In the last couple of decades, India has been witness to the erection of various statues across the country. There is diverse political logic and tendencies behind these statues. For example, when Mayawati was Uttar Pradesh chief minister, she ignored vociferous criticism to have multiple statues of herself hoisted, in addition to sculptures of major Dalit icons. Her strategy was to create public symbols of Dalit assertion.
More recently, the world’s biggest statue was erected in Gujarat, that of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The statue of this lifelong Congressman was ironically proposed and erected by BJP governments at the state and the Centre as part of the RSS combine’s efforts to appropriate Patel. This ‘Statue of Unity’ was ‘Made in China’. The clever trick was that the same forces were behind this statue which were banned by Patel in the aftermath of Gandhi’s murder. Interestingly, the BJP has been regularly blaming the Congress party for the partition of India, but ironically it is Patel who was in the committee that gave the final stamp of approval for the division.
There is also talk in Uttar Pradesh, where the temple campaign yielded rich electoral dividends for the BJP, to construct the tallest statue of the Hindu god Rama in Ayodhya. In a state where children are dying due to lack of oxygen cylinders in hospitals, a huge budgetary allocation of Rs 450 crore will be required for this project. While on the subject of statues, one should also remember that in Maharashtra a 400-foot statue of the warrior-king Shivaji is currently under construction. This will be erected in the Arabian Sea near Mumbai. It will cost the exchequer an estimated Rs 3,643 crore. Only few voices of protest were raised against it; the fishermen who fear losing their livelihood due to construction in the sea and the editor of Loksatta and now Member of Parliament, Kumar Ketkar. Ketkar’s house was vandalised in 2008 for saying that the funds would be better spent on welfare and development.
Now, comes the 114-foot statue of Jesus Christ under development in Harobele village amidst the Kappala hills of Karnataka, where Christians have lived for over 400 years and pilgrims have been thronging for several centuries. The land for this statue has been donated by the Congress leader, DK Shivaprasad and his brother DK Shivakumar, who is a Congress Member of Parliament. The statute is planned to be carved out from a single piece of granite rock. Plans for the statue are being opposed by those who have been behind most of the statue projects so far. Hindu Jagran Vedike, VHP and the RSS are up in arms, saying that they will not let it come up. Various arguments are being cited for their opposition. It is being said that this was a place of worship of Lord Munnieshwara (a form of Lord Shiva).
More than that, it is being argued that Shivakumar is trying to please his “Italian boss” in the party. Also, that this will bring back the period of slavery of foreign rule, the colonial rule of British. As such, this opposition is more in tune with the ideology of the RSS combine, which has been all for a statue here and a statue there, so long as it suits their politics. Their politics itself regards Christianity as a “foreign” religion. It is true that in Citizenship Amendment Act, they have not excluded Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan from seeking citizenship in India while the other religion they regard “foreign”, that is, Islam and its adherents, have been excluded. For the CAA the RSS combine is using a different logic; that the countries from where persecuted minorities are coming are Muslim-majority countries.
In India, the RSS and its outfits have majorly targeted the Muslims, but Christians are also not spared. Ever since in the 1980s, an intense propaganda has been going on that missionaries are converting Hindus into Christianity. As RSS affiliate, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, became active in Adivasi areas; generating the likes of Swami Aseemanand, Swami Laxmanand and followers of Asaram bapu, who spread out in tribal areas. They started programs to popularise the mythological figures and Hindu deities Shabri and Hanuman, by regularly organising congregations such as the Shabri Kumbh in these areas. Their aim was to Hinduise the people of these areas.
The first major anti-Christian violence was in January 1999 in the ghastly form of the burning alive of pastor Graham Steward Staines along with his two minor sons, Timothy and Philip. RSS-affiliate Bajrang Dal’s Dara Singh aka Rajendra Pal was behind this and he is serving the life term for murder. At the same time, the Wadhwa Commission was appointed to investigate this crime which shook the country. Then President KR Narayan termed it as one more item in the inventory of black deeds in human history.
The Wadhwa Commission report pointed out that there was no statistically significant change in the region where the pastor was working. Similarly, the national figures tell us that the Christian population, if at all, has marginally declined in last five decades as per the census figures. They stand like this:
Percent of Christians in total population:
There are arguments that some people are converting to Christianity but not revealing their religion. This may be true of a miniscule percentage of Dalits who stand to lose the benefits of reservation policies if they change their religion.
Anti-Christian violence is scattered and remains below the radar in most places. There was massive violence in Kandhamal, Odisha, when on the pretext of Christians having killed Swami Lakshmanananda, massive violence was unleashed in 2008. On a regular basis, the prayer meetings of Christians are attacked on the pretext that these are attempts at conversion. While there is a huge demand for the schools and colleges run by Christian groups, in Adivasi areas and remote areas, the Swamis are carrying on their work.
Now, the trend is to discard Christian traditions in public life. Ever since Ramnath Kovind became President, the usual practice of carol singers visiting Rashtrapati Bhavan has been stopped. In the Army’s annual beating the retreat ritual, ‘Abide With Me’, a Scottish hymn by Henri Francis Lyte—which used to be a favourite of Gandhi’s—has been dropped. Christian minorities have perceived threats in various forms. Currently, they are as much part of the protests against CAA, NPR and NRIC as any other community.
While statues and identity issues cannot take primacy over social and developmental issues, to build them or stop their construction also cannot be selective. To oppose Jesus Christ’s statue while spending fortunes on statues of other icons is a part of the agenda of the RSS combine. Opposition to Jesus Christ’s statue is just one more step in that direction.
The author is a social activist and commentator. The views are personal.