the tears would not be for his death.

Erecting statues of yourself and seeking sainthood through the backdoor is a bit like the instance of Herod… but of course they say that history repeats itself, so this must be it, even though she claims that she is in this game only because the BSP founder, the late Kanshi Ram had willed that alongside his statue, that of his protégé (Ms. Mayawati) should be built. And then you have to get the statue right. A statue of Mayawati had been removed from a prominent location by the authorities here barely 45 days after she unveiled it as she wanted a bigger statue of herself in its place. Apparently Mayawati was not happy with the quality of the sculpture, and so she had also expressed her displeasure over the fact that it was smaller than the statue of her political mentor Kanshi Ram. So the statue got smashed, well! In Mayawati, today we have a wannabe icon and an anarchist iconoclast; but alas though you can raise the height of a statue with some ease, it takes a lot more work and to raise the height of your stature. And that leader or icon of stature is what people might be looking for and haven’t found yet!

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