U.P. sees a surfeit of statues as BJP, SP expand caste footprints

UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath being presented a memento during a public rally, in Dadri, on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The statue of Samrat Mihir Bhoj, considered an icon for both the OBC Gurjar and dominant Rajput communities, unveiled by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Gautam Buddha Nagar’s Dadri town on Wednesday is one of the many such cultural icons and political figures that have been recently installed in the poll-bound State.

Be it icons appealing to specific communities and castes, boasting a local legacy or those linked to the freedom struggle, both the ruling BJP and the main opposition Samajwadi Party (SP) have over the past few months gone on an installation spree to honour such figures in a bid to enlarge their votebanks.

On September 9, Mr. Adityanath unveiled a statue of Bharatendu Harishchadra at the Bharatendu Natya Akademi here on the noted Hindi playwright and poet’s 171st birth anniversary as part of the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav to mark the country’s 75th year of Independence.

Speaking at the event, Mr. Adityanath had said that through his works Harishchandra had infused feelings of “strong nationalism” and “Independence” among the public.

In July, Mr. Adityanath along with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was present as a statue of Lalji Tandon was unveiled in Lucknow’s prime Hazratganj area on the first death anniversary of the veteran BJP leader from the Khatri community who was considered close to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. His son Ashutosh Tandon is a Cabinet minister in the Yogi Adityanath government.

In August, President Ram Nath Kovind unveiled a statue of former CM Sampoornananda (1954-1960) and also inaugurated an auditorium named after him at the U.P. Sainik School in Lucknow. Mr. Kovind had said Sampoorananda and Param Vir Chakra awardee Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey, after whom the school is named, shared the common idea of dedicating everything to national pride.

Interestingly, Sampoornananda is not the only former CM from the Congress whose statue has been installed. Mr. Adityanath in August also inaugurated a statue of Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna at the Yojana Bhavan here to honour his efforts towards ushering in “development” and said that his tenure was “unforgettable.” Mr. Bahuguna’s daughter Rita Bahuguna Joshi is a BJP MP from Allahabad and had joined the party after quitting the Congress in 2016. The statue was seen as a move to woo the Brahmins.

Erlier in March, Mr. Adityanath unveiled a statue of Hindu Rajput king Maharana Pratap in Bahraich district and also laid the foundation stone of a statue of Rudendra Bikram Singh, former royalty of Payagpur who was also a BJP legislator from Kaiserganj in 1991. This came a month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of a memorial for Maharaja Suheldev and development work of the Chittaura lake in the same district.

Medieval Bhar chieftain Suheldev, whose legacy is contested by both Pasis (Dalits) and Rajbhars (OBC), has over the years been projected as a Hindutva icon by the RSS-BJP for stopping the march of a nephew of Mahmud Ghaznavi even though his historical existence is shrouded in mystery. At the event, while hailing Suheldev, Mr. Modi had said the country was rectifying the mistakes, injustice and tampering of history. In 2016, months before the Assembly polls, then BJP chief Amit Shah had unveiled a statue of Suheldev in Bahraich.

Not to be left behind and working to build a larger coalition of castes to challenge the BJP, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav has also been inaugurating statues dedicated to caste icons. Last month, Mr. Yadav unveiled a statue of senior SP leader and former minister Bhagwati Singh in the Bakshi Ka Talab Inter College here months after his death.

Earlier in July, Mr. Yadav unveiled a statue of OBC-Nishad leader Manohar Lal on his 85th birth anniversary at Sarosi village in Unnao district. Lal was an SP MLA and also served as a minister apart from winning the Lok Sabha polls from Kanpur in 1977 as a Bharatiya Lok Dal candidate. His son Deepak Kumar is also a former MP and three-time MLA from Unnao.

In March, Mr. Yadav unveiled a statue of Kotwal Dhan Singh Gurjar, known as a martyr in the 1857 fight for independence in Mawana in Meerut . The SP chief also unveiled a statue of former union minister and Kurmi stalwart Beni Prasad Verma in Barabanki on his death anniversary. SP leaders have also announced they would install a statue of Phoolan Devi, the Mallah caste icon and former bandit who was later elected to the Lok Sabha, in Rae Bareli.

Apart from these, the SP has promised to build a statue of Lord Parshuram in a bid to woo the influential Brahmin community, a vow also made by BSP chief Mayawati.

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2021 3:35:31 AM |

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