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Removal of Biju Patnaik's Memorial by Naveen Patnaik is Evocative of Mahatma Gandhi's Vision

By Satya Narayana Sahu | PUBLISHED: 04, Nov 2019, 10:04 am IST | UPDATED: 04, Nov 2019, 19:34 pm IST

Removal of Biju Patnaik's Memorial by Naveen Patnaik is  Evocative of Mahatma Gandhi's Vision

Summoning enormous moral and spiritual courage Odish Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik set a shining example of statesmanship in instructing the removal of his father Biju Patnaik's Samadhi (memorial) from within the cremation ground hailed as 'Swarga Dwar', the gateway to heavenly abode. Located in the sacred city of Puri which has the shrine of  Jagannath, Swarga Dwar represents the sobriety associated with consignment of mortal remains of a person to the flames. His decision celebrates the values integral to the ideal of abnegation which in rare instances in history leaders display underlining their stature beyond self and possessive instinct. The nobility associated with his decision has the larger purpose of transforming ''Swarga Dwar'' to a modern crematorium where ordinary people can have easy access to greater and expanded facilities for dignified disposal of dead bodies of their near and dear ones. It put forth before the mundane world an action determined by transcendental thinking of Shri Patnaik that public purpose and common good gets primacy over glory and fame which his father legitimately secured as an admirable leader of our national life and which the memorial represented.

Naveen Patnaik's decision to remove his father's memorial represents higher consciousness

Such a transcendental decision taken by Shri Patnaik overwhelmed people of Odisha and created spiritual resonance at the heart of which remained higher consciousness of abiding relevance beyond time and space. It is worthwhile to realize the extraordinary importance of the decision of the Chief Minister by juxtaposing it with the utterances of  Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation, whose 150th birth anniversary, is being celebrated across India and to pay real tribute to him Shri Patnaik has advocated inclusion of non-violence in the preamble of the Constitution of India.

Naveen Patnaik's decision is anchored on values of freedom struggle and Mahatma Gandhi's Vision

The essence of what Gandhiji said while delivering his speech at a prayer meeting in Shantinikrtan on 18th December 1945 is captured in the decision of Shri Patnaik for removal of his father's memorial from Swarga dwar. ''True monuments to the great'' said Gandhiji, are not statues of marble, bronze or gold. Observing that ''The best monument is to adorn and enlarge their legacy'' he noted, ''a son who buries underground his father’s legacy or wastes it will be adjudged unworthy of his inheritance.'' The fact that the legacy of Biju Patnaik endures and is kept alive by people of Odisha whose supreme will is so authentically represented by Shri Naveen Patnaik consecutively for twenty years speaks volumes for his high credentials as a worthy son of legendary Bijubabu. In encapsulating the legacy of Shri Biju Patnaik in the larger realm beyond the memorials and monuments of brick and mortar Shri Naveen Patnaik has lived up to the vision of Mahatma Gandhi.

The decision taken by the Chief Minister of Odisha is evocative of the ethos of freedom struggle which witnessed leaders of towering stature urging people not to erect their memorials, monuments and columns and wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to service of the people and country. Their high minded idealism was reflected in their appeal to the people for comprehensively cultivating the spirit of service which they thought would be of more significance than erection of monuments which might not generate the inspiration to live up to the legacy of those leaders.

Late Shri Gopalkrishna Gokhale who was the political Guru of Mahatma Gandhi told his followers and associates while in his death bed “Do not occupy yourselves with writing my biography or spend your time in putting up my statues. If you are true servants of India, dedicate your lives to the fulfillment of our aims, to the service of India.” In 1917 on two occasions Mahatma Gandhi quoted those words of Gokhale to sensitize people to have a vision beyond monuments and memorials which he felt were being visited only during ceremonies marking birth or death anniversaries of leaders.

