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Conversion of Stadium : M for Modi, N for Narcissus

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
01 Mar 2021

In politics, sycophants do greater damage to a leader than his or her political rivals. Congress president during the Emergency Dev Kant Barooah caused immense damage to prime minister Indira Gandhi when he coined the slogan, “Indira is India, India is Indira”. Her fault was that she did not rebuke him for the vacuous statement.

For all you know, Barooah’s infamous slogan might have pleased her at that time — who does not enjoy a little bit of flattery — but it damaged her reputation as a leader who can steer clear of sycophants and carpetbaggers.
The Assamese leader is today remembered only for this empty-headed statement.

Sycophants are a problem for all those who are in power anywhere in the world. They are there in the bureaucracy, the corporates, the church and even in the altruistic, non-profit sector. In fact, wherever a person holds discretionary power, he will be surrounded by a battery of sycophants.

We saw how sycophancy works in Ahmedabad early this week when the world’s largest cricket stadium that can accommodate up to a whopping 1.3 lakh spectators was renamed after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and dedicated to the nation by President Ramnath Kovind.

Originally, it was named after steel man of India Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, arguably the tallest leader from Gujarat after Mahatma Gandhi. The master of ceremony at the function was Home Minister Amit Shah, who went garrulous over the facilities available there with which Gujarat could host even the Olympics at as short a notice as six months.

Shah was seen consulting on stage with his son, who is today the Tzar of not only Indian cricket but also Asian cricket. Jay Amit Shah, born in 1988, became secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which has allegedly a budget larger than that of some state governments in the Northeast. He recently became the president of the Asian Cricket Council.

Nobody has ever seen the Amit Shah Junior playing cricket either at the state level or at the national level. He is a businessman who recorded the world’s highest growth-rate in business in as little a time as two years. It is incidental that it coincided with his father’s meteoric rise in national politics.

Modi’s cheerleaders in the party and government like Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar have come out in strong defence of the prime minister. They do not find anything amiss in the renaming of the stadium. They point out that the whole complex is named after Patel, out of which only the stadium has been renamed after Modi. Two landmarks in the stadium are — you guessed it right — named after Ambani and Adani!

This is as specious as speciousness can be. A certain gentleman, who heads the BJP’s IT cell, went a step higher and claimed, not in so many words, that for many abroad Modi and India were interchangeable words. He stopped short of saying “Modi is India, India is Modi”.

It did not occur to any of these leaders that in the Indian tradition any monument built or named in the name of a living person is unacceptable and is, therefore, anathema. Shahjahan built a tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz but he named it Taj Mahal (Place of the Crown) not Mumtaz Mahal!

Those who grudgingly point out the many buildings and projects named after first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi would fail to point out even one of them named after him or her while they held the post of prime minister.

One exception is Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati who got her statues erected at many places in Uttar Pradesh while she was the chief minister of the state. Of course, BJP leaders had at that time taken objection to her conduct and had even made fun of her. She, perhaps, believed that after her death, no one would erect a memorial for her. So, she thought of doing it herself.

Most people saw it as an example of Narcissism. In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful youth who saw his reflection in a fountain and thought it the presiding nymph of the place. He jumped into the water to reach it, where he died. The nymphs came to take up the body to pay It funeral honours but found only a flower which they called by his name. It is said that Echo fell in love with Narcissus.

Poet John Milton asks, “Sweet Echo, the sweetest nymph that liv’st unseen .../ Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair/ That likest thy Narcissus are?”

In 21st century we can luckily answer Milton’s question by mentioning Modi’s name. Come to think of it, Modi is a victim of half knowledge. He would have heard that Sardar Patel was the one who integrated all the 500 or so native states, including those in Gujarat like Baroda, Bhavnagar, Junagadh, Nawanagar, Porbandar and Rajkot, into the Indian Union, with the help of VP Menon who was the secretary of the states department in British India.

He might have also heard in the RSS folklore that Patel was a closet Sanghi who did not accept the leadership of Nehru. While Patel was not secular enough to grant the newly-formed Pakistan what was its due, forcing Mahatma Gandhi to go on a hunger strike, he never questioned Nehru’s leadership. True, he was street-smart like Modi.

Nehru and Patel had their differences but they remained comrades in arms. The fact that Patel was born a Congressman, lived a Congressman and died a Congressman was, alas, lost on Modi. It surprised all those who know history, particularly Congress history, when Modi announced his plan to construct the world’s tallest statue in honour of Patel at Narmada Valley in Narmada district.

At 595 feet, the Statue of Unity, is taller than the Statue of Liberty at Liberty Island, off the New York harbour in New York State. While the Statue of Liberty was donated by the people of Paris, all the construction work, including that of the pedestal, was done with the money contributed by the readers of Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper. Not a penny from the American government was spent to construct and erect the statue.

