Saturday, June 19, 2010

Why push inspiration underground?

Why push inspiration underground?

Eminent Bangalorean BK Chandrashekar questions the rationale behind the construction of an underground motivational hall to kindle the fire of patriotism among youth

Clearly, the Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain park controversy is a fit case for chief minister BS Yeddyurappa to repeat the most sensible decision he ever took when he directed the horticulture department to bury its fanciful proposal to "improve" the famous Lalbagh. The chief minister's move ensured that Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, the architects of Lalbagh, could continue rest in peace.
Incidentally, Tipu didn't build a memorial for his father Hyder Ali, who created Lalbagh in 1760; instead he enlarged the garden by procuring saplings from foreign soils. That was Tipu's vision of "improvement", not construction of buildings.
The vision of the prime mover of the construction of the self-styled "National Military Memorial" — and others in the preparatory "War Memorial Committee" — happens to be drastically different though. They are bent on building, not just a simple yet aesthetically appealing memorial for the brave sons of Karnataka who sacrificed their lives in defence of the nation, but a "motivation hall" in the wooded park. They seek to justify the construction on the grounds that it would "educate the younger generation and create awareness and patriotism". While an attractive "Veera Gallu" is already in position, "a platform for military band, water bodies and plaques to display names of martyrs" will also come up in the park. The motivation hall spread over no less than 1,000 sq metres of area will go underground. But why push the motivation hall underground, despite the lofty aims it is intended to fulfill? At some point during the controversy, the committee thought it wise to "go underground".
The fact that the original BDA statements filed before the high court did not mention an underground construction indicates that it was an afterthought compelled by criticism from environmentalists. Wouldn't the memorial overground be enough to inspire in people sentiments of gratitude and respect for the heroes? Apparently not. "The underground hall, with display of artifacts of war etc, intends to motivate the youth in Karnataka to join the defence services and develop patriotism," says the plea of the committee, and they expect us to believe so!
As of now, are youngsters not joining defence services? Forgive me, but let me ask: how many of those, who seek to inspire 'young proud Kannadigas' to join the army, will encourage their own kids to do so? More disturbing in this day and age, why should the high court promote this idea rather than sue for peace movements? Do we want to be a warring nation?
The very same land was the subject of controversy in the 1990s. Based on a strong recommendation by both the bureaucratic and political wings of the then government, a plan for a badly needed convention centre had made substantial progress when it ran into turbulent opposition. The then chief minister, Veerappa Moily's response was perfectly democratic and similar to Yeddyurappa's Lalbagh intervention. Neither Moily nor Yeddyurappa made it an issue of personal prestige. Can we learn anything from this?
There is also the issue of propriety (also be a politically touchy issue) of building a memorial within the precincts of an existing memorial, the Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain park. We cannot dismiss this lightly. Was Indira not a martyr? Did she not serve the country? A memorial to our heroes should not be mired in controversies.
A simple, dignified and aesthetically inviting 'Veera Gallu' complex displaying the names of martyrs from Karnataka will avoid all unseemly contestations, including suspicions and the raising of eyebrows. Sacrifice of life should not be emotionalised. Unwittingly, it can even appear like gentle blackmail. I understand that a police memorial built a few years ago by the government of India was dismantled and a new location found for it.
A final word: Please don't lecture citizens of Bengaluru in particular and Kannadigas in general on patriotism and gratitude. I have read such gratuitous sermons from some members of the memorial committee, and as a Kannadiga, I resent it.
The writer is a former minister and former professor at IIM-B


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