What is the larger vision behind the decision for removal of memorial of Biju Patnaik by his son Shri Naveen Patnaik whose persuasive practical approach has been to ensure people centric governance by asking civil servants and Ministers to reach out to people and provide hassle free public services to them? It indeed captures the spirit of freedom struggle and acts as a motive force for putting people at the centre of politics and public service.

While appreciating the deeper significance of Naveen Patnaik's decision in the context of freedom struggle and Mahatma Gandhi's vision, it is worthwhile to gratefully recall his words in this context.

In an illuminating article on Ishwarchandra Vidysagar Mahatma Gandhi wrote in 1905 ''.... had Ishwarchandra been born among a European people, an imposing column, like the one raised by the British for Nelson, would have been erected as a memorial to him. However, a column to honour Ishwarchandra already stands in the hearts of the great and the small, the rich and the poor of Bengal''.

Gandhiji's affirmation that a column to honour Ishwarchandra already stands in the hearts of the great and the small, the rich and the poor of Bengal is exactly applicable in the context of Biju Patnaik who lives in the hearts of people of Odisha. Therefore, decision by Shri Naveen Patnaik for removal of his father's memorial has touched the hearts of people.

Gandhi was opposed to erection of his own statues

It is worthwhile to note that Mahatma Gandhi dissented against the idea of some people for establishing his own statue. Writing an article on 11th February 1939 in the Harijan under the caption''Mahatma's Statue'' he observed''It will be waste of good money to spend Rs. 25,000 on erecting a clay or metallic statue of the figure of a man who is himself made of clay''.

A month after independence of India when he heard that his statue was being planned to be constructed in Bombay he wrote an article ''My Statue'' in the Harijan on 21st September 1947 and firmly stated that". I must dissent emphatically from any proposal to spend any money on preparing a statue of me, more especially at a time when people do not have enough food and clothing''.

Plan of Naveen Patnaik to create a modern crematorium corresponds to vision of Mahatma Gandhi

The decision of Shri Naveen Patnaik to remove memorial of his father embodies the vision of Gandhi in ample measure. His plan that removal of memorial would be accompanied by augmenting provision of more facilities for cremation in Swarga Dwar is a heartening move on the part of the Chief Minister. Very refreshingly such an approach of Shri Patnaik closely corresponds to vision of Mahatma Gandhi who had written an article, ''Improvement in Method of Cremation" on 5th October -1919 in Navjivan and sensitively noted,

''Day by day the difficulties of disposing of dead bodies are increasing. Those of the poor are greater. Many lack even the facilities for carrying the bodies. The plague and such other epidemics break out frequently in the country and at such times the condition of the people is indeed pitiable. Moreover, time is wasted in waiting for the body to be fully consumed. Sometimes the logs on the pyre are so arranged that the body is not even fully covered by them. Hence Mr. Chhotalal has been trying for some time to reform the manner of carrying the dead body and of cremating it. We think the enterprise deserves encouragement. He suggests that the body should be removed in a vehicle and that the crematorium should be cons-tructed scientifically so that the body will be put into a furnace and be quickly reduced to ashes by a strong fire. This will save money and time without hurting religious sentiment in any way.

All the same, it would be better for the present not to make it compulsory for dead bodies to be carried in vehicles and scientifically cremated, but to leave them to people's choice. In such matters, it is necessary to educate the people. Customs, even when undesirable, can be reformed but slowly. Real reform lies in the people's willing acceptance of the change, in full knowledge of what it means, or on faith. Therefore, if there are a few venturesome persons in a place, money is readily available and some persons at any rate are ready to accept the new method of cremation, if at such a place vehicles for transport and facilities for [scientific] cremation are provided and these are good enough, this important change will soon become popular and, in times of epidemics, the poor in any case are bound to welcome it gratefully.''

Indeed the decision of Shri Naveen Patnaik to remove the memorial of his father represents a marvelous vision. It is all the more significant that it corresponds to the vision of the father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi. We need to remain tuned to such a vision to restore sanity and strength of our public life and focus attention for fine tuning governance for the cause of people who are at the core of politics and public service.


  • The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.
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