Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why can't we just leave the park alone?

Why can't we just leave the park alone?

E Raghavan

It is probably a good idea not to start or end this piece with the required reiteration of our love and respect for the valiant soldiers and the need to honour their memory through a memorial.
Every Indian would undoubtedly feel pretty proud of not only those men in uniform who laid down their life trying to protect our country; even those who continue to do that on a daily basis in conditions that we would hate to live in. That is why there is no need to wear patriotism on our sleeve though some well meaning ex-soldiers try to insinuate that we are less patriotic in opposing a grand war memorial that is being planned to be built in the park across the Raj Bhavan.
While the legality of this effort will be determined by the high court, which is hearing a petition, the debate in the public domain seems to be narrowed to two aspects - merely saving a few trees or making a public display of our esteem for martyrs.
First things first. It may be the committee, or whichever institution is planning to take up a large tract in the Indira Gandhi Park for a memorial, that is now discovering the need to build a memorial to honour our soldiers. The city had actually done that long ago. There is one near the junction of Residency Road and Brigade Road built in the early part of the last century and another, near the cricket stadium, which had a statute of an Unknown Soldier, some time in 1925 or thereabout. Anywhere else in the world, that would have been treated as a heritage site.
Yet, when the statute was being removed from that spot to make way for the Bangalore Metro, not one war veteran, currently supporting the new location and trying to make anyone who thinks it ought to be elsewhere, somewhat guilty of disrespecting the armed forces, did raise a whimper. Whichever committee is now trying to pay a fresh homage on behalf of all of us to the Unknown Solider, ought to have opposed the effort to move his statute then.
There are at least 20 other locations, close to where the statue originally stood, prominent enough to reinstall it again, instead of in the proposed park. That includes the Parade Ground — which should really be the most appropriate location — and other tracts that the defence establishments own alongside. The reason these are ignored is quite simple. If you choose any of those, you can only reinstall the statute but if you move to the Indira Gandhi Park, you can build a hall, or a motivation hall, whatever that means, in the basement. That sounds more like an interest in real estate. Those who now plan this edifice may have very noble intentions but where is the guarantee that, 50 years down the line, the motivation hall will not be turned into a marriage hall. After all, if we could break up the Minsk Square - why it was named so is another story - and, along with it the Unknown Soldier as well, we could do anything to any heritage site.
Way back in 1975, a chief minister who went by the name Devaraj Urs had a law passed which does not allow any construction on notified parks including Lal Bagh and Cubbon Park. One would call that foresight. A good 20 years later, when some defence establishments near High Grounds moved out and there was a suggestion to build a convention centre on the vacated space, the state government converted that land into a notified park. That was also a case of wisdom. It is best that those tracts are left alone and the Unknown Soldier moved to a more prominent and visible location. That would also be wisdom. No one would ever oppose that. Leaving the park alone is much more than saving Eucalyptus trees. You do not need great wisdom to understand what missing the woods for trees means.

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