IN PERSPECTIVE | Unity statue or oneness of mind?

A general view of the "Statue of Unity" portraying Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel during its inauguration in Kevadia, in Gujarat. REUTERS

The 182-metre “world’s tallest statue” unveiled some weeks ago by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has evoked an avalanche of doubts, questions and even outright derision. Appreciation or praise, if at all, was quite muffled.

Why is this so? Aren’t we proud that we have the tallest statute in the world? We spent Rs 3,000 crore to build this gigantic statue to outdo the Statue of Liberty. It is to venerate the memory of a great son of India — Sardar Vallabhai Patel. Even Gandhi has not merited a statue of comparable height.

Is it an inadvertent error that resulted in the Iron Man of India eclipsing the Father of the Nation in terms of statues? Or, is it a deliberate act? Are statues a sensible thing to do, in the first place? Is this not an outdated idea? Is the cost of building and maintaining a statue worth it? Is this a priority for the nation? Can we ignore these questions?

Unity of what?

It is confusing to consider ‘unity’ in this context. The statements made by the government about the statue emphasise the unity of the country in terms of its physical or geographical unity, for which credit is due to Sardar Patel, according to them. It would be facile to think that an expensive statue is called for in order to proclaim such a unified state. It’s a fact of history. The world acknowledges this and no proclamation is needed.

I suspect that the idea of naming it the ‘Statue of Unity’ is nothing but a parody on the Statue of Liberty. If that is so, it is too small an idea for a great country whose unity is in its diversity, not in its statues or its statutes. Nehru’s famous phrase ‘unity in diversity’ also goes for a toss. Two birds hit with one stone!

If it were the unity of the country in terms of our oneness of spirit and sense of patriotism, there would be some justification for a statue. It’s such unity that is needed. We cannot polarise society in terms of religion or language and still talk about unity. It is hypocrisy to do so.

There appear to be many unspoken motives behind the statue. One is obviously political. Sardar Patel is often juxtaposed against Pandit Nehru. While both were Congress leaders, the BJP mysteriously has appropriated Patel’s legacy, mainly because he had some views opposed to Nehru’s.

Secondly, he hailed from Gujarat. By hailing Patel, the statue’s proponents could minimise the importance of two great leaders — Gandhi and Nehru.

If the statue was built to spite the Congress party, it’s not a great service to the nation at such a huge cost. If it was to make Gandhi look smaller in comparison to Patel, it’s a grievous mistake. Of course, we cannot ignore the vehement protest put up by the tribal people who were displaced for the project.

Statue vs stature

Is spending Rs 3,000 crore on a statute sensible? What about the recurring cost of maintaining this gargantuan monument? Worse, contrast this spending with the measly Rs 600 crore sanctioned by the Narendra Modi government to Kerala and Rs 540 crore to Karnataka to deal with the floods that devastated them.

The loss for Kerala is estimated at Rs 30,000 crore by a World Bank-ADB team. The Centre not only gave a paltry amount to the state, it even prevented foreign governments and agencies from extending aid to the hapless people of Kerala.

The unkindest cut of all – the Centre asked the Kerala government to pay Rs 290.74 crore as “aircraft charge” for the rescue operations during the mid-August floods and for supplying rations!    

Thousands have been rendered homeless and properties worth thousands of crores washed away. Roads and bridges have been destroyed. Rebuilding the state is a challenging task. The Centre should have stepped in, setting aside political differences. That would have been statesmanship.

It is naïve to think we can instil emotional unity by building a statue? Unity in a federal structure such as ours needs leaders with statesmanship and stature. Statues do not bring stature.

While statues are physical monuments exposed to the elements of nature and the vagaries of vandals, stature is in the minds of people; it is spiritual or metaphysical, incorruptible and enduring. The great leaders of the freedom movement do not need statues, because they had stature that outlives all statues.

The best way to build unity is by building bridges between communities, religions and languages across this great nation of ours. We need to rediscover our nationhood, the vital thread that unites us as a single people, for that’s where our unity will live unblemished and unbroken.

Our unity and progress are assured only when our leaders rise above narrow interests and short-lived political gains and work selflessly for the larger good of the nation.  

(The writer is Director, Little Rock Indian School, Udupi)

Comments (+)