It is possible to see it as one would the Statue of Liberty, symbol of a universal expression of collective values, amid deep blue waters of the New York Harbour. The world’s tallest statue of today is bigger, humongous. Can’t miss it from miles away. Large statues are meant to send a ‘tall’ message, be it Christ the Redeemer or the Gomateswara near Mysore, as they present people with a religious icon of such massiveness as to invoke fear, respect, awe. But this Sardar Patel statue conveys humility. So, it should be even more possible to admire it with an apolitical perspective.
The problem with our country in the age of the social media is everything is political. You build a rural toilet and they would invest it with the kind of dirty party politics that you begin to wonder if we are not somehow a fallen nation as the character in the movie Live by nightsays of Florida in the time of Prohibition. Is it possible at all today to view anything with normal eyes after putting away the spectacles that seem to lend everything a distinct political hue?
Sardar Patel was a pan India figure. Strong man yes, but one who used that strength of his approach to bring several small, even petty, kingdoms into the Indian fold, sometimes by force as he did in Hyderabad. We were convinced when very young that our history may have been different had the man lived longer and passed on the might of believing in a larger composite India. But that is not the point. We needed to feel a natural pride in such a man having walked in our midst.
Passing for posterity the values cherished by those who fought for our freedom may not have been as easy a task though, not for Gandhi, not for Patel, nor Nehru nor his successors. Even had they succeeded, we may still be as close as we are to a fallen nation in terms of values. We may have been given a greater reason now to remember the giant of a man who forged a united India from a motley collection of egotistical bunch of princes about to lose their life of living off the fat of the land.
What we have now is the bitter aftertaste of this unseemly controversy over to whom the Sardar Patel legacy belongs. Why not think of it as a national legacy of which the statue will also be a reminder. Should it matter that a BJP-RSS Prime Minister was the prime mover of a massive tribute in stone, steel and bronze to the man who once walked tall? World over, there is statue politics. Tomorrow, the Sardar statue will be dwarfed somewhat by that of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Even so, to whom would the Shivaji legacy belong but to the whole of India?
Down in Malawi they are objecting to a planned statue of Mahatma Gandhi on the premise that he was a racist. He must have seemed so to some peoples of Africa at least. Remember, they delighted in bringing down 1,320 statues of Lenin in Ukraine. At every turn modern Russians begin to understand how cruel their history was. Their titans are seen in different light today in changed national and political circumstances. Why, they even had a grand national figure in Josef Stalin who is seen today as a murderous psychopath, which he indeed was.
We have had our share of statue politics too. Almost too much of it as warring groups go around defiling statues as if this were a great national game of mocking each other’s icons. The putting up of a gigantic statue - at a stiff price of course - must be seen as an accomplishment that goes beyond the politics of it. We can afford one, but not too many as competitive statue politics has a way of draining the State’s resources though Mayawatji would not have been bothered by such petty details. Now there is talk of a Ram statue by the Sarayu. But then we live in a country that somehow finds money for millions of shrines of every denomination than public healthcare hospitals.
We may not see this in the present but in some dystopian future the fear might come true that the statues built by mighty men to mightier men as a tribute - or even to catch votes - may only convey the inexorable lesson of Ozymandias, King of Kings - Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.Even then, the fault would not be that of Sardar Patel, but of every Indian who came after him and who allowed the system to be hijacked by the politicians and their peculiar calling which seems to bother only about how best to serve themselves. That is the real pity, not the whopping Rs 3,000 crore spent by a nation on a colossal statue.