By Ananya S Guha
Are we debating the desecration of statues or the fact that Lenin was a mass killer? Are we debating whether the provocation by political leaders led to the dismantling of E. V. Ramaswamy’s statue or whether he was anti-caste? Again are we debating whether more statues will be vandalized or how we may feel about it? Who is next – Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose? But that is hypothetical and hasn’t yet happened!
In a medley of discussions as responses to the vandalism of two statues of Lenin in Tripura, there have been a range of responses on television channels. There are various experts doling out their expert opinion: a spokesman, an ideologue, a popular historian, a chief whip of another chief whip, and so on. The views have been somewhat like this:
Such acts are wrong, palpably wrong but Lenin was a bloody killer. But why do we need Lenin’s statue, instead of Indian communist leaders? The problem with Indian communism is that it has been too Eurocentric. Could it produce leaders like Ho Chi Min or Chou En Lai? Whenever communism has fallen, statues have become the target! But such acts must be condemned. When India got independence, the statues of British ‘icons’ were replaced, not destroyed, indicating a supposed peaceful transition from British Imperialism to Indian self-governance. In Kolkata S.P. Mukerjee’s statue was also a victim of such circumstance and someone in NDTV pointed out that he was a member of Nehru’s Cabinet.
In all such and similar discussions, the point that has been missed out is how the culture of hooliganism is taking over the country. You do what you want because you think and, perhaps you know, that you will get away with it. You say what you want in a directly provocative manner as H. Raja and Tatagatha Roy did, leading to a chain reaction all over the country. The statues of Periyar, S.P. Mukerjee, and Ambedkar have been desecrated, indicating not only ideological struggle but caste attrition as well. It is at this point that the Prime Minister stepped in with his party colleague and the two issued strong statements. But much of the damage had been done already.
The point again is just not about condemnation of desecration. Condemnation can remain within four walls and not heeded to. Such acts of vandalism indicate a larger malaise afflicting Indian society, be it in the case of rewriting history, reigniting debates about nationalism, the struggle over Ayodhya, and love jihad. More than dismantling of statues, it denotes the dismantling of diversity and history, which is part of a larger game plan. It is a slow poisoning of the mind in order to demolish any remnant of civil discourse.
The endless debates and discussions surrounding the desecration of statues have generated political hysteria. One person even said that in Tripura it was the leftists in the garb of saffron who were the perpetrators. Two venerable gentlemen said that this law and order situation was the responsibility of the caretaker government in Tripura. The casualty is the truth.
What we need is a discussion about the issue and why has it happened. More importantly, we need to discuss what steps should be taken to prevent such happenings in the country. It would be wise not to use the event to flay the leftists or the rightists, or others. We need not go into a narrative of Russian history, Lenin’s misdeeds, how Indian communists have deep seated foreign blood or how Manabendra Nath Roy did not approve of Lenin, although propounding a radical humanism. Have the culprits been brought to book, we would not have fallen into this trap of mindless controversy. What we need to discuss is how to tackle such problems in future, instead of engaging in petty mudslinging with political vendetta and harangue.
The entire debate around the desecration of statues merely reveals our incurable national schizophrenia.
Ananya S Guha is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.
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