Ahead of Independence Day, row over demolition of Mahatma Gandhi statue erupts in Assam

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Guwahati, August 10: There are a few symbols which locals of every city, town and village across the world associate themselves with. One such symbol is the iconic Mahatma Gandhi statue at Gandhi Mandap in Guwahati, Assam.

Now, a massive row over the 50-year-old iconic statue, sculpted by none other than Ramkinkar Baij, one of the masters of modern Indian art, has erupted in Assam after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state expressed its interest to replace the statue with a new one.

Mahatma Gandhi

The reason behind the government's decision is that the statue, a major landmark in the city, nowhere looks like the Father of the Nation and thus must be replaced.

"The statue of Mahatma Gandhi, which was sculpted long back, gives a distorted image of Mahatma Gandhi. Therefore, it has been decided to sculpt another statue and replace the old one." BJP MLA from Guwahati (East), Siddhartha Bhattacharyya, told The Indian Express.

"Look at the statue. Look at the disproportionate hands and feet. They do not resemble those of the Mahatma in any manner. His face is distorted, as also the pair of glasses. That is why we have decided to dismantle it and place a new statue there," the BJP MLA added.

The decision to replace the statue was taken after a resolution was passed at a meeting attended by the officials of the Kamrup (Metropolitan) district early this week. The meeting was also attended by Assam culture minister Naba Kumar Doley.

However, the artist community of the state has vehemently opposed the government's decision calling it "shocking" and "a criminal act".

"We strongly oppose the decision of the district administration to replace the statue. It is a work by eminent artist Ramkinkar Baij. According to my knowledge this statue was sculpted during the tenure of former chief minister Bishnu Ram Medhi. We will take all action to save the sculpture," artist Noni Borpujari said.

The concrete sculpture was unveiled on 2 October, 1970, by then Chief Minister of Assam, Bishnu Ram Medhi.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Prof Swapan Dutta, acting vice-chancellor of Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, described the decision as "most unfortunate".

"Ramkinkar Baij is one of the most important artists in contemporary Indian art. I will go as far as to say that there can never be another Ramkinkar. There are sculptures he has made, which we have at Visva-Bharati, of Sujata and Gautam Buddha. These sculptures do not look like Sujata or Gautam Buddha--and that's the point, it is an interpretation, it is art. There are thousands of pictures and paintings of Mahatma Gandhi all across the country, which look exactly like he did. Art isn't about looking for similarities," he said.

The decision to demolish the statue sparked anger across the state. Krishna Nath Sarma, who took part in the freedom movement, said he would draw the attention of the President to this "criminal and anti-national" act.

"This is an insult not just to the great sculptor, but also to the Mahatma," said Sarma, 95.

After witnessing large-scale protests from various segments of society, the Kamrup (metro) administration on Wednesday said the decision to replace the statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Gandhi Mandap was only a proposal and work will start after taking the public's views.

"In the meeting held on Monday, we just made a proposal to reconstruct the statue. It does not mean that we will destroy the older one. All work will happen after getting views from the public," Kamrup (metro) deputy commissioner M Angamuthu told The Telegraph.

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