Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
SOME years ago, a group of savages dynamited the Bamyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan. The hatred and historical incomprehension revealed in such actions is alien to the spirit of enquiry and compassion that is so visible in the Holy Quran. Although Donald Trump talked about new US policies while on the campaign trail in 2016, once in office, several of those he has appointed are speaking the language of the Washington Beltway, including individuals as important as UN Representative Nikki Haley and National Security Advisor H R MacMaster. In substance, there is almost no difference between the policies favoured by Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State and such members of the Trump administration. Unfortunately, the “Bamyan madness” seems to have infected some in India as well. There has been an epidemic of statue defiling in the country, and thus far, very few of the perpetrators have been identified and prosecuted. As a consequence, every day more such incidents are taking place. As these words are being written, television screens are flashing images from Kannur in India’s Kerala state. A statue of Mahatma Gandhi, who has been consecrated as the Father of the Nation by the country’s post-1947 leadership, was defaced in Kannur by unknown individuals the day before.
As there are tens of thousands of statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other top leaders) placed across the country, it would be a simple matter for miscreants to deface some of them and earn their 15 minutes of fame on television screens, usually not even at the cost of a few days in prison. Indeed,many of those indulging in such actions are being regarded as heroes by others with the same “Bamyan” mentality of taking out their violent and anti-social impulses on statues and images. There have been attacks on statues in the past, but the past few days have seen an epidemic of such activities. The virus has its roots in Tripura, a state where the BJP defeated the Communist Party of India ( Marxist) in just-concluded state assembly elections, after the latter had administered the state for a quarter century under Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, who is probably the most honest politician in India.
He and his wife are profiles in simplicity, and even while her husband was Chief Minister, Mrs Sarkar used to go to work in a bus, and return home to do the cooking and cleaning in the household. Now that he is no longer Chief Minister, both husband and wife will be living in a two room apartment belonging to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Agartala, the capital of Tripura. Days after the BJP victory, a group of youths pulled down a statue of Vladimir Lenin that had been erected by the Marxists. They were obviously copying those who brought down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. Certainly those opposed to Communism everywhere will be thrilled at such action. However, for many in India, the feelings that welled up on seeing the images of the Lenin statue being pulled down with the help of a bulldozer were shock and anger at such a display of rowdy behaviour. Although Lenin was indeed a dictator, and made no pretence of ever being otherwise, he was also a fierce critic of British rule in India. On several occasions he pointed out the harmful effects of colonialism on the peoples that were being colonised.
Those who attacked and brought down Lenin’s statue must have made the spirit of colonial minds such as that of Winston Churchill happy, as Lenin was anathema to Churchill, who for a brief while tried to ensure that a military campaign got carried out in Russia so as to unseat the Bolshevik Party from power in Moscow. However, after fighting the 1914-1918 war, the people of England had no desire to enter into another conflict just to satiate the anti-Communist instincts of Winston Churchill, the man who starved more than seven million people to death in Bengal and Bihar during 1943-44 because he refused to allow food ships to be sent to them, sending the grain instead to his better fed troops in the region and to the UK. After India was freed from British rule in 1947, the thousands of statues of British colonial overlords that dotted towns and cities across the country were mostly transported to godowns and kept there, rather than destroyed.
Perhaps a museum of colonial India can be set up, where some of these statues could be placed. Rule by the British was a fact of life, and it is better to face history rather than to run away from it. After Lenin’s statue was felled in Tripura, left elements defaced a statue of the founder of the Jan Sangh (the precursor to the ruling BJP) in Kolkatta. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was a patriot and thinker who differed sharply from Jawaharlal Nehru and left the Congress Party to set up his own organisation. His statue was defaced, and this was followed by the defacing of others. Among the statues that came under attack from the “Bamyan” elements was that of Periyar, a Tamil leader who opposed the “upper castes” in his state but who ended up marrying an upper caste lady. Another victim was B R Ambedkar, the brilliant scholar from the “depressed classes” who ought to have become the first Prime Minister of India after the British left, but who was passed over by Mahatma Gandhi in favour of the upper caste, upper class Jawaharlal Nehru. Prime Minister Narendra D Modi has condemned the attacks on statues that is taking place across India. This is timely, as a continuation of such vandalism will bring the country’s global image into disrepute.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.