This appeared in the Sunday Times....
This is all terribly confusing. Especially if you live in Mumbai. Between Babasaheb,Balasaheb and any other future Saheb, our overcrowded Minimum City is going to find it difficult to accommodate the living, forget the dead. There will come a time (sooner, rather than later), when a single extra person showing up will sink these seven narrow islands we call home.Then what? But before that disaster takes place, we have to make room for permanent memorials. Obviously,dozens of strategically located statues aren’t good enough. We need acres of public space, preferably in the very heart of the city, to erect memorials that can pacify hard core followers. Mine is bigger than yours, gets an entirely new meaning in this context. Location, as any canny real estate developer knows only too well, says it all. And that’s where the actual problem arises. If Babasaheb has bagged a spot in the compound of Indu Mills, why shouldn’t Balasaheb grab Shivaji Park? This is , of course, a crude way to put it, since it’s their devotees who are clamouring for these prime plots…. and it is election time. Maha netas of maha parties are entitled to God’s little acre ( or several acres). It is a question of respect. Of sentiment. Whose? Don’t ask!
While the nation’s focus is on the tussle for memorials in Mumbai, it’s strange that very few commentators have mentioned the sprawling ‘Sthals’ of Delhi. Four of the most expansive ones belong to the Nehru-Gandhi family. These well- tended memorials with manicured lawns, are obligatory stopovers for visiting dignitaries. ‘Paying homage’ is a national past time in India. Several work days in the calendar are reserved for this past time. We have more national holidays dedicated to the birth and death anniversaries of our deceased leaders than possibly any other country. One gets the feeling, Maharashtra will soon be adding another date in November to this jam packed schedule of zero work and lost man hours. If things go according to plan, Mumbai will also get two brand new tourist spots, which will attract the faithful in droves.
Where will they congregate, for what purpose
and how that will add to a better life, is anybody’s guess. Nearly all such
aggressive demands , turn out to be nothing more than land grabs by another
name. Opportunistic politics and shrewd emotional manipulation often work
wonders. Poor Prithviraj Chavan. First, he got talked into the state funeral
and now his back is against the wall
regarding the demolition of the make shift platform in the corner of the
historic Shivaji Park in central Mumbai. Damned if he does, and damned if he
doesn’t. Renaming the park is another demand he’ll find hard to negotiate with
the likes of Manohar Joshi who has
brazenly urged party members to ‘take law into their own hands’ if their
demands are spurned. With such blatant threats, Maharashtra’s beleaguered C.M.
finds himself between a rock and a hard place.
It’s a tough call. There will be many more deaths and high profile funerals in
future. Supporters of other netas from across the board ,may
also decide to light funeral pyres in
public places, so as to make it easier for followers to participate in the
rituals. What if every party and every neta starts claiming the same rights for
themselves? What if every free space in the city is blocked off to appease
different factions? Who is to decide which dead leader ‘deserves’ such a great
and permanent honour? Hey Bhagwan.
Perpetuating personality cults is an Asian disease. We need these ‘sthals’ and memorials for our own selfish needs. For the survival of the successors and followers. Where does this sort of sycophancy end? Well, it should end on the funeral pyre or in a designated grave, as it does elsewhere in the world. Grief stricken party workers pay their respects at the funeral of the personality and go home. End of the story. But here, we need to keep the family business up and running as long as it’s possible. We need to rename streets, avenues airports, bridges, stadia and any other landmark, so as to keep the memory of the person alive. But surely, true legacy goes beyond statues and chowks? Wouldn’t it be far better to follow the ideals of those one looks up to? Or if we need to remind ourselves of the inspiring leader’s good and wonderful deeds, why not create public hospitals, schools, shelters, sustainable projects that actually benefit ordinary people in real terms? The rest is pure humbug. Let’s be honest - it is nothing but encroachment , but with a far a grander name. It’s time to let VVIP squatters across India know exactly where to get off.