Politics of Statues

Politicians in India have a strange fascination for statues. They like erecting status for the dead in prominent locations. Politicians in Tamil Nadu are no different, they have flooded marina with rows of statues and samadhis, with a special the grandest Samadhi reserved for MK, he might have even over seen the design of the Samadhi, like the Egyptian Pharaohs who over saw the construction of their Pyramids.

The population or rather people too have a strange fascination for statues, like they represent something, more often than not, the only time statues are remembered is during some special occasion like birthdays. Otherwise the birds of Chennai usually take over their statues. People, despite this have a strange fascination for statues. Usually they cheer when statues are unveiled and jeer when they are removed.

Chennai has been home to quite a few statue battles,or battles over statues. The most recent being over an Ambedker statue in Koyambedu which was removed because work needed to be completed on a grade separator. The Ambedkar supporters, as expected, were out on the streets protesting the statues removal. The idiotic protesters felt that the statue’s removal was an insult to them. That’s absurd. These protesters don’t seem to understand basic logic. The statue was removed to build a grade separator and would have been re installed once the work was done. But no, they wanted the statue to be reinstalled immediately, in some location, as though the presence of the statue will make a difference to their lives. The statue doesn’t make an iota of difference to their lives. What difference does a statue of Ambedkar make to the lives of dalits? I assume its dalits who protested since it is Ambedkar’s statue, none I presume. These protesters should seriously get a life!! Especially political parties who protest, they are wasting their time and making fools of themselves. They do provide a good dose of laughter for me. A bunch of people standing in the heat, and now rain, in front of offices of those in positions of power, usually the collector, who is scared of the protesters since they have a tendency to go on a rampage and the collector cannot do anything, protesters screaming their lungs out demanding the immediate re-installation of a statue, like their life mattered on it, is funny. Anyway the Ambedkar protesters managed to achieve their goal, the statue has been reinstated opposite the Koyambedu bus stand, and will move to its original location once the grade separator work is completed.

Ambedkar isn’t the only leader who evoke protests, Kannagi leads the list. The removal of her statue, lead to loud protests from the political parties, especially the DMK. They saw it as an affront to tamil culture. The statue was not reinstated by the government, but reinstating the statue was made a poll promise by DMK. That was funny, reinstating the statue making it to the manifesto of a political party? One would think the statue has some symbolic value, but it has no symbolic value, maybe it does for the birds of Chennai which might find Kannagi’s outstretched arm convenient to perch upon. The statue promptly was reinstated when the DMK won elections in May 2006.
Surprisingly Nehru statue being removed from Kathipara has not garnered much protest, maybe because Congress is a spent force in Tamil Nadu. Nehru has little or no political significance in Chennai. I do see his cut outs any more in Satyamurthi Bhavan either.

In the hierarchy of statues Kannagi comes on top, her statue removal galvanised the entire opposition, which transformed the removal of her statue into a affront on tamil culture. Next is Ambedkar, who by virtue of being a dalit leader gets the second position. And finally bringing up the rear is Nehru, who due to his pan-Indian image and not associated with any caste, has little or no political significance.

In Chennai, the removal of any statue of a caste leader will cause protests than the removal of statues of people like Nehru, even Gandhi’s might not draw too much attention. The noise associated with the removal is directly proportional to their caste association, that is how much influence they had over their caste, it doesn’t matter if they had a huge pan-caste image like Nehru or Gandhi. Or else the person should be an icon of tamil identity.

15 Comments so far

  1. silanthimanithan (unregistered) on November 21st, 2006 @ 8:13 pm

    According to prevailing tamil kalaacharam as of today, Shakeela chechi holds great symbolic and cultural significance in the minds of young male tamils. She has been a phenomenon like no other, especially to the very same people that protest removal of statues from the marina beach, koyambedu etc.

    Maybe, the lok paritran would have won more votes if they had promised to build a statue in the middle of mount road near the Shanthi Theater junction for Shakeela Chechi.

  2. vatsan (unregistered) on November 21st, 2006 @ 8:21 pm

    @ Silanthaimanithan
    being a party by the youth for the youth, im sure Lok paritran have lobbied for it, but Skakeela Chechi is alive, maybe after her death they will lobby for it.

  3. sreekrishnan (unregistered) on November 21st, 2006 @ 9:01 pm

    why is there no mention of sivaji ganesan ??

    he is pointing to Mahatma gandhi – and that was a concern !!

  4. Nastikan (unregistered) on November 21st, 2006 @ 9:36 pm

    “What difference does a statue of Ambekar make to the lives of dalits?”

    It makes a claim on public space for someone who represents them — in a country with a long history of excluding Dalits from public spaces, and treating their presence as polluting. It integrates the cultural imaginary — magine what it would be like for people venerated by statues to ALWAYS be from other castes. It expresses a kind of publicly visible responsiveness to Dalit hopes. At the risk of being snotty, it might also remind them how to spell AmbeDkar, :-)

    It’s even more necessary for the rest us, as desperately as we are in need of integrating the landscape of our mind. Ambedkar, as the author of our Constitution and a theorist of Indian modernity, has as much claim on being a pan-caste figure as Nehru — if we could think that far, at least.

  5. prabukarthik (unregistered) on November 21st, 2006 @ 9:38 pm

    Yes caste and statues play a big role in TN politics.

    i dont blame the dalits alone or whoever who protested the removal of Ambedkar statue. yenna inge ellarume apdi dhaan. no body is an exception.

