I woke up late to the ongoing debate about the “Statue of Unity.” I was busy with my marriage, and as a result, couldn’t keep up with the monthlong of trivia and current affairs. I’m not complaining though, as most of the news these days is trash and best left unread. But sometimes, rarely though, there comes a discussion on social media that is worth noticing. The news about “Statue of Unity” is one of them.
Erected in Gujarat, this statue of Sardar Patel has provided right fodder to the controversy-hungry news channel and social media. Many are raising eyebrows to the political intent behind building this statue. The fact that both Prime Minister and Sardar Patel belong to Gujarat is hard to miss. But it is the economic sense of erecting this statue that is getting most of the limelight.
A price tag of Three thousand crore (INR) is bound to ruffle sensibilities of many in a country knee-deep in poverty. Half of our population is subsiding on the bare minimum. They lack basic amenities and means to live a life of dignity. With this background, the question is, do we really need to show such extravagance? Can we afford to build monuments and statues when millions are still sleeping without shelter?
For me, the answer is yes.
A city needs monuments and statues the way human beings need words. It is through these that a city speaks. Through these monuments, a city tells what is stand for. It tells who are its heroes. Through these, it tells its stories, its beliefs, its fables, and myths. Through these, it becomes more than a lifeless mashup of steel and concrete. It is through them cities acquire a character of its own, and in the process become living.
When you look at the monuments and statues with this lens, you can’t reduce them to a mere cost-benefit analysis. Such analysis reduces monuments and statues to mere cash flows and expenses. So can such analysis really capture what a statue or monument stands for?
Can such analysis capture the value of countless artists and visionaries inspired by Eiffel Tower? Can such analysis estimate the worth of Statue of Liberty? A statue which beckoned people all over the world to come and build an entire nation out of the wilderness? Can such analysis really capture the countless hearts Taj Mahal inspire into becoming poets and writers?
I don’t think so.
We need monuments to remember our histories. We need statues to celebrate our heroes. For only through remembering our history and heroes we can hold onto our identity. Otherwise, we would be lost without our identities. We would forget what we mean as a nation. What we stand for.
So we need statues and monuments. There is no second thought about that. But what garners some thinking is the kind of statues we need. That’s where the real issue with the Statue of Unity starts surfacing.
The foremost issue that comes to my mind is the name of this statue itself. “Statue of Unity,” comes out as a cheap imitation to the famous monument “Statue of Liberty.” The imitation in the name is uncanny. But the imitation ends here.
This will explain my point.
The Statue of Liberty is located on the liberty island. It represents the Greek Goddess Libertas – the goddess of liberty. An icon representing freedom and liberty. Moreover the statue is located on the edge of the American Continent. A symbol welcoming immigrant from all over the world. So while the statue of liberty stands for all this, what doest the statue of Unity stands for? Does the name Unity immediately represent anything the way Statue of Liberty does that?
If anything, this lack of originality in the name represents the lack of creativity among those who were assigned in the naming of this statue. The effort in naming this statue is same the effort it would have taken to name our tinsel town as Bollywood on the lines of Hollywood. The effort is amateurish.
Now one can argue that the name is justified on account of the role played by Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel in the unification of India. This is not entirely wrong. Yes, we only need a brief glance at the annals of history to verify the role Sardar Patel played in the Unification of our country. We were scattered and divided after the Britishers left after independence. Only a patchwork of cities and fiefdoms, ruled by kings and princelings, more interested in warring and whoring, rather than keeping invaders like East India company at bay. It was a huge task then to unite all of the states into a country called India.
But then is a statue of one individual a right symbol for such a critical event in the history of not only Indian Subcontinent but an entire world? Should it not be more encompassing, more accommodating to the efforts of thousands and thousands of people who marched and fought and sacrificed for the freedom and unification of India? Why a single face become the representation of something that should be represented by every one of them?
This is the major issue I have with this statue. I think the problem is that there never was an intent to create something like this. Like the typical jugged mentality of our country, which celebrates (wrongly) it’s bottom-up approach, even the intent of this statue seems to be created post its execution. Somebody thought of creating this statue and now the name statue of unity is being forcefully attached to it. (A way to justify thousands of crores on this statue.)
Unification of India happened with the efforts of countless men and women. Hence a more apt symbol would have been something that brought out this theme of a collective effort. A one-man statue hardly does that.
Being a developing nation we are still plagued by many problems like poverty, illiteracy, and population. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make monuments and send rockets to the moon. The progress has to happen in all the fronts. Moreover, right monuments and statues, among other things, that can inspire a generation to act and go beyond the selfish motives and desires, to bring about a lasting change in our country.
I will conclude my thoughts with an exaggerated analogy, but if understood right, can clearly explain the power of symbols.
Inspiration works in different ways. Sending rocket to the moon was not an easy task, both technologically and financially, for the USA. But they did that, and from that arose a whole generation of science that has given the USA a head start in this new age of space technology. Many leading scientists have cited the landing on the moon as the single most important event that turned them towards the path of astronomy and astrophysics. And the result is for everyone to see. The lead the USA has in the space age.
It’s a hyperbole – comparing this issue of Statue with sending rockets to the moon. But the fundamental structure remains the same. We need monuments. But the intent should be right. Confusing an egoistical statue that was built without thought, or maybe due to political interest, with the unity of India is a mistake.