Hopefully, the demolition wave will not reach the ancient temple town of Koyasan, Japan, where Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis unveiled an Ambedkar statue in 2015, elated at gifting the likeness of a “true Buddhist” to local devouts. For, the last in the distressing sequence was the vandalising of an Ambedkar statue in Meerut.
What led up to it? A feeding frenzy of violence, real and symbolic, erupting in Tripura, then creating an echo in the Dravidian heartland, before rebounding north to a social melting-pot where Dalit/upper-caste tensions have been rising for months. A revenge vandalism with a Syama Prasad Mookerjee statue in Kolkata completed all cardinal directions, and reminded all of the Left’s own capacity for violence. Janeus of ordinary devouts being cut in Chennai offered an equally disturbing spectacle. Vaastu shastra deems the northeastern corner of a house to be auspicious, says PM Modi. But expressions of euphoria turned to vandalism—shops and houses of the losing CPM were attacked. The headline event: a Lenin statue brought down, in scenes imitative of the Soviet-collapse days and Saddam Hussein’s fall.
But this was no totalitarian state falling, just a democratic election. There is indeed a blind side to Communist devotion of its icons, but in India a Lenin does not evoke the crushing weight of the state—or the nightmare of the gulag. The innocence of hope for benighted masses still reflects off these half-familiar pantheonic figures. Periyar, likewise, represents the will of a whole civilisation.
A prophetic stature attaches to Ambedkar too: despite his rationalist, constitutionalist methods, it’s a semi-divine aura, a man leading his people to a promised land. Reality may be complex, but the pure idea is that of an emancipatory energy, not the arrogance of power. While that promise is yet to be redeemed, insulting the icon is insulting India’s people. The fire-breathing Jignesh Mevani, meanwhile, pointed to the statue of Manu outside the Rajasthan High Court. Negotiating antagonisms is a delicate task in a democracy.