Thursday, November 01, 2018

The Statue of Unity

When you picture the Indian freedom struggle, which faces come to mind? One de facto candidate is Gandhi. The other reasonably obvious person is Nehru. If you tease out all the tangential lines, many of these lines being significant in their own right – and taking nothing away from them, the freedom struggle is comprised of a Trimurti. Gandhi, Nehru and Sardar.

When the statue of unity was about to be unveiled, I started reading a book called “THE MAN WHO SAVED INDIA” by Hindol Sengupta. I knew Sardar was called the iron man of India. I took it at face value just like who Gandhi is the father of the nation. Why is Sardar the iron man of India? This book answered all that and imprinted Sardar firmly in my heart.

When I visited Rajasthan, one of the panels I visited was that of Maharana Pratap sitting on Chetak. The panel was about the battle of Haldighati. The exact emotion that panel invoked – when Chetak ignores all predatorial responses and screams head on into an elephant during a battle with Akbar’s army – was that of being flabbergasted. It was a single epochal image that elevated the stature of all Rajputs tenfold in my head.

If I have to assign one single emotion about Sardar after reading that book, it would be EXASPERATION. Does it sound anti-climactic? In Sardar’s own words, “I am not a leader. I am a soldier”. And an incredibly self-effacing soldier at that. The freedom struggle of these Trimurti’s spanned over three decades. The sacrifices they made today give them a certain lighted aura around them. We tend to, and fairly so, overlook all the grinding details that comprised the struggle and just place them on a pedestal and acknowledge them as reasons for our political milieu today.

But Sardar went one ahead. He totally and almost unequivocally subordinated himself to Gandhi. As you see a grand palace, you remember the king who built it, perhaps the architect who envisioned it and even those who conquered it later. You hardly look at the bricks that keep the palace the way it is. In a sense Sardar was like the bricks of the palace. Or more literally, the pedestal on which Gandhi stood. When sacrifices were needed at the altar, Sardar placed his head on the chopping block time and again. If Gandhi had to be unfair at times for the nation, Sardar’s life was unfairness distilled and handed over to him on a platter.

Sardar might have chosen to take a backseat for Gandhi all through the freedom struggle. In a way, our freedom history seems to have assigned him to a backseat keeping Gandhi and Nehru in the front. Sardar did what was needed. Is it fair on our part to not give him his fair share of credit where it is due? It is time we place Sardar where he truly belongs - as one of the three pillars of the Indian freedom struggle.

My memory goes back again to my visit to the Udaipur palace. One of the conversations between the then maharaj and Sardar was Sardar asking the king to voluntarily annex his state to the republic of India. To his great credit, and another feather in the cap of Rajput legacy, the king readily agrees. (It may also be fair to say that Udaipur agreeing unequivocally to annex itself to India possibly kept Rajasthan with India instead of Pakistan during the partition). Sardar doing this onerous task with all the 562 princely states and annexing them with the republic of India – do you understand the EXASPERATION emotion?

This was at the fag end of his life with a diseased body and an indomitable will. The history of the freedom struggle is replete with Sardar taking up one onerous task after another in succession subordinating himself to Gandhi’s will and the freedom struggle.

He passed on in 1950. Fairly speaking, we can say Nehru screwed up with Kashmir. Fairly speaking again, my heart burns with the wish that Sardar had lived on a few more years. Sardar would have ensured Kashmir would have been with India fully. What a different story we would have to say today!

Is it fair to say he was the iron man of India? No. It is an understatement to say that. Now the 3000 crores for the Statue of Unity. Is it worth it? I want the uninitiated to look at Sardar and ask, just who was this man? Why does he have such a tall statue? Its long fucking overdue and is worth every rupee spent.

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