An edited version of this letter was first published on Daily O.
Dear Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel,
Congratulations, you’ve got your own statue now. It is the tallest in the world. I am not sure if you wanted this, but you’ve got it, so enjoy. Please do send a thank you card from heaven to Prime Minister Modi, because apparently four and half years back, you did not exist. You are nothing without Modi, you know that? You made wrong friends all your life, Nehru, Gandhi and all those unscrupulous people, who only gave you Patel Chowks and Roads; and called you the ‘Iron Man of India’. It means nothing, Modi gave you real recognition, a statue, the world’s tallest one at that. It was Savarkar then, and Modi now, whom you should always be loyal to. But then, you banned Savarkar’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for carrying out terror activities, didn’t you? Huh!
One small life hack for you, as you make Gujarat your new abode, do not ask Modi any questions. Modi doesn’t like questions. You might note that since you’ve been gone, Gujarat has attained one of the highest rate of anti-Muslim violence, and became a Hindutva laboratory. Modi himself presided over the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the state and never expressed any remorse, condolence or apologies. But do not ask anything about the values of secularism for which you worked hard. Modi and his friends do not like Secularism either.
Modi says, we shouldn’t do politics over your statue. I have never heard anything more naïve. Statues are politics. Period. There is no other reason for statues to exist on any landscape than establishing one’s politics and authority. Statues are one of the key instrument of ‘ideological state apparatus’. From the statue of Ozymandias, to those of the Confederates in USA, to Lenin’s statue in Manipur, we pull down statues, we erect statues, we learn our nation’s politics through statues. We compete for political power and recognition through statues. When Lenin’s statue was violently pulled down in Manipur, no less than the state’s Governor Tathagata Roy justified it. Statues also gain popularity, and become tourist attractions purely for their politics. Seldom has a statue become interesting just because of its size or aesthetics. For that matter, statues by itself, without the politics, can be pretty boring, with birds doing poopoo on them. The Statue of Liberty became a global attraction not because everybody wanted to go and see a pretty lady holding a torch. No. It is loved and revered today for the eternal message it gives out, in the words of Emma Lazarus’, which forms the foundation of the Statue, for representing America as a great torch bearing nation ready to accept weak and vulnerable people from all over the world and give them hope, inspiration, and freedom.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Statues have politics and Modi built one for you too, to peddle his politics. You see, Modi and his friend Amit Shah wish to rule India for fifty years. The idea might disappoint you, because all that hard work you did of uniting over 500 princely states into one sovereign nation has gone for a toss now. Relentlessly and painstakingly you initiated dialogues with the rulers and convinced them why they should join India, a secular democracy and not Pakistan, a theocracy. When India gained freedom the cynics thought it was impossible for a country as diverse as India, with a bloodied history of colonialism, riddled with poverty and illiteracy, to survive as a nation. They thought in just few years there would be in-fighting and we would disintegrate. But we proved everybody wrong. Our unity in diversity is a political miracle for the world, particularly European Union, which looks up to us for inspiration as they battle their own right wing hate and bigotry. Who gave India the ‘Unity in Diversity’ slogan? Whose prerogative it was to produce and promote public service announcements spreading messages like ‘Hindu Muslim Sikh Isai apas mein sab bhai bhai’? It was Nehru.
All that is about to change as Modi-Shah aspire to get rid of the very idea of democracy. But even they know that it does not help their case much when they do not have a single leader involved in either the nation’s freedom movement or in the growth story during the formative years. For long they peddled a fake hero who pathetically wrote an anonymous article in which he anointed himself as “Veer”, but Savarkar is now thoroughly exposed. Even Rahul Gandhi, who had so far not taken any name, hit out directly at Savarkar and his letters of apology to British government, in a recent speech at Charminar. The fact then is that when future generation would ask BJP-RSS and Sanghi Parivar “what was your role in India’s growth during the first 50 years” they would have no answer.
BJP is therefore desperate to appropriate the legacy of leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose and Sardar Patel by constantly pitting them against Nehru. That is the very DNA of this party. They pit one caste/religion against another and gain political mileage out of the enmity. It is shameful that they have not even spared our forefathers and divided them into political camps. Truth is that all of you, Nehru, Bose, Ambedkar, Patel and many more, were all on same side. And nobody, I repeat, nobody was on RSS’s side.
Lastly, Sardar, coming to the cost of your statue, Rs 2989 crore, and its relevance in people’s life, I have bad news, which would not make you happy. “The Statue of Unity, built at an estimated cost of Rs 2,989 crore, could have instead funded two new Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) campuses, five Indian Institute of Management (IIM) campuses and six Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) missions to Mars,” India Spend reported. They have named it ‘Statue of Unity’ but people are not united over it as there are protests from around 75,000 tribal who are displaced due to the construction. You might have received activist Medha Paktar’s letter in this regard, where she detailed out the plight of the adivasis.
The government promises acche din for the statue as they claim it would become a great tourist attraction and generate lots of jobs. But activist Dhruv Rathee observes, “Even if Statue of Unity becomes as famous as Taj Mahal, we may need 120 years to break even.” Let’s admit Sardar, your statue will not become more famous than Taj Mahal. For whatever reasons, you just do not have an international appeal. To gain that level of tourist attraction, Modi should have made a Gandhi statue. Because there are two things the whole world knows about India, Taj Mahal and Gandhi.
Don’t get me wrong Sardar, I am all for a statue for you, but really wish they spent less money on it, didn’t displace adivasis, and really made it an occasion of unity, love, and solidarity instead of pitting you against Nehru and make a mockery of our nation’s history.