History Cannot Be Erased By Pulling Statues Down

Raman Swamy

After a long time, an act of political vandalism has sparked off a hunger for knowledge. 

The crude manner in which a handful of Sangh supporters bulldozed a statue of Lenin in Tripura is trending on social media.  As usual the majority of posts and comments are tacky and tasteless trash – spiced with an overdose of the usual abusive language of the trolls.  

But beyond the shrill shrieking of blind partisan verbiage, almost all of which is uninformed and valueless, there are quite a few netizens raising basic questions -  Who was Lenin?  Was he really an evil dictator?  What is his place in History?  Why does the RSS hate him so much? Is the Sangh opposed to his ideology or afraid of his ideas? Can his legacy be erased merely by tearing down his statue?   

Normally in Indian politics the discourse is one-dimensional and basic - BJP versus Congress; Left versus Right; Patel versus Nehru; Secular versus Communal. 

Occasionally, controversies and occasions arise that help bridge some of the gaps in our flawed educational system which does not impart even superficial awareness of the diversity of Indian history and culture.  Three recent instances are the Jallikattu uproar in Tamil Nadu, the Padmavati row in Rajasthan and the relevance of the Bhima-Koregaon battle to the Dalit uprising.  

Many Indians responded to these episodes either with total disinterest or by taking sides on the basis of uninformed loyalty. Yet beneath the surface, there were some who yearned to know more and felt an urge to go deeper into historical events and sociological roots.  

Similarly, the tearing down of Lenin’s statue in Belonia town of Tripura has touched a nerve – at least among a not-significant section of young Indian Facebook followers and Twitterati. A few of the posts and messages reveal a desire to know - was Lenin a hero or a villain?

The answer obviously cannot be obtained by the statements being made by leaders of the BJP and the CPI(M). The war of words that has erupted is deafening and delirious.  While Sitaram Yechury labelled it a sign of the RSS’s fascistic mindset, Ram Madhav glorified the desecration as an echo of the 'Chalo Paltai' slogan (although the BJP general secretary quickly deleted his Tweet).

Subramaniam Swamy, true to type, called Lenin a "terrorist" and sarcastically suggested that the Left parties should install the fallen statue inside the communist party headquarters and “worship it if they so wish”.

BJP’s Tamil Nadu party leader H Raja was so overjoyed that he called for a countrywide demolition of false icons -- his specific threat was that the statue of Dravidian stalwart Periyar (E. V. Ramasamy) should also be bulldozed. 

Probably admonished by his party bosses, Raja (who is himself a BJP national secretary) subsequently took down his Facebook post.  But the damage was done and it reflected the mindless frenzy of today’s leaders and followers - Periyar is after all revered as a 20th Century thinker who spearheaded self-respect movement of the untouchables against Brahminical and upper caste hegemony.

To his dismay, his post has gone viral even after his belated deletion.  “Who is Lenin? What is his connection with India? What is the connection between Communism and India? Lenin's statue was broken down in Tripura. Today, it is Lenin's statue in Tripura. Tomorrow, it will be the caste zealot EV Ramasamy's (Periyar) statue in Tamil Nadu", he had written.

Not surprisingly, M. K. Stalin, the working president of the DMK, which reveres Periyar and owes much of its ideology to the Dravidian cause, issued a demand for H. Raja’s arrest under the Goondas Act - "No one can even dare to touch EVR's statue. H Raja's comments have incited violence. He has been repeatedly doing this. He should be arrested and Goondas Act slapped against him," Stalin said. 

Just as CPI(M) has announced plans to hold nationwide protests against the tearing down of Lenin’s statue, the DMK said protests would be organized in Tamil Nadu over the BJP national secretary’s threat against Periyar. DMK spokesperson Saravanan said:  "This is pure hatred. This is Talibanisation of India. This is political vandalism at its worst”.

As far as Lenin is concerned, it is a matter of record that Time Magazine (which many in the Sangh parivar regard as a bible) has named Lenin “one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century”, and also “one of Time’s top 25 political icons of all time”.

Lenin, whose real name was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, was undoubtedly a controversial world leader. But his place in modern history cannot be denied. He launched the Great October Revolution almost exactly one hundred years ago in 1917 and transformed the course of civilization with his ideas of Socialism, ideas which shaped the Nehruvian era in post-Independence India. 

Ironically, while there is no doubt that Lenin’s worldview has directly or indirectly influenced the Congress Party’s ideology and philosophy, even the socio-economic policies of the BJP governments under Vajpayee and Modi have distinct socialist characteristics.  