    Puratchi thalaivi makes it a point to visit MGR samaadhi who died 20 yrs ago. seri adhaavadhu parava illa, its like she garlanding her GURU.

    But then she also garlands Pasumpon thevar silai? why? what difference does it bring to the people of TN?? infact all the parties make sure they attend the devar jeyanthi down south…

    Ambedkar silai eduthadhukku sila buses dhaan udanchadhu. Try removing pasumpon thevar silai under whatever pretext/reasons…. u’ve had it for life.

  6. vatsan (unregistered) on November 21st, 2006 @ 9:45 pm

    @ prabhukarthik

    yes, pasumpon, by virtue of his strong standing within his caste is bigger than ambedkar


    ive corrected the spelling of ambedkar :)
    and i disagree, the statue might have made a difference 40 years ago, but in TN today it doesnt make a difference.

    and the statue was removed while works were being carried, protesting over that doesnt make sense.

    and ambedkar though wrote the constitution, he is seen today as a champion of dalits and hardly as the pan indian figure, especially in indian politics. he appeals to the dalits and those wishing to woo the dalits use ambedkar, and therefore i wouldnt say he has a pan indian image.

    shivaji ellam small time, wont create any noise wen removed.

  7. sj (unregistered) on November 22nd, 2006 @ 6:44 am

    Having statues are important as they remind future generations of the great leaders and othe r people in general of past generations. Chennai has a fair share removing them is not good, well most people in Chennai these days are not concerned about anything except useless issues so why say more.

  8. musafir (unregistered) on November 22nd, 2006 @ 11:55 am

    Building statues and glorifying them is indeed part of indian culture not just TN’s culture. And we are indoctrinated in this from childhood itself. We make idols of gods, gods whom we humans have never seen. So we take it one step further and make idols of humans too.
    Politics has refined this entire process.
    1. Promise people that a statue of their favourite idol will be built.
    2. Create a stupendous media hype about it.
    3. Erect the statue in the middle of the most busiest thoroughway.
    4. Make a lot of money in this whole process
    5. The next guy decides against having the statue in that place, so removes it and installs some other statue, making a lot of money in the process
    6. The original party removes this new statue and reinstalls the previous one, again making money.
    All in all this is a business venture.
    The sufferers are the aam aadmi (podu makkal).

  9. silanthimanithan (unregistered) on November 23rd, 2006 @ 6:54 am


    While statues of humans makes absolutely no sense to me, comparing that to idol worship of gods is total crap. That every family worships their own god with an idol of their own to symbolize the deity makes much more sense to me than gathering together as a bunch and worshipping some god(again whom we humans have never seen). The latter seems more Aattu Mandhai like to me than the former.

    So let us not even begin to go there as an argument.

    We agree that statues of Shakeela Chechi makes much more sense than a statue of Kannagi. Period.

  10. sj (unregistered) on November 23rd, 2006 @ 8:10 am

    Musafir what this aam aadmi what are you talking Japenese or something, some of your points are valid however some are just crazy.

  11. bejharboy (unregistered) on November 23rd, 2006 @ 12:03 pm

    “Having statues are important as they remind future generations of the great leaders and othe r people in general of past generations. ” — thankfully they installed Thiruvalluvar statue…otherwise this absent-minded generation would not know who is this fellow? and remind of past generations….
    luckily, prev generations remembered Thiruvalluvar without the statue…

  12. musafir (unregistered) on November 23rd, 2006 @ 12:48 pm

    Ye gods, not another statue. Today’s paper talks of some people wanting a statue for MGR.
    Wonder where it will be installed?
    I have a suggestion – Maybe we should have a building (like a museum) where all the statues should be housed – something like Madame Tussaud’s. That way we can allot them their respect too. A plaque on their history could be posted. And every time someone’s birth anniversary comes along, the politicians could do their drama within the museum’s four walls. That way even the traffic will not be obstructed. They could go about doing the whole thing in a very civilised way.
    @sj – what’s your hangup in life? first u talk of “kenyan”, then “japanese”. Are u majorly frustated or plain ignorant? (others may please ignore this comment, if they feel like following it then do go over other posts such as “What’s in a name”, etc to get the picture.

  13. akshay (unregistered) on November 24th, 2006 @ 3:49 am

    the kaliamman road near koyambeu can beat any world class motocross track.but1000s of people patiently break their vehicles calmly by going through the road daily no protests but
    Ambedkar would have cried in his grave for comming in the way of development of the city
    i pity his followers

  14. Ajink (unregistered) on December 1st, 2006 @ 6:32 am

    Someone in blog above wrote :
    “and ambedkar though wrote the constitution, he is seen today as a champion of dalits and hardly as the pan indian figure, especially in indian politics. he appeals to the dalits and those wishing to woo the dalits use ambedkar, and therefore i wouldnt say he has a pan indian image.”

    Seems now to me that the definition of “indian” needs to be defined. Does it assume now that dalits r not indians? (I wont be suprised though)

  15. ash (unregistered) on December 1st, 2006 @ 8:33 am

    What would you define as “Indian”, there is no such thing. People only understand where you are from when you tell them the region you are from. otherwise if you tell someone you are Indian they automatically think you are an dimwit Poojabber from Punjab.

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