POLITICS

The Big Ram Statue Is A Misplaced Priority. But Who Will Tell Adityanath That?

If they cannot have bread, let them have statues, big giant ones.

11/10/2017 4:06 PM IST | Updated 11/10/2017 4:30 PM IST
Pawan Kumar / Reuters

Alas Yogi Adityanath, you have failed us.

When the media was filled with gasps of horrors at a fiery sadhu being handed the reins of Uttar Pradesh, I was secretly excited to learn he was only 5'5".

The most popular adjective used for the new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh was "diminutive".

The New York Times called him "diminutive, baby-faced". PTI called him "diminutive, shaven-headed" as did Indian Express. The Telegraph described him as a "diminutive figure in saffron".

As a height-challenged man myself, I secretly root for my equals, the Jyoti Basus and Pranab Mukherjees, the little men who scuttle their way to the top. I revel in their elevation to power and fortune. I mourn when they get elbowed out at the end. I enjoy the thought that their fans and devotees must look down on them in order to look up to them.

This height challenge is not a figment of my insecurity. Anyone following the Donald Trump reality show knows that size matters. It turns out Trump thought Senator Bob Corker at 5'7" was too short to be his Secretary of State. Now that Corker has uncorked on him to the New York Times, Trump has taken to taunting him as "Liddle Bob Corker". It's always a steeper climb to the top for smaller men, at a disadvantage everywhere except in economy class of airlines.

The current government seems especially keen on statues, the bigger the better.

So it comes as crushing news that the diminutive Adityanath also wants to walk in the footsteps of giants. He will gift us a Lord Ram statue which will be 100 metres tall. Et tu Adityanath? Then fall the League of Diminutive Men. The Age of Pranab-da and Jyoti-babu is truly at an end.

I thought the fiery Adityanath was a David who wanted to slay myriad Goliath. But he turns out to want to be a Goliath himself.

Humanity has a thing for big statues all the way back to the Colossus of Rhodes. But it's a curious thing that these days in India we are hellbent on statue building whereas in much of the world we seem to live in an age of statue toppling. The biggest news in the last decade or so when it comes to statues have been about the ones coming down -– the Confederate heroes of the American South, the Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, Cecil John Rhodes in Capetown, Cecil John Rhodes in Capetown, Mahatma Gandhi in Ghana. One must be careful about statues. Statues are erected to honour one singular figure. They tend to be brought down in a cathartic rage by nameless masses buzzing with anger.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

India it seems to want to buck that trend. The current government seems especially keen on statues, the bigger the better. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was 5'5" in life. But generations to come will remember him as almost 600-feet tall. Chhatrapati Shivaji was 1.68m according to the Internet. But his Arabian Sea version will be taller than the Statue of Liberty at 190 metres. After laying the foundation stone, Narendra Modi tweeted, "Shiv Smarak is a fitting tribute to him & his greatness." It's just that we like to measure greatness not just in deeds but in metres and inches. And the latter is easier, more quantifiable, its wow factor better suited for instant gratification. This history being writ large.

In this government's case, this act of magnification seems even more critical, a special kind of urgency. The BJP has always been on the lookout for heroes from the freedom struggle it could claim for itself. Luckily for it, the Congress with its Nehru-Gandhi fixation had pretty much neglected most other giants in that pantheon. The BJP has latched onto Sardar Patel, a Congressman through and through, and blown him up to 600 feet to show their outsized devotion to him. They want to claim him as their big name.

But times have changed. "Acche Din" is no longer as shiny a slogan. The government's leaders are scraping for crumbs of compliments from Nobel laureate Richard Thaler who thought demonetisation was a good idea.

But it's also true that in those heady days of 2014, we yearned to dream big after the measured calibration of Manmohan Singh. Prem Panicker writes in Buzzfeed that Modi's messianic arrival was turbocharged.

One day we heard poverty would be eliminated. The next day the Supreme Court was asked to take a quick decision on MPs with criminal backgrounds. FDI decisions. Bank accounts for all. Bureaucracy shake-ups. Black money. SMART. Make in India. Digital India. Donald Trump said "We are going to win so much you may even get tired of winning." Panicker writes that looking back at the first heady days of "Acche Din", "it felt like we were already living Trump's boast two years before he articulated it". The giant statues were somehow in keeping with the giant claims. Make in India and make it big.

But times have changed. "Acche Din" is no longer as shiny a slogan. The government's leaders are scraping for crumbs of compliments from Nobel laureate Richard Thaler who thought demonetisation was a good idea. It's truly a crumb of cold comfort since in the very next tweet Thaler had said, "really? Damn" when he heard about the Rs 2000 note. Even with a decimated and ineffective opposition, the government is more petulant these days, fighting off querulous elderly marg-pradarshaks in its own midst and university students and octogenarian writers. And it's equally ignominious to have to take shelter in the shade of a Robert Vadra to defend the business of a Jay Shah when you once claimed the moral high ground of a party with a difference.

When small children keep dying in Gorakhpur's hospitals, the Big Ram seems not just incongruous but a misplaced priority. Now the statues increasingly appear to be reminders of ossified hubris, the frozen blimps of "Acche Din" promises.

If they cannot have bread, let them have statues, big giant ones.

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