In the case of the Statue of Unity, the money —upwards of Rs 10,000 crore — came from the state exchequer and the public sector companies. The contributions from Ambani and Adani were nominal, if not negligible. Of course, the project lost much of its sheen when it was revealed that many components of the statue had a Chinese origin.

It must have become quite an embarrassment for Modi and Co. when their critics began to point out one singular action of Patel as Home Minister. It was his decision to ban the RSS in the wake of Gandhi’s assassination by Nathuram Godse. It was an irony of history that Modi, who can faultlessly be called a child of the RSS, honoured the man who dared to ban the RSS with the world’s tallest statue.

Those who know the RSS history will not, however, blame him. Unlike the Congress, which had a galaxy of national leaders, who took part in the freedom struggle, the RSS by keeping away from the freedom struggle had no such national leaders to boast of.

In fact, the RSS contribution to the freedom struggle can be described brilliantly and eloquently on a blank sheet of paper with one letter from the Roman alphabet “O” which resembles the zero symbol, used first in Mesopotamia in 3BC. So, the RSS and its offshoots had to invent or co-opt icons from history. Patel is one, Tilak is another.

True, the Congress at all times had two streams of leaders, the right-wingers and the left-wingers. In its earlier days, Congress sessions saw special kitchens for the upper castes where Muslims and the lower castes could not dine!

The towering presence of Gandhi and Nehru did not allow the right-wingers to assert themselves, as a result of which we have today a Constitution which begins its preamble with these words, “We, the people of India”. That is why there is no invocation of any God or spiritual authority in the preamble, against the wishes of the right-wingers!

Now that the BJP is in power at the Centre and in many states, thanks to its ability to wean away legislators from parties like the Congress and the Trinamool Congress through money and muscle tactics, it does not have enough leaders to name projects, roads and buildings. That is why it has been relentlessly searching for icons from the past.

One may wonder what the BJP has to do with Maharaja Suheldev Rajbhar who lived in the 11th century. There are fanciful accounts of him, some of them popularised by the RSS. The first written document about him appeared in a Persian book, authored by a Muslim writer. The Maharaja is believed to have killed Ghaznavid general Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud at Bahraich in 1034 CE. Modi gives the impression that he knows him from his RSS days!

Recently, he laid the foundation stone for a memorial for the Maharaja at Baharaich. He claimed that he was setting right the wrongs committed by historians. He is the one who asked why Nehru did not call on Savarkar at Andamans. So much for his knowledge of history! He mentioned the name of Netaji Bose in this context.

Soon after Modi came to power, he invited a group of researchers on Bose and Bose’s family members for a meeting. They wanted him to remove the suspense from Bose’s last days. He did nothing of the sort.

Instead, Modi wants to use Bose’s name to garner votes for the BJP in the coming elections in West Bengal. One may have objection to Bose’s plan to collaborate with the Japanese and the Nazis to defeat the British.

Leaders like KP Kesava Menon who suffered at the hands of the Japanese in a prison in Singapore have written extensively of how cruel the Japanese were. The prisoners at the cellular jail in Andamans were the worst sufferers of Japanese atrocities. They told Bose about their hardships when he visited the jail soon after the Japanese captured the island from the British.

Bose did precious little against the Japanese aggressors. Be that as it may, no one questions the unequivocal stand he took against the RSS-minded leaders like Syama Prasad Mukherjee who founded the Jan Sangh, the forerunner of the BJP. 

The BJP does not have many names to name projects. That is why there is now a surfeit of institutions named after Mukherjee, Deendayal Upadhyaya, Nanaji Deshmukh and AB Vajpayee. There are many in the Modi dispensation who believe that Vajpayee is an overrated politician, under whose leadership the BJP won just two seats in 1984.

In contrast, they see Modi as a greater leader. That is why Amit Shah did not think of naming the stadium after Vajpayee. That raises the question, how is it that cricket has become the favourite game of the BJP leaders?

In the RSS units, it is kabaddi, not cricket, which is promoted. In its perception, cricket is a foreign sport, introduced to India by the British. The irony is that it is cricket which the BJP leaders want to promote, may be because there is big money in it.

Narendra Modi is known to have played kabaddi, not cricket. There is no logic in naming a cricket stadium after him. It would have been better if it was named after a cricketer like Lala Amarnath whose contributions to Indian cricket can be written in golden letters.

That would have prevented Modi from acquiring the ignominy of acquiescing in the decision to rename a stadium after his own name. Why should Modi need enemies when he has friends like Amit Shah and his son?

ajphilip@gmail.com

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