This article is written by Pranav.R, pursuing B.Com LLB(Hons) from the School of Law, SASTRA University. This exhaustive article deals with the reason behind building statues and the political intention behind it. This article also talks about the role of the judiciary in curbing Statue politics.
Some people display statues as a way of remembrance, while other people will display sculptures as a way of worship. Statues are built in India to divert people’s attention to relatively trivial matters like renaming cities to appease the nationalists whilst keeping certain societal groups happy, serves the dual purpose of channeling attention from the failed policies of the ruling party whilst maintaining the loyalty of their core supporters. There has been a growing trend of constructing statues as a political strategy to attract people’s attention and this has paved the way to attract caste-based votes and has caused widespread community violence. Construction of Statues not only involves politics but also creates a huge burden on the exchequer to fund activities when the economic scenario of the state is already at stake. However, due to the irresponsible attitude of political parties and in the absence of a law in this regard there has been an upward trend towards symbolism and statue building to project the images of the political parties at the cost of the State treasury.
Why do political parties construct statues
Political parties build Statues to create a sense of patriotism in the minds of people. It is believed that any goal which could have symbolic representation can create deep impacts in the mind of people. In the predemocratic era, leaders used the image of “Bharath Matha” to instill patriotism in the minds of people. So the political leaders have adopted the same policy of building statues to unite people for a common purpose and also use it as a strategy to attract voters by constructing a statue of their community leaders. Some political parties also construct statues of a popular political leader in there to attract people and keep their memory afresh of their achievements. Political leaders also construct temples and other religious places to attract the people based on the religious ideologies which might favour earning the vote bank of followers of one particular religion.
Recent political activities in building statues
On October 31, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the 182m tall Statue of Unity, a statue of Congress leader and freedom fighter, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, popularly called India’s Iron Man. Sardar Vallabhai Patel has been instrumental in unifying India after Independence by joining the princely states to form a union. Since Modi and Patel hail from Gujarat, the Statue of Patel has been built on the banks of river Narmada during Modi’s regime as Chief Minister of Gujarat. This statue has been built during serious economic issues such as high rate of unemployment, suicide, and protest of farmers. There was a huge criticism by people on the priority of the government and their priority of allocation of funds. The Statue of Unity also comes at a time when there are deeply social and political divides that run across the length and breadth of the nation.
The Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government, on November 7, 2018, announced the construction of a gigantic Ram statue on the banks of the river Sarayu in Ayodhya, where the Hindu God is believed to have been born. There have been several rumours about the height of the statue that it might compete with the height of the Statue of Unity.
BJP has adopted the Hindutva as the party policy and is building statues to attract the attention of Hindus. Hindu being the majority in India, the BJP has taken active measures to establish Hinduism in the country completely forgetting the secularity which the government should adopt. During the regime of Adityanath along with the approval of building the Ram statue, he also approved the redevelopment of temples in the name of development for the state. The political parties are given the biggest responsibility to govern the people completely fail to address economic issues such as unemployment, poverty, low industrial growth, education health, poor infrastructure, etc.
The Maharashtra Government has announced to build a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on the Arabian sea as the world’s tallest statue at 212 meters along with a museum, a theatre, and a hospital in an area of 15 acres near the coast. The BJP party has built this to win the support of the Maratha community who had been agitated by the policies of the government on employment and farm income due to the agrarian crisis. It’s high time that the political parties understand than rather spending the 3800 crores to build a statue to attract a particular community’s votes it would be more sensible to spend the same on the development of the people of the same community to attract votes. Building a statue of their community leaders could not solve the economic problems of the particular community.
Apart from erecting statues in memory of freedom fighters now the political parties are really involved in building statutes of their own figures for self-promotion. Famous political leader Mayawati inaugurated the Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal and Green Garden built on an area of 82.5 acres along the banks of river Yamuna. The Rashtriya Dalit Smarak includes the idols of people who devoted their life for humanity, equality including Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and the idol of Mayavati herself. Mayavati has spent 2600 crores of public money of the government on statues that were challenged by a PIL. Building the statue of herself and elephants which is the party symbol has been criticised by using the governments’ and the taxpayers’ money on promoting the party by building statues. Mayavati denied the allegation by saying the statues were built to honour the leaders who have been instrumental in improving the life of Dalits and also said that the statues were built in accordance with law by proper allocation for those in the annual budget. She also claimed that building statues were the ‘will of people’ as the will of the state legislature represents the ‘will of the people’.
