Appropriating a national hero

Published : May 23, 2003 00:00 IST

ON April 28, a function was held on the grounds of Parliament House. A massive equestrian statue of Chhattrapati Shivaji was unveiled by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in the presence of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, the Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi, Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Also present were prominent Members of Parliament from Maharashtra.

Chhattrapati Shivaji (1627-1680) is one of the great sons of India. He was extraordinarily courageous, ingenious and a leader who was a source of perennial inspiration. Had he lived longer, he would perhaps have changed the history of modern India even more decisively. His face and attire are familiar. He wore a very distinctive kind of headdress. It was elegant, stylish and gave an impression of defiance. Those present at this function wore ready-made orange-coloured turbans, which Shivaji never did. I know something about turbans. Since the age of 10 I have tied my own turban. Ready-made turbans are an affront to this historical headdress. Rajya Sabha Chairperson Najma Heptullah and Union Health Minister Sushma Swaraj looked quite a sight in their ready-made turbans. The only individual who had tied his own turban was Finance Minister Jaswant Singh.

As I participated in the function as a non-turban-wearing individual, the thought occurred to me that Shivaji Maharaj, who belonged to the whole of India, was being reduced to a Maharashtrian. I am sure this was not the intention. After all, the statue was unveiled by the President of the Republic of India in the hallowed grounds of Parliament House. Nevertheless, several of us had the same feeling that so monumental a historical figure was being appropriated by overenthusiastic individuals who obviously have no feeling or understanding of Indian history. It was Shivaji's challenge to Aurangzeb that doomed the Mughal empire. Within a few decades of his death, the Marathas reached Attock, near the outskirts of Afghanistan, Cuttack in the east and Thanjavur in the south. Hence, Chhattrapati Shivaji is an Indian hero, not a regional one.

THE developments in Iraq have taken a turn, which was anticipated by many of us. Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have not been discovered and the Anglo-American duo, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, are having quite a time explaining away their oft-repeated claim that Iraq possessed WMD. This was one of the main reasons for (illegally) invading Iraq. The least these two distinguished individuals can do is to offer an apology to the United Nations weapons inspectors. Anglo-American credibility in West Asia is so low that it is pointedly being said that if WMDs are not found, they will be planted there. What a reputation to have!

It is now becoming more than clear that secular Iraq is on the way to becoming a fundamentalist Islamic country. The Americans are hell bent on keeping the U.N. out, and punish France. They are getting away with it. Already lucrative contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq have been given to American companies. I do not know if the Vajpayee government is having an exchange of views with the Americans and the British on the shape of post-war Iraq. One hopes that we will not pick up petty sub-contracts, which the Americans will offer us as crumbs.

What we should be looking for is a role which will suit us best. We should offer our services for drafting a Constitution for a democratic, pluralistic Iraq. We have great expertise in this area. Similarly, our Election Commission could help Iraq in working out the modalities of conducting democratic elections on the basis of one individual, one vote. We could also help Iraq conduct a census. Similarly, we could offer expertise to Iraqi universities in medicine, information technology, engineering and so on. We have played a significant role in drafting the Constitution of South Africa. We have assisted several African countries in many fields.

India's links with Iraq go back to many centuries. The Shia links are strong and we could strengthen these further. The present scene in Iraq is extraordinary. Iraq does not have a government. Iraqi embassies all over the world are dysfunctional. Whom do we recognise? Whom does the U.N. deal with? Whom does India deal with? All these are important questions and the Americans at the moment seem to be clueless.

The destruction of the world famous Iraqi National Museum is one of the unexpected tragedies of the Anglo-American folly. Surely, their troops instead of doing nothing could have anticipated the looting spree by semi-organised guys and cordoned off the museum. About 7,000 historic artefacts were lost under the noses of the American occupation Army. They were too busy pulling down the statues of Saddam Hussein to have any time or desire to protect the heritage and history of the cradle of civilisation.

Every effort should be made to reclaim the loot, repair the damage. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), I have little doubt, is already doing what it can. Neighbouring Arab countries can do much to help Iraq.

The great mystery is the fall of Baghdad. Umm Qasr and Basra held out for weeks, but the capital of Iraq just let the Americans walk in - no street or house-to-house fighting. The top Iraqi leadership disappeared. Of the 55 on the American hit-list, more than 10 have given themselves up. Where are the rest? And where is Saddam Hussein, his immediate family? Is he alive? Is he dead? Is he in some other country? And what has happened to Osama bin Laden?

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