Global boom in Gandhi statues and busts


Mumbai: One of the big stories of an “emerged’’ India is of desi industrial houses setting up shop in every nook and cranny of the planet. But quietly, India has been embedding itself as a soft power through its prophet of non-violence.

In the last decade, statues and busts of Mahatma Gandhi have been installed by scores of cities — from Trujillo in Peru to Osnabrueck in Germany — to honor what could arguably be India’s greatest export: Gandhian philosophy.

At a time when the world is beset with the war on terror, ethnic conflicts and economic uncertainty, more and more people across the world seem to be seeking solace in Gandhi’s non-violence and simplicity. So it comes as no surprise that, in December 2005, a bust of Gandhi was installed at Belgrade in Serbia, a city that was witness to horrendous blood-letting till a few years ago. A few months ago, a similar memorial for Gandhi had come up outside the Cypriot Parlia-ment House in Nicosia for its lawmakers to draw inspiration. And a year later, the German Parliament followed suit.

Whether it is the capital of strongman-ruled Kazakhstan or the Mexican city of Guadalajara, fighting a bloody war against the drugs trade, Gandhi’s life-size image is not felt to be out of place by its inhabitants.

The installation of his statues in city council offices, public parks and universities shows that Gandhi may have been a staunch critic of the developed world and its consumerism but the weight of his moral philosophy has not been lost on the First World. Houston, New York, Sydney, Nottingham, Vancouver, Antwerp and Genoa are among cities that requested Gandhi in stone or bronze in the past few years. All requests are made through the local Indian diplomatic missions.

The statues and busts are sent by Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), set up in 1950 by another Gandhian himself, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. ICCR’s mandate is to foster respect for Indian culture in other countries and its select group of sculptors have been kept busy as the world continues to rediscover Gandhi six decades after his death. Slovenia was the latest entrant to the list when a life-size bronze statue of the Mahatma sitting in a meditative posture was unveiled at the Slovene Gradec Municipality earlier this year.

Fittingly, the greatest recognition of the resilience of Gandhian thought came from the United Kingdom, the country he spent his lifetime fighting. Arguing for his statue in the Parliament Square in 2007, Mayor of London Ken Livingstone told the BBC, “You get millions of people from all over the world, who come to see Big Ben and see the statue of Churchill and so on, and here’s someone they would understand. In a thousand years, they’ll still know, who Mahatma Gandhi was, whereas if you wander round Trafalgar Square, the two generals there, you have to go and check the history books.’’

Gandhi rules the world

– 65 busts and statues of Gandhi have come up all over the world since 2000; 15 statues installed in 2003-2004 alone

– Chile, Fiji, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Morocco, Syria, Tajikistan, Ethiopia all have one or more Gandhi statues

– The busts and status were fashioned by sculptors Gautam Pal, Ram Sutar, Ramesh Bisht and Ratnabali Kant for ICCR.

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