In a country like India, where inequality between rich and poor is so stark, every government has to take a leaf out of some of Lenin’s ideas. Indeed, Lenin was not a diehard Communist – he believed that before Communism could succeed, there had to be a long period of Socialism. It was his successor, Stalin, who was the evil dictator, not Lenin.     

Here are what some noted western historians and political scientists have said about Lenin. 

"There can scarcely have been another man in history who managed so profoundly to change so large a society on such a scale". 

“If the October Revolution is considered the most significant event of the 20th century, then Lenin must for good or ill be considered the century's most significant political leader".

"One of the undeniably outstanding figures of modern history and one of the most significant and influential figures of modern history".

"Lenin deserves a lot of credit for the notion that the meek can inherit the earth, that there can be a political movement based on social justice and equality."

“Reviving Lenin's uncompromising revolutionary spirit can help address contemporary global problems”.

As Berthold Brecht has written in his poem “The Unconquerable Inscription”, all attempts to erase the memory of Lenin are bound to fail. 

In a Twitter post, activist Kavita Krishnan has put up a Hindi translation of Brecht’s poem.  The translator is Suresh Salil.

The original is:
During the war
In a cell of the Italian prison in San Carlo—
Full of imprisoned soldiers, drunks and thieves
A socialist soldier, with an indelible pencil, scratched on the wall:
Long live Lenin!
High above, in the semi-dark cell, hardly visible, but
Written in large letters.
As the warders saw it, they sent for a painter with a bucket of lime.
And with a long stemmed brush he whitewashed the threatening inscription.
Since, however, with his lime, he painted over the letters only,
Stood above in the cell, now in chalk:
Long live Lenin!
Next another painter daubed over the whole stretch with a broad brush
So that for hours it disappeared, but towards morning
As the lime dried, the inscription underneath was again conspicuous:
Long live Lenin!
Then dispatched the warder a bricklayer with a chisel against the inscription
And he scratched out letter by letter, one hour long.
And as he was done, now colourless, but up above in the wall—
But deeply carved, stood the unconquerable inscription:
Long live Lenin!
Now, said the soldier, get rid of the wall!

पहली जंग के दौरान
इटली की सानकार्लोर जेल की एक अन्धी कोठरी में
ठूँस दिया गया एक मुक्तियोद्धा को भी
शराबियों, चोरों और उचक्कों के साथ ।
ख़ाली वक़्त में वह दीवार पर पेंसिल घिसता रहा
लिखता रहा हर्फ़-ब-हर्फ़—
लेनिन ज़िन्दाबाद !

ऊपरी हिस्से में दीवार के
अँधेरा होने की वज़ह से
नामुमकिन था कुछ भी देख पाना
तब भी चमक रहे थे वे अक्षर— बड़े-बड़े और सुडौल।
जेल के अफ़सरान ने देखा
तो फ़ौरन एक पुताईवाले को बुलवा
बाल्टी-भर क़लई से पुतवा दी वह ख़तरनाक इबारत ।
मगर सफ़ेदी चूँकि अक्षरों के ऊपर ही पोती गई थी
इस बार दीवार पर चमक उठे सफ़ेद अक्षर :
लेनिन ज़िन्दाबाद !

तब एक और पुताईवाला लाया गया ।
बहुत मोटे बुरुश से, पूरी दीवार को
इस बार सुर्ख़ी से वह पोतता रहा बार-बार
जब तक कि नीचे के अक्षर पूरी तरह छिप नहीं गए ।
मगर अगली सुबह
दीवार के सूखते ही, नीचे से फूट पड़े सुर्ख़ अक्षर—
लेनिन ज़िन्दाबाद !

तब जेल के अफ़सरान ने भेजा एक राजमिस्त्री ।
घंटे-भर तक वह उस पूरी इबारत को
करनी से ख़ुरचता रहा सधे हाथों ।
लेकिन काम के पूरे होते ही
कोठरी की दीवार के ऊपरी हिस्से पर
और भी साफ़ नज़र आने लगी
बेदार बेनज़ीर इबारत—
लेनिन ज़िन्दाबाद !

तब उस मुक्तियोद्धा ने कहा—
अब तुम पूरी दीवार ही उड़ा दो !

अँग्रेज़ी से अनुवाद : सुरेश सलिल

Mar 08, 2018

Raman Swamy

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