Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fight for building memorials on public property in India.

Recent agitation by RLD (Rashtriya Lok Dal) and its sister organizations to convert a government bungalow in to a memorial for former prime minister of India Chaudhary Charan Singh has created lot of controversy. This incident initiated a fresh debate on whether we need any more memorials at the cost of public money and space in India. This is the same bungalow where Ajit Singh used to live as an MP recently and where  his father (Charan Singh) also lived for most of his political career. Actually this is not the first time that there is a demand to convert any bungalow or government property into memorial of some political leader. It has been done in the past by various political parties and governments to honor their own leaders, they use public money and property to do this. There are several memorials for all politicians from Nehru-Gandhi family (Pundit Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi). There are memorials for politicians like Jagjivan Ram, Kanshi Ram, MGR, etc. list is too long to include here but I guess readers got the point which I want to illustrate here. In India there are several statues of so many leaders, there are various buildings, roads, gardens named after these leaders, these all things can be considered as memorials and they are all built using public money and land. So in that respect this demand of having one more memorial for Charan Singh doesn't sound any unreasonable.

But the real question here is, does country like India need any more memorials and can it afford to have so many of them? With so many political parties and so many popular leaders in different parts of country there will be always a demand to built some memorial for some leader. Wastage of public money and land will continue forever if no one tries to put full stop on it. Once we allow one political party to built a memorial for their leader at the cost of public money then it is very difficult to stop others from doing the same. This is what happening right now, Charan Singh memorial supporters are asking the same question, so many leaders have their memorial in Delhi then why not one for Charan Singh also? I am sure it will be difficult to convenience them, but this trend needs to stop. Government should make some rule that no more memorials will be allowed in anyone's name from now onwards, no matter which family, which party a person belongs, no more memorials period. If at all any political party wants to build memorial for their beloved leader, let them collect money, buy the land at market price and then build it using their own funds, why to waster public money for such useless projects?

Why not to have a common memorial place for all former prime ministers? Teen Murti Bhawan in New Delhi can be converted into such place. Every former prime minister can have a place there and we can pay tribute to all of them at one place, why to occupy a separate building for each one of them? Space is very limited in all Indian metro political cities, it is serious problem in big cities like New Delhi and Mumbai. If we keep on wasting it for such projects then one day we might have a city full of memorials with no place for people to live in it. The amount of money which is being spent in building and maintaining some of them is another issue. Recent successful Mars Orbiter Mission cost around Rs. 450 crores, if we compare amount of money which was spent or is proposed to spend to make some of these memorials then we can understand the futility of building them. For example, statue of BSP leader Mayawati (~680 crores), proposed memorial for Sardar Patel (~2600 crores), these figures are way higher than cost of MOM mission. This is the clear case of misplaced priorities, I still fail to understand why these people think that it is a good idea to waste public money like this?

Symbolism has its own value and place in every society but society and its people also need to mature up to certain level to take inspiration from those symbols. If they are not then these symbols become political tools in the hands of some politicians who use them to polarize people to achieve their own political goals. If this happens then instead of uniting or inspiring people these symbols or memorials create rift and division. I don't think we need any more reasons to create such division and disturbance in Indian society, we already have so many of them. So I guess time has come to put end of this memorial feast at the cost of public money, I hope current government takes tough stance on this issue and sets some good precedence.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

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