Dismantling statues is cultural anarchy
Two recent developments of national significance shed light on the changing dynamics of regional politics.
Two important events took place last week; a rash of statue vandalism has broken all over the country after Lenin statues were toppled in Tripura following the Left Front's defeat. Secondly, two arch rivals—Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi party and Mayawati's BSP decided to join hands in by-polls in two Lok Sabha seats, in Uttar Pradesh—Phulpur and Gorakhpur. Politics, it is said, makes strange bedfellows. Nobody could have imagined few months back that Mulayam and Mayawati can come on the same platform.
Coming to damaging of icons, after Lenin statues in Tripura were pulled down, Statue of Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who raised BJP and has his own contribution to India's history, was defiled in Kolkata. Worse was attack on the statute of EV Ramasamy Periyar, the Tamil icon, and social reformer. His role in Volkom satyagraha contributed to the triumph of a social struggle that paved the way for other egalitarian social measures. Among other reforms, he started a self-respect movement aimed at removing social injustice and inequality and propagated birth control. He also fought for abolition of Devadasi system and child marriage. Periyar is virtually worshipped in Tamil Nadu. A BJP office in Coimbatore was petrol bombed after party's national secretary H. Raja expressed the view—he retracted later—that Periyar's statue should be raised to the ground.
And, why should a statue of B R Ambedkar be attacked in U.P? He has turned out to be a Dalit icon and drafted the Constitution of India by which the nation swears.
Even though Soviet Union has collapsed, Lenin remains a world leader who invented an ideology which had dominated more than half the world. His mausoleum in Moscow is still intact and hundreds of people visit it. Lenin had influenced India's Independence struggle and supported some its top leaders. Lokmanya Tilak, who electrified the nation by slogan "Swaraj is my birth right", got admiration from Lenin for his role in standing against British imperialism and colonial rule which devastated India. When Tilak was charged with sedition and sentenced to six-year imprisonment in Burma, Lenin described it as infamous sentence pronounced by the British jackals on the Indian democrat Tilak.
In fact, Lenin was one of the top ranking global leaders of that time who could discern the emerging phase of the freedom struggle marked by a large-scale participation of masses under Tilak's leadership and wrote that the "British in India is doomed.
The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 cast spell all over the world and fired the imagination of exploited section of humanity.
Few know that revolutionary Bhagat Singh was an admirer of Lenin. He read Lenin's work extensively. Bhagat Singh's biographer, Gopal Tagore, affirms that a few days before his hanging when Bhagat Singh was asked to spell out his last wish, he famously stated that he was engaged in reading Lenin's writings and he was keen to complete them.
Hundreds of crores of money must have been spent in the constructing the statues now demolished or disfigured. Thousands of crores of rupees have been pouring in building new statutes. The 'Statue of Unity' coming up in Ahmedabad has been budgeted at Rs. 3000 crores while a giant Shivaji statue off Mumbai is expected to cost Rs. 3,600 crores. How one would feel if a new government comes in these states and begins destroying these statues? Destroying a statue amounts to diminishing cultural history.
The BSP-SP alliance is significant. While announcing her party's support to SP for two Lok Sabha seats—Gorakhpur and Phulpur and two more elections this year—Mayawati made it clear that the understanding for bye-polls, the biennial election to the Rajya Sabha and the legislative council polls in March-April should not be as an alliance for 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
But if the present tie-up between major parties in U.P. shows encouraging results, the chances of alliance in the general elections are not ruled out. If this happens it will lead to a dramatic shift in the politics of electorally crucial U.P. with implications for 2019 poll. The SP and BSP were allies in the early 90s. But it did not last. It collapsed, because of Mayawati and Mulayam Singh's clashing ambitions.
SP and BSP are today on the verge of overcoming this history of acrimony. The primary impulse is political survival. Mayawati has now lost three elections in a row; the 2012 Assembly election, 2014 Lok Sabha and 2017 assembly elections. She has maintained a solid vote share hovering around 20 per cent, but this has not translated into votes. This has led to desertions from the party, the weakening of the organisation, and one more electoral setback could well close the door for her.
For SP too, the 2017 loss has been devastating. With Yogi Aditya Nath consolidating and BJP aggressively wooing non-Yadav backward communities, the SP can see returning to power will be difficult. One reason why it lost was also because the Muslim votes got fragmented; BSP put up over 100 Muslim candidates.
The generational change in SP has helped. Akhilesh has always respectfully called Mayawati "Bua" or aunt. He sought to reach out to her even before the last Assembly polls. His overtures and Mulayam Singh and Shivpal Singh's absence from active SP politics, has probably made it easier for Mayawati to consider the alliance.
Both Gorakhpur, represented by CM Aditya Nath, and Phulpur won by his Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya, will be prestigious by-elections. BSP will support SP nominees for the two seats.
If SP-BSP alliance is firmed up, U.P. will be at the centre of 2019 elections yet again. With the by-polls, and BSP-SP alliance, the action has begun.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)