The unseemly row over the statue of A P J Abdul Kalam, India’s 11th president, exposes two radically diverse sides of our nation’s psyche, which we ignore at our peril. Kalam won the nation’s heart with his endearing simplicity and almost childlike thirst for knowledge.
Nothing epitomised this further than the fact he left the palatial Rashtrapati Bhavan with just two suitcases, filled with a few books and a set of clothes. Compare that with his successor, Pratibha Patil, who wanted an entire army convoy to move her belongings from the presidential palace, and allegedly used public funds to build a retirement mansion on a 260,000 sq. feet plot of military land in Pune.
Yet soon after PM Modi inaugurated a massive memorial on the occasion of Kalam’s second death anniversary in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu on July 27, an engraved Bhagvad Gita near his wooden statue inside the memorial, sparked a controversy.
Tamil political parties like the MDMK and PMK said Kalam would have preferred the Thirukkural, a classic Tamil treatise comprising 1,330 couplets dealing with the everyday virtues of an individual. Disturbed over the protests, Kalam’s family members tried to quietly tamp it down by placing a Bible and a Quran alongside, and pledged to place a copy of the Thirukkural too.
But this dignified response in turn drew the ire of a local Hindu outfit. An Islamic group meanwhile said it would have been offended had a Quran been placed next to the statue of a man who “worshipped idols and naked sadhus”. These pathetic attempts to politicise the legacy of a great Indian reflect poorly on our country.
As we prepare to mark 70 years of Independence, we must always remember that we are Indians first. Venal politicians who constantly keep trying to divide us along religious and ethnic lines for petty political gains need to be strongly reminded about the fact that we, the people of India, will not tolerate any attempts to erode our unity in diversity.