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Leave Icons Alone

Leave Icons Alone

Chalo Paltai (let’s change). That was BJP’s slogan in Tripura during the recent electioneering in the State. The change did take place. The saffron party has come to power, putting an end to 25 years of Communist rule. But, within 24 hours, yet another change rocked the State: the marauding, victorious party workers started toppling statues of Vladimir Lenin. Even before assuming power in the State, the party leaders and their followers have got ‘intoxicated’ by power. What is more worrying is the justification of such vandalism by BJP leaders. Hence the ‘plague’ spread to other States, taking a cue from Tripura. H. Raja, BJP’s national secretary, added his bit putting out the tweet that statues of Periyar in Tamil Nadu would be razed like Lenin’s statues in Tripura. Party workers did full justice to their leader’s poisonous post by damaging the Dravidian icon’s statue in the state. The statue vandalism spread like wild fire with busts of Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Babasaheb Ambedkar facing similar fate in Kolkata and U.P. Even the father of the nation Gandhiji has not been spared in the process.

The BJP has officially condemned the incidents. But it has exposed itself by not taking any action against its senior leaders who have gone public extolling such bizarre activities. When Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar used a derogative word against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP had gone to town seeking action against him, and the Congress in no time suspended him from the party. In contrast, the BJP leaders who denigrated icons venerated by millions are sitting pretty with the party treating them with kid gloves.

The incidents point to the increasing intolerance to opposite ideologies in a multi-party country. Individuals and parties have to counter rival ideologies through words, not by physical elimination of people and their icons. The essence and beauty of democracy is to oppose rival ideologies and their proponents through democratic norms. It is dictatorial to place ‘our icons’ on high pedestals while uprooting ‘their icons’. If the Sangh Parivar thinks that all other icons other than theirs have no place in the country, it will have far-reaching consequences. Every new government will be wasting scarce resources, time and energy in the process.    

The argument of the BJP leaders that statues of foreign leaders should have no place in the country goes against the very act of its government which a couple of months ago renamed the historic Teen Murti Chowk into Teen Murti Haifa Chowk as a symbolic friendship with Israel. If the BJP leaders’ argument is taken forward, statues of Mahatma Gandhi in several foreign countries will be in danger of getting demolished. It will be good to remember the obliteration of Buddha sculptures in the Bamiyan Valley of Central Afghanistan by the Taliban. There was world-wide criticism to this barbaric act. Pulling down old statues whenever a new party comes to power is not the kind of change people look forward to. The politics of statue toppling should come to an end. Every government should focus on the pressing problems of the living people rather than focus on statues of icons dead and gone.

(Published on 12th March 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 11)