The Election Commission doesn’t usually cough nervously and admit to a mistake. So when it told the West Bengal government that the latter didn’t have to remove the portraits of personages who weren’t Mahatma Gandhi, the President and the Prime Minister of India, from walls of government buildings, it was a special moment for the political class.
But even as governments toy with the idea of putting up pictures of their icons, a larger question pertaining to cultural-politics arises: whose pictures should be allowed official sanction? Will the Shiv Sena, on coming to power, have a Shivaji portrait share wallspace with that of Bal Thackeray’s hero, Adolf Hitler? Will a Shibu Soren government hang framed currency notes from office walls?
As is wont with editorial writers, we amuse ourselves in worst-case scenarios. The West Bengal government was, after all, ticked off initially for hanging the portraits of accepted giants of our history, Rabindranath Tagore and Subhas Bose. The reluctance on the EC’s part was reportedly that Bose, an icon of India, was being co-opted by the Bengali communists.
There’s no real reason why the Father of the Nation can’t share wall space with Uncles and Aunts and Nephews of the Nation. So within the limits of taste — and perhaps decor — let a thousand portraits bloom.