The statue diplomacy


Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa has, perhaps, done his role-model and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee proud with his surprise ‘statue diplomacy’. Ten years ago, Vajpayee staged a coup of sorts as he, for the first time, bridged the national-regional polity divide in the country by successfully courting the Karunanidhi-led DMK to share power with a major national party (BJP) in the first truly national coalition government. The DMK, the country’s foremost regional party, thus shed its inhibitions to cohabit with a national party, that too with one that has carried with it, until then, the political tag as an upper caste-dominated party.

Not many would have expected Yeddyurappa and his Tamil Nadu counterpart M Karunanidhi to come together to bridge anther divide. Together, they paved the way for the installation of foremost Tamil philosopher-poet Tiruvalluvar’s statue in Bangalore and Kannada philosopher-poet Sarvajna’s statue in Chennai. Not just that. In the process, the two chief ministers have also mobilised popular support for the initiative in their respective states with a publicly articulated objective of promoting a sense of camaraderie. This turnaround is quite significant, considering the fact that the two neighbours have fought many a political and legal battle on substantive and emotive issues over much of the last three decades.
Spirit of solidarity
This, of course, will not be the end of all disputes between the two states. But there are ways of addressing differences. What the ‘statue diplomacy’ has done is to provide a much-needed fresh approach to dealing disputes — a constructive disposition that favours give-and-take resolutions. Yeddyurappa could not have found a better partner in Tamil Nadu than Karunanidhi, a statesman who first became chief minister a good 40 years ago. At 86, he still has foresight and this was evident in his emotional speech in Chennai after unveiling Sarvajna’s statue on Thursday. The spirit of solidarity demonstrated by the two leaders is worthy of consolidation and sustenance in future.
No two situations in history are identical. But there are similarities, which present themselves for comparisons. This being the case, Yeddyurappa seems to have followed his leader in more ways than one. It would be absurd to compare Yeddyurappa with Vajpayee. Certainly, Yeddyurappa is no Vajpayee.

But the chief minister has drawn from his leader’s methods in the way he went about his ‘statue diplomacy.’ His political rivals criticised Vajpayee for making his historic Lahore ‘bus yatra’ initiative a big diplomatic event in February 1999. It was not an exercise in populism. Until then, any such initiative in Indo-Pak relations was being perceived in political and government circles as an undesirable diplomatic exercise. So, it was a bold move, if not an outright gamble, on Vajpayee’s part. Today, it is a milestone in Indo-Pak ties, notwithstanding the fact that the bilateral ties continue to be constantly marked by disputes. The spirit of the Lahore bus ‘yatra’ continues to hold hope for a better turn in bilateral relations. Yeddyurappa might have achieved something similar with his ‘statue diplomacy’ for good-neighbourly relations between the two states in future.
Like the ‘bus diplomacy,’ the statue diplomacy has been an event — a two-part event, one in Bangalore on Aug 9 and the second in Chennai on Thursday. The Bangalore and Chennai events have ensured public involvement not just in the unveiling of the statues but also in igniting a spirit of camaraderie that has been wanting so far.
If the ‘Sada-e-Sarhad’ (Call of the Border) bus service between Delhi and Lahore has helped the people of the two countries to know each other better and, to some extent, shed the enemy image of each other, the statues of Tiruvalluvar and Sarvajna can potentially become symbols of amity and harmony.

Sharing the credit
It is also refreshing to see that the chief minister has taken everyone (support of the Opposition, prominent literary figures, opinion-makers, etc) along — a rare occurrence in the divisive politics played out by political rivals — to win support for the initiative. The credit, of course, also goes to rival political and opinion leaders in the state who came forward to endorse the initiative, helping in the process to keep fringe elements on the margins. The tendency to corner the glory exclusively for a good initiative often prompts political leaders to bypass the virtues of consultations. Yeddyurappa has shunned that temptation. Like the chief minister, his political rivals in the Opposition too appeared to have learnt a lesson from the bad experience of their leaders who, in 1999, had initially dismissed the Vajpayee bus ‘yatra’ as a publicity stunt.

Vajpayee being Vajpayee, Yeddyurappa, however, could not match his leader where oratory is concerned. Vajpayee had grabbed the rare opportunity to address the ‘who is who’ of Pakistan gathered at the Governor’s House in Lahore to win the minds and hearts of every Pakistani that February evening of 1999. His 75-minute speech was broadcast live on Pakistan Television.

The common refrain among Lahorites that evening was that Vajpayee would win an election in Pakistan with ease! Exaggeration it might have been but that was the impact of the master orator’s speech. Vajpayee liberally mixed Urdu, the language Pakistanis easily understand, with his Hindi. How Yeddyurappa would have wished he had the oratorial skills of his mentor. Of course, he was constrained by the fact that he could not speak the language of the Tamilians.

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