He is aptly titled “Himachal Nirmata”—architect of the present-day hill state of Himachal Pradesh. She is India’s former Prime Minister, who granted the state “puran rajyaotav” or full statehood on January 25, 1971, a red-letter day in its history.
To acknowledge their contribution to the state, Himachal Pradesh installed a giant statue of the state’s first CM Dr Y.S. Parmar at the historic ridge in 1985, followed by the statue of late Indira Gandhi opposite Dr Parmar’s, in January 1990.
Two years ago, the BJP government erected an 18-ft statue of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee next to that of Indira Gandhi, spending around Rs 1.08 crore. CM Jai Ram Thakur, who unveiled it, says, “Vajpayee always considered Himachal Pradesh his home. He owned a bungalow at Prini (Manali) and remained benevolent to the state as PM.”
Vajpayee biggest contribution was commissioning the tunnel at Rohtang—an engineering landmark at a height of 10,000 ft for all-weather connectivity with Lahaul-Spiti and Leh, apart from a central financial package for the industry. The statue is a token of love and affection from the state’s people towards the great statesman, Thakur says, justifying the statue at the ridge further by saying, “Also, he is a Bharat Ratna.”
The ridge, which is the only flat space in the middle of Shimla, next to the British-era Mall Road, was consciously chosen to host the statues, for visibility. Every visitor to this hill town—Indian and foreign tourists, and dignitaries, make it a point to take a stroll along the ridge to enjoy the beauty, charm and climate of Shimla.
The ridge also plays host to all major government events—Independence Day, Republic Day and rallies addressed by PMs or civic receptions of the President. Where else would the statues get such prominence? Oath ceremonies of CMs such as Virbhadra Singh, Prem Kumar Dhumal and Jai Ram Thakur were also organised at the ridge, instead of the Raj Bhavan.
With 5-6 statues already in place, demand is growing from Congress to install a statue of six-time CM Virbhadra Singh. Also being debated is how many statues of political figures the ridge can accommodate.
“Are we going to turn the ridge—a tourist attraction—to a statue park?” asks a retired civil servant on condition of anonymity, adding, “It’s better if politicians think more of Shimla’s future and how to preserve its green cover than of statues.”
Noted conservationist B.S. Malhans, who is also a member of the government’s heritage committee, warns against putting up more statues at the ridge, which is gradually sinking towards the north edge and Lakkar Bazar and has already become unstable.
Below the ridge, he cautions, there is a huge water storage tank from the British era, built in the 1880s. Even the statues of Indira Gandhi and A.B. Vajpayee had to be erected over the portions that have been rehabilitated.
“It’s in the seismic Zone IV, burdening the ridge with statues of political leaders will make it more vulnerable. It may serve short-term political goals, but how much will that contribute to Shimla’s heritage?” asks Malhans, who is also an INTACH activist.
Congress leaders are determined to erect Virbhadra Singh’s statue at the ridge. If the BJP government doesn’t accept their demand, it will be done when the party returns to power, they say.
Pranay Pratap Singh, an advocate and key member of the Congress legal cell, says, “Raja Virbhadra Singh was not a politician but a statesman. He dedicated nearly six decades of his life to the people of the state. He is known as the chief architect of modern Himachal Pradesh. Doesn’t he deserve this commemoration after his death?”
Former Shimla mayor Adrash Sood also endorses the views. “Virbhadraji was instrumental in getting statues of Dr Parmar and Indira Gandhi installed. I was mayor when Indiraji’s statue came up. Next will be that of Virbhadraji.”
Till now, the ridge hosts statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai and a bust of Lt General Daulat Singh, the former general officer, commander-in-chief of the Indian Army’s Western Command, on whose name a park at the ridge is also dedicated.
Old residents attach quite an importance to the statue of Mahatma Gandhi, who had a significant attachment to Shimla. Beside other top dignitaries like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, he had paid several visits to the town. Gandhi’s statue is mounted on a marble podium placed in front of the Takka Bench.
The Mahatma’s statue came up long ago. But the real drive to install statues at the ridge started with the one of Dr Parmar. Recalls Kush Parmar, a five-time former Congress MLA and son of Dr Parmar, “It’s true Dr Parmar’s giant statue came up in 1984-85. Virbhadra Singhji was CM, though the decision to install my father’s statue was taken during the term of his predecessor, Thakur Ram Lalji. Our family feels honoured at the recognition given to Dr Parmar.”
State minister for urban development and Shimla MLA, Suresh Bhardwaj, says, “There is hardly any space left at the ridge for more statues. Dr Parmar deserved it as he was the architect of the state. Indira Gandhi too, as she granted us statehood. Vajpayeeji is Bharat Ratna and Himachal is blessed to immortalise him at the ridge. We don’t have any plans for any further statues of state politicians.”
Indirectly though, Bhardwaj indicates why the late Virbhadra Singh doesn’t deserve a statue at the ridge—he says the former CM faced CBI and ED cases, and demands for his statue at the ridge, alongside those of Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai, Dr Parmar, Indira Gandhi and A.B. Vajpayee—would not be received well. He, however, adds that the place chosen by the previous Congress government for a statue of former PM Lal Bahadur Shastri is not as prominent as he deserved.
Shimla also has statues of former PM Rajiv Gandhi at Chhota Shimla Chowk and B.R. Ambedkar at Chaura Maidan. Recently, HP University vice-chancellor Professor Sikandar Kumar also installed a statue of Vajpayee in the campus.
With Shimla Municipal Corporation elections slated in the next few months, the brouhaha around statues is likely to heat up soon.