In a country where Genghis Khan, the fearsome warrior who conquered most of Eurasia in the 13th century, is the national hero, whose statues dot the length and breadth of the country, and whose face is ubiquitous on liquor bottles, candy and bank notes, it's rather incongruous to find the statue of Gandhi, the apostle of non-violence, in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. The packed schedule of Modi in the Mongolian leg of his three-nation trip perhaps did not allow him the opportunity of paying homage to that statue, though President Pratibha Patil, during her state visit in 2011, did pay her respects.
In the China leg, however, Modi launched the Centre for Gandhian and Indian Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
During the Korean leg, he would have reflected on the bust of Gandhi inaugurated in Busan last year, as well as the bust erected in Seoul in 2011 of Tagore, for whom Koreans have a special regard. During the Japanese colonial period, Tagore wrote the poem "Lantern of the East" about Korea (In the golden age of Asia, Korea was one of its lamp bearers, And that lamp is waiting, To be lighted once again, For the illumination of the East). Modi presented the Korean President with two finely-woven pashmina stoles, inscribed with the poem, hand-embroidered, in English and Korean.
In an earlier trip, Modi had unveiled a bust of Gandhi at Hannover, Germany. During the Paris leg, he had paid homage to the statue of Sri Aurobindo at UNESCO.
Recently, a statue of Gandhi was unveiled by Finance Minister Jaitley in London's Parliament Square, a space packed mostly with monuments to men who served the British Empire that Gandhi helped destroy.
Why do countries erect statues, name roads and cities after foreigners?
They do so to acknowledge their great deeds and service to humanity, or to cherish their special association with that country or city.
Amongst Indians, and probably amongst all international persons of eminence, Gandhi is leagues ahead in terms of presence around the globe in the form of statues, stamps, street/park names, and other expressions of tribute.
Who are the other Indians - other than the Nehru/Gandhi family - who have their statues erected in other countries?
Timur the Lame and Babur are the national heroes of Uzbekistan. India has had an association with both. Timur - the 14th century conqueror of Western, South and Central Asia sacked and destroyed Delhi. Babur conquered India and started the Mughal dynasty. Their statutes dot public squares, street corners and parks in Tashkent. In the same town stands the statue of the pacifist Lal Bahadur Shastri. After the Indo-Pak ceasefire, Shastri and Pakistani President Ayub Khan attended a summit in Tashkent. On 10 January 1966, the Tashkent Declaration was signed. The next day, Shastri died of a heart attack. When I visited the site to pay my respects, I was gratified to see many Indians do likewise.
At Bristol's center, on College Green, there is a bronze statue of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, founder of Brahmo Samaj - one of the first Indian socio-religious reform movements which played a major role in the abolition of Sati. In 1830, Roy travelled to the United Kingdom as an ambassador of the Mughal Empire. He died at Stapleton, a Bristol suburb in 1833 and was buried in Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol. The statue is very close to the University and was a source of great pride to my daughter, as well as the large Indian student community who would walk by it regularly.
In 1998, a statue of Swami Vivekananda was installed at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago. The statue is on 'Vivekananda Hill', a hillock in the temple compound, which overlooks the main entrance. This is modelled after his photograph taken in Chicago after his appearance at the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893.
Renkoji Temple is a Buddhist temple in Tokyo. The ashes of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose are purported to have been preserved here since September 18, 1945 in a small golden pagoda. A statue of Bose stands adjacent to the temple. His death anniversary is observed on August 18 at the temple every year. Over the years, several Indian dignitaries have visited Renkoji to pay their respects to Bose: Nehru, Dr Rajendra Prasad , Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Recently, the Singapore government decided to install a statue of Bose at the India Heritage Centre. At Esplanade Park there already exists an INA monument, built in 1995, at the same site as an earlier monument that was erected during the Japanese occupation and then demolished upon the return of the British to Singapore in 1945. This is evidence of Singapore's remarkable tolerance of past atrocities against it.
How does Pakistan treat our national leaders? Before partition, Victoria Garden in Karachi was re-named after Gandhi. When he visited Karachi in 1934, Gandhi received a huge welcome in the very same garden. But that changed after partition.
There was a bronze statue of Gandhi in Karachi opposite the Sindh High Court building. The statue had been raised by the Indian Merchants Association. The commemoration read: "Mahatma Gandhi - the reputability of freedom, truth and nonviolence." The statue no longer exists today.
However, Gandhi still lives in the cornerstone of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce, which he inaugurated in 1938. He can also be seen with his spectacles by the iron railing in front of one or two buildings in the Tyre Wali Gali of the Urdu Bazaar in Karachi.
Karachi had roads named after Moti Lal and Jawaharlal. It even had a road named after Kamla Nehru. Moti Lal Nehru Road was changed to Jigar Muradabadi Road, but Kamla Nehru Road still exists.
Bhagat Singh has a dedicated set of admirers in Lahore. Activists of civil society have been paying tributes to him every year on March 23, his death anniversary. They are demanding that Shadman Chowk, a roundabout where once stood the Lahore Central Jail where Singh was hanged, be re-named as Bhagat Singh Chowk. The government had initially agreed, but the plan was put on hold after extremist organizations objected.
How do we reciprocate? In Guntur, Andhra Pradesh is located the Jinnah Tower - a monument dedicated to the founding father of Pakistan. The landmark was intentionally located on Mahatma Gandhi Road, the main artery of the city, as a symbol of peace and harmony. As an interesting aside, our embassy in Ankara in located on Cinnah Caddesi - one of the most important roads in the city. When I met our Ambassador, she informed me that the English translation was Jinnah Road.
In 2004, an unusual new landmark was unveiled at CERN, the European Center for Research in Particle Physics in Geneva which discovered the God Particle - a statue of the Indian deity Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of Dance. The statue, symbolizing Shiva's cosmic dance of creation and destruction, was given to CERN by the Indian government. A deity in a research institution? The atheists claimed that the discovery of God particle was a landmark win for science over superstition. The opposing view was that in choosing the image of Shiva Nataraja, the Indian government acknowledged the profound significance of the metaphor of Shiva's dance for the cosmic dance of subatomic particles.
Mortals, demi-gods or deities, Indian statues can be found from Costa Rica to Papua New Guinea. No other country can match India in such universal presence!
(Ajay Mankotia is President, Corporate Planning and Operations, NDTV
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