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Statues fall on stony ground

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They force the memories of leaders on a hapless people, using taxpayers’ money

Old soldiers never die, they just fade away. In a 1980 interview with Barbara Walters on ABC’s news magazine 20/20, former U.S. President Richard Nixon paraphrased the catchphrase into ‘Old politicians usually die, but they never fade away.”

The authoritarian states of the 20th Century had a tradition of erecting larger-than-life statues of dead leaders. Instead of looking stately, they sustained painful memories of the tyranny of dictatorship. With a penchant for outsize statues, India, a democracy, has a few questions to answer.

Should democracies build memorials to dead leaders, have museums to showcase their achievements? Should citizens be co-opted into such political ventures which stink of party agendas? Should taxpayers’ money be spent on the construction of statues or should political parties or their leaders come up with their own funds?

It is an irony that the memories of leaders are forced on a hapless people, and it is the taxpayers’ money that is being used for constructing and maintaining them.

In ‘history books’

Shouldn’t these leaders be remembered for their deeds and misdeeds, virtues and vices and unintended and intended blunders only in “history books”? In the present age of information technology, no one needs statues to know the contribution of a leader. Spending precious resources on construction of statues and memorials is a sin in a country where the majority live in inhuman conditions without the basic amenities.

Public memorials incur not just the construction cost but also recurring expenses in their upkeep and security. If the government is interested in building monuments, it must focus on commemorating a concept rather than an individual — for instance, the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower.

If the state should build museums, they should be themed on the ideas of great leaders who promoted unity in diversity, constitutional values, nation building, the green and white revolutions, space science and technology, industrial development and reforms in the field of education and medicine.

Political parties still wishing to go ahead with statues of their leaders must spend their own party funds and build them in their own land— surely the size of the statues will reduce. National leaders should write in their “will” that their assets be put to use for construction of hospitals, educational and research institutes and the uplift of the have-nots. Political parties must come on a common platform and suggest that the land used for memorials be put to use for purposes that add to the Gross National Happiness.

The younger generation is more practical and do not want eco-fragile rivers, beaches and forests to be used for erecting statues of national leaders. Dear politicians, will you fade away for a good cause or will you leave behind a turbulent society with irritants of dynastic frictional syndrome?

inderjit@home-n-home.com

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 12:17:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/statues-fall-on-stony-ground/article30420472.ece

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