This Diwali, we must thank the government of Gujarat for a wonderful gift to the nation. I refer, of course, to the colossal statue of Sardar Patel, or at least to its foundation stone, which was laid recently. Compared to the dry fruits, sweets and chocolates we usually get, a very large statue is a welcome change.
The petty moaning about the poor taxpayers of Gujarat or the even poorer peasants of the country being made to pay for it is unfortunate.
If everybody thought that building imposing edifices is a waste of public money, Lutyens’ Delhi would never have been built and Parliament would have to function from some hovel in Old Delhi, perhaps in Parathewali Gali and our netas and babus would be forced to live among the aam aadmi, which would be terribly distressing.
Sardar Patel certainly deserves a statue, in view of his role in unifying India, at least for some time, since we seem rather disunited now. He was also a skilled bridge player and left all that to follow the Mahatma, which called for an iron will. That is probably when people started calling him an Iron Man. And experience has taught us that it’s vital to make statues very big, so that pigeons can’t climb so high.
But it would be best to avoid the rather sordid debate about the merits of our great leaders. Instead, if the Gujarat government wants to say that Patel was bigger than Nehru, all it has to do is build a statue of Nehru alongside that of Patel, but make it shorter. They could, for example, make the Nehru statue as high as Patel’s waist, or knee, or big toe, depending on how forcefully they want to say it.
But should the rest of India not hand out gifts of a similar size and shape in return? We must encourage friendly competition among states about who will build the tallest statue. That way, we Indians would soon develop a competitive advantage in large-statue-building and our skilled statue builders could then go around the world to build them, earning dollars for the motherland. Those dollars could then be used to build still larger statues at home and so on and so forth. Mayawati could help, considering her familiarity with the subject.
Apart from the obvious political bigwigs, Amitabh Bachchan, BR Chopra and Ramesh Sippy have also been great unifiers of the country. Tamil Nadu will, undoubtedly, wish to honour Rajinikanth. The Congress’ best bet may be to put up a statue of Advani. West Bengal should build a giant figure in honour of the great Bengali icon Diego Maradona. The next generation will want a statue of Chhota Bheem, to be entirely funded by grateful parents.
In Mumbai, we should have a giant statue of Sachin Tendulkar, captured in the act of hitting the ball for a six. Sachin is, after all, the guy who has done more for Indian unity than anyone else.
And he is a youth icon. Best of all, a Tendulkar statue in Mumbai will easily beat the Gujarat one in attracting tourists, despite the Patel statue having ‘scrumptious food stalls, ornate gift shops, retail kiosks and other visitor amenities’ according to its website. That’s because the Sachin statue can have a fabulous bar-cum-restaurant atop its head, something that dry Gujarat can’t do for Patel. What better Diwali gift can a grateful nation give Sachin on his retirement?
(Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint)
Views expressed by the author are personal