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Politics Of Statues: GOVT MONEY NOBODY’S MONEY, By Poonam I Kaushish, 27 Dec, 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 27 December 2016


Politics Of Statues


By Poonam I Kaushish


Government money is nobody’s money. This maxim was ruthlessly underscored once again last week. When Prime Minister Modi laid the foundation stone of a 312 ft statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji in the Arabian Sea, just off Mumbai’s coast. At a whopping cost of Rs 3,600 crores. Silly me, forgetting that in rajniti, public funds translate in to Apna money, money!


A perfect electoral cake rolled out to the strains of ‘Vote For Me’ as part of the ongoing political nautanki with election to the cash rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation due in February. Alas, why did I think that post demonetization, Modi would usher in a new bahaar of governance?


No matter that farmers’ suicide, stark drought, starvation deaths and rank poverty continue to pile up in Maharashtra’s backyard. Caring two hoots for public perception or maintaining politesse and decorum Modi plans to “bulldoze” all criticism from affected fishermen, environmental activists, intellectuals and hoi polloi. 


Why should he? Think. The politics of statues is foregrounded when elections are around the corner. Call it coincidence but as Modi’s Gujarat goes to the poll next year a 182 metres huge statue of Sardar Patel (double the size of the Statue of Liberty in New York) called the Statue of Unity is being constructed at Sadhu Bet, an island 3 kms from the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat. Costing Rs 4,000 crores it is billed to be the tallest sculpture in the world.


Undoubtedly, politicians and Parties use statutes to expand their base and political footprints to areas they have very little influence. Cast in stone or metal, they plan to take their icons to every nook and corner of the country, thereby following the well-trodden path of political competitiveness.


Remember Dalit ki beti BSP supremo Mayawati constructed Memorial Mayajaal as UP Chief Minister in sprawling parks across the State. Spending a mind-boggling Rs 1200 crores of hard-earned tax-payers money to prop up her own statues and mentor Kanshi Ram. With a few statues of Ambedkar thrown in to give the 15 massive memorials a touch of respectability.


Big deal. Why blame Modi or Mayawati? All others too are no different. It’s all about leaving behind a legacy for future generation. Sic. Else who will remember them? Besides, aren’t memorials part of the fishes and loaves of office? Look at the huge bronze statues of powerful leaders-to eka duka Party chieftains coming out of every nook and corner of Parliament house and its surrounding areas.


State-sponsored memorials are unabashed political projects, and no Party is an exception to this practice. Ironically even as the Congress lambasts the memorial sprees of others they seem to forget and refuse to explain the logic of naming nearly every airport, most Government statutory institutions and cultural hubs after the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty? Justifying it as ‘honourable collective remembering national” leaders. Sic.


Ditto the BJP which is planning to install a statue or bust of RSS and Jan Sangh leader Deendayal Upadhyay in all 683 districts of the country. A part of his Centenary celebration being coordinated by the Culture Ministry for which Rs 100 crores was allocated in the Union Budget this year.


The DMK too is memorial mania driven.  In fact, Tamil Nadu is looked as the badlands of memorials. In 1961, Congress leader Kamaraj built his statue and got Nehru to unveil it. As the Party was waning with the DMK’s meteoric rise, it resorted to inscribing the cityscape with memorials as a part of its political propaganda.


When the DMK came to power in 1967, it lined up statues of its own leaders on the same road where Kamaraj had his statue unveiled. This is not all. Houses where Congress leaders lived, including that of Nehru, Shastri and Indira have been converted into memorials.


What to speak of re-naming roads, lanes, mohallas et al sab chalta hai. Either way the fact is that no matter who builds what, all statues and memorials are political spectacles.


True, it can be argued they Parties are obliged to be seen as populist in the no-holds-barred free-for-all electoral race, as it would be stupid to wish away symbolism and political lollipops to entice the electorate.


Raising a moot point: Where do they get monies to fund these doles? Obviously, by taxing us, the people.


Clearly, underscoring that what ails India and its burgeoning poor is not poverty, which can be corrected, but the ruthless heartlessness of our netagan who not only lack humility but also empathy for the garib. Worse, it exposes their sheer ennui and paucity of ideas along-with accentuating their moral bankruptcy. And a perspective completely divorced from reality.


Notably, sound economic sense has been surrendered to political gamesmanship as populist shenanigans yield better electoral rewards than reasoned issues and sustainable programmes. Also, given the economic logic that there is no such thing as a free lunch, a populist scheme is invariably paid for either in the form of higher taxes or increasing inflation.


Arguably, expanding poverty seems to raise more questions than answers. According to a new study, 75.6% or 828 million people live below the poverty line. A UN report states that nearly 350 million people, roughly 35% of our population is food insecure and hunger stalks every State with over 50% mal-nourished, worse than some sub-Saharan countries. Add to this food prices continue to rise, thereby pushing more to poverty.


Yet, our narcissist leaders act like modern-day feudal maharajas. Whereby, they expect the aam janata to prostrate before them. Bluntly, the deprived with famished bellies and tattered clothes wait for hours for their mai-baaps and translate into just sterile statistics to keep the vote-bank tillers ringing. 


Who will tell them that bhoomi pujans are an invitation to disaster and constructing statues and memorials are neither necessities or vital to enriching the aam aadmi’s life and providing him roti kapada aur makaan. None sees the danger of economic derailment as the biggest loser are the poor, weak and under-privileged in whose name many of these memorials are justified.


Sadly, there is no agency which can stop public funds from being wasted, notwithstanding, expert views expressed by various committees. Thus, given the level of dishonesty, populism and irresponsibility which increasingly governs our political system along-with a leech-infested environment of the uundata takes it all, our carpetbaggars refuse to let up.


Making it imperative for us to have a code of governance and conduct of ethics in place to minimize the Executives’ violations of regulations including unjustified misuse of public funds.


Time now, for the Prime Minister to realize that populism will only provide immediate succour at the expense of the future. It is no remedy for neglect of education and health, faulty priorities in industrialization and under-investment in rural areas.


He needs to concentrate on the big picture. Wherein, energies are channelized to address poverty through faster, broad-based growth, supported by well-functioning delivery mechanisms. The effort must be to reduce the number of people in need of handouts.


Modi needs to realize that it the statues and symbolism spree continues people will lose faith in politicians and the system of governance. Public accountability is indispensable in a democratic set-up. A democracy cannot allow exercise of public funds as private spending. What says you?  ----- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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