This should have been Ram Vanji Sutar’s moment of glory. Instead at 80, the veteran sculptor who fashioned all eleven statues at Mayawati’s grand memorial for Dalit icons in Noida, finds himself at the centre of a controversy. And now, with the Supreme Court order halting construction on the park, it’s unlikely anyone will get to see them soon.
For the Noida park, Sutar has sculpted — but of course — the likenesses of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder Kanshi Ram and Mayawati and also those of Shahuji Maharaj, Mahatma Phule, Narayana Guru, B.R. Ambedkar, Gautama Buddha, Ravi Das, Birsa Munda and Ghasi Das.
The project may have run into a storm but in a sense, it is only natural that the Uttar Pradesh chief minister should have approached Sutar to build the statues. Sutar is something of an old hand at official effigies. The Padma Shri awardee has sculpted a majority of those installed in Parliament House, including the 16-feet-high figure of Mahatma Gandhi in meditation.
He may have benefitted from political patronage, but Sutar does not think very highly of the modern Indian state’s artistic sensibilities. “All glorious Indian architecture, including the Taj, is about the past. No grand monuments have been built in independent India.”
Sculpting is a painstaking process, says Sutar. But the most difficult part is getting into the skin of the person whose statue he is to make. “Clients provide pictures, but we need to do some research ourselves.” What about Mayawati — did she pose for her statue? “She sent us several pictures and that was good enough,” Sutar says.
Despite his age, Sutar, the son of a carpenter from Dhulia district in Maharashtra, says has he has lost none of his passion for his art. “Sometimes, I feel that my work has just started.”
Sutar’s long-cherished dream has been to build the highest statue in the world. He wants to sculpt the grand Shivaji statue recently announced by the Maharashtra government — three feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.
But octogenarian can barely hold back his disappointment when speaking on the issue. He had a vision for a similarly grand statue of Mahatma Gandhi facing the Arabian Sea and in early 2005, even prepared a model for it, seeking funding for the project from Indian industrialists. “The Maharashtra government has more or less appropriated my concept, replacing the Mahatma with Shivaji,” he says.
Sutar, however, is not one to allow such setbacks to pull him down. “I mean to devote my energy towards building other monumental structures.”
A plan to recreate the biggest-ever figure of Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi March is in the works. It will be 100 feet long, 75 feet wide, demonstrating a congregation of 20 to 25 figures — all of them 18 feet tall,” Sutar reveals.
Hopefully, that statue will not attract so much controversy.