Lenin statue in Delhi’s Nehru Park a selfie hub now
Delhi is one of the three cities in the country, including Kolkata and Vijayawada, and among the few in the world, where Lenin statues stand tall. The grand statue in Nehru Park is said to have been unveiled by then USSR Premier, Nikolai Ryzhkov on November 1, 1987 during the 70th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
On Thursday afternoon, Abhay Kumar, LP Maurya, both private guards, and Rajendra Singh, their supervisor, held an ‘important’ meeting at Nehru Park in south Delhi.
The meeting was necessitated after two policemen came in the morning and asked them to watch out for troublemakers and not to allow too many people near the statue of Vladimir Lenin in the park. The guards had not heard about the man whose statue they were supposed to guard; it also did not help that the statue has no plaque.
“We searched for Lenin on Google and figured that Lenin was some popular Russian leader,” says Kumar. But realising that Leninism and Bolshevism were too difficult a concept to grasp for the trio, they soon abandoned the research.
“We decided to focus on the task at hand. We are keeping a close watch on the increasing number of people who are coming to take selfies with the statue. In fact, a few people also came and garlanded it,” says Kumar. “No one gave it a second look until a few days back.”
Except for some of the city’s communists, who come to pay a customary visit on April 22 to commemorate the Bolshevik leader’s birthday, and again on November 7, to mark the anniversary of the October Revolution.
For the uninitiated, Delhi is one of the three cities in the country, including Kolkata and Vijayawada, and among the few in the world, where Lenin statues stand tall. The grand statue in Nehru Park — Lenin in his trademark three-piece suit — is said to have been unveiled by then Soviet Union Premier, Nikolai Ryzhkov, in the presence of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on November 1, 1987 during the 70th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.
In several east European countries, Lenin statues have been brought down since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Ukraine, many have been toppled since 2013, when the protesters took to streets against the then President Viktor Yanukovich .
In Delhi, a city where there’s a statue to gawp at every turn, Lenin has had a lonely — but peaceful — existence in the park, which is favourite with couples. But the vandalisation of two Lenin statues in Tripura after the BJP swept to power in the recently held assembly elections, ending 25 years of Left rule, has changed that. Lenin is not left alone these days — he has many curious visitors, who take selfies and have impromptu discussions on his life and legacy.
“I wonder why a park with a statue of Lenin is named after Nehru,” says Rohit Saha, a software engineer who lives in Sarojini Nagar and a regular at the park. “Frankly, I have been coming to the park for many years now, but had a close look at it recently. Every statue should have a short bio of the leader, warts and all,” says Saha as he does his evening workout , a few metres away from the statue.
“I personally feel that statues are more about politics than history. There is hardly anything intrinsically educational about them,” says Saha, looking at his watch. “People should know the truth behind every statue.”
However, Sucheta Mahajan, professor, Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, says that statues installed in public spaces are both about history and education.“A few years back, when I visited Nehru Park with my children, they asked me so many questions about Lenin. Statues create curiosity about a person, about his life and ideas,” she says.
After Lenin’s statute in Tripura was toppled, there has been a raging debate in the country about Lenin’s legacy and his relevance in contemporary times. He has been variously referred to as a ‘tyrant’, a ‘despot’, a ‘terrorist’, a ‘foreign leader’, whose statute should have no place in India. Never before has Lenin faced such scrutiny in the country. In fact, very few might know that The Posts and Telegraphs department in India released a special commemorative stamp, featuring Lenin in 1970 on the occasion of his first birth centenary.
“Lenin should not be seen merely as a communist leader. We need to appreciate his support for India’s freedom movement. He effusively praised Lokmanya Tilak. The last book Bhagat Singh read was on Lenin,” says Mahajan.
Navnita Chadha Behera, professor, political science, Delhi University, says that one may not agree with Lenin’s views but vandalism is not an answer. “ We need to understand that it is an evolving world and ideas of leaders like Lenin were relevant at a certain juncture in history. You may disagree with them, but in a democracy ideas need to be countered with ideas,” she says.
Though he criticised vandalism, historian Ramchandra Guha said in a tweet that it would be better if there were statues of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Vaclav Havel and the Dalai Lama — “great foreign leaders whom Indians can learn from and look up to”.
“To repeat, the vandalizing of existing statues is absolutely unjustified. But the eulogies being offered (to) us of Lenin are utterly disingenuous. He was a tyrant, a despot,” Guha said in another tweet.
The Lenin bust at AKG Bhavan — the headquarters of CPI(M) — is also attracting a few selfie hunters these days.Piyush Shalya, 26, a civil services aspirant, who was taking a selfie with the bust of Lenin on a hot Friday afternoon, said, “Very few people understand his (Lenin’s) economic acumen. He felt that the forces that drove the bourgeoisie to exploit the proletariat will eventually drove the capitalist nations to exploit poor countries. But yes, he was a dictator, ” says Shalya. A fan of Lenin, he angles for a better frame. “This is such a beautiful Lenin bust.”
The bust has an interesting backstory. Rajendra Sharma, editor of Lok Lahar, the CPI(M) Hindi mouthpiece, says it used to be inside the Russian embassy in Delhi before the fall of the USSR.
“The Russian embassy did not find it feasible to keep it in view of the tumultuous political situation after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, and we got it as a gift,” says Sharma . The large stone bust is installed right in front of the bust of AK Gopalan. The office’s library has a picture of Lenin, and a frame next to it with Lenin’s message in relief: “Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement.”
Alka Raghuvanshi, an art historian, feels that statutes should also be looked at as public art, and not just politics. After all, the statues, she says, represent a city ethos, its icons and are an intrinsic part of the city’s identity. “They are landmark in all major cities in the world. The statues should have aesthetically harmonious relationship with a city. It is always not the case in Delhi,” she says.