Views of the judiciary on building statues by political parties
The land is considered to be owned by the state government. So the government has the discretionary power to use the land for any public property for the welfare and the betterment of the society. There are two situations that need to be analysed for constructing a statue.
Statues in private lands
As a general principle, the law grants the citizens the right to install statues in their own private property. The only restriction is that such an erection of the statue should not bring any conflicts between two communities or in a way that would hurt the feelings of a particular society.
Statues in public
The seventh schedule demarcates the subject in which the state can make laws. List 18 talks about the land and empowers the state government to frame laws including the construction of the same. Thus erection of Statues is the discretion of state legislature under list 18. A Statue can be erected in public places by the approval of the state government. However, the Supreme Court in the case of Union of India v. State of Gujarat mandated that the state governments should not grant permission to construct statues in public roads, pavements, sideways, or other public utility places.
The Madras High court in the case of P.N. Srinivasan v. State of Tamil Nadu, held that every citizen has the right to move freely under Article 19(d) of the Constitution and the state government does not have any authority to grant permission to construct statues that could restrain the free movement of the public. It will be appropriate to cite Para 27 of the judgement which clearly explains the law behind the erection of statues.
“27. The decision to honour public personalities, artists of repute, etc., must not be at the cost of public convenience. The public roads are nothing but public property. The roads are formed by acquiring land. The citizen is deprived of his land by the process of acquisition. The acquisition is justified in the larger public interest. The roads constructed after such acquisition is for a public purpose. It is only for the welfare and betterment of the public all such developmental activities are undertaken. The people should be allowed to enjoy the benefits of such development.
The National Highways and State Highways constructed by acquiring private property and by using public funds can be used only for the travelling needs of the public. It cannot be converted for other collateral purposes like the erection of statues and memorials. Therefore, the position of law is that a decision to install a statue rests with the state government subject to obtaining necessary clearances. However, the said statue cannot be installed in places of public utility namely highways, roads, etc. As long as the above is fulfilled, the Courts adopt a policy of non-interference and allow wide discretion to the government to decide whose statue to be installed and where.”.
In the case of Jagdev Singh v. State of Haryana, the court has set aside the government order for installing a statue when it required the diversion of water bodies and ordered the authorities to allot alternative land for the memorial. The statue of unity which has been built on the river of Narmada also involves in the diversion of water bodies and destruction of flora and fauna to just honour a leader.
Judiciary has played an active part to curb the increasing trend of political parties in building statues in the name of honour of freedom fighters and for self-promotion and such abuse of power that could cause an obstruction in the free movement of the public. The Supreme court directed the political leader Mayavati to pay back the money spent during her regime towards the building of statues which promoted herself and the party symbol. The judiciary is not against the building of statues but the only restriction is that such a statue should not obstruct the movement of the public nor destroy the ecology. It would be appropriate to cite Justice Jagdeesan about statue politics in India in the case of K Kannadasan v. District.
“The Judge opined, ‘the political leaders, as well as freedom fighters, can be remembered in a more respectable manner by having a memorial by way of community hall or a library in their name which may not create any problem for the public and at the same time it will be more useful and beneficial for them.”
The doctrine of good governance
The Supreme Court in the case of Abdul Farook v. Municipal Council set aside the order of permission given by the government of TamilNadu to construct an arch to celebrate the birthday celebration of the Chief minister. The court upheld the doctrine of good governance and held that the government should rise above the political interest and should pursue activities only in the interest of public welfare. In light of the above judgement, every political party should act in accordance with public welfare by utilising the funds of taxpayers to create public welfare and abstain from building statues in public places that would create communal hatred and obstruction to the movement of the public.
India is a representative democratic country where the leaders have been elected to represent the voices of the public. These representatives should act with due diligence and should undertake activities that would improve the economic situation in the country. The government should compulsorily uphold the doctrine of good governance by suppressing the political interest and should create welfare to the public. It is important to honour the great leaders and freedom fighters but at the same time, those can be done by creating public welfare policies in the name of those leaders which the government would like honour by building a statue. This could serve the dual purpose of both honouring the leader and also creating public welfare to the people which is the need of the hour.
The government should restrain from erecting statues and monuments in the name of honour as it creates a huge burden on the treasury of the state that could be used for improving the lives of people and the economic situation of the state. The politicians should realise that they could gain popularity and votes by addressing the public grievances than by erecting a statue to gain communal or religious votes. It is the choice of the government to erect statues to seek attention or being in the minds of people by their effective reforms as all the statues of those great leaders that are erected and still being remembered because of their active contribution to public welfare and public interest.
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