It is high time Tamil Nadu evolved a standard policy on its numerous statues in public spaces. As one of the states with a penchant to liberally install statues of men who have made a mark in politics and popular culture , it does not have a set of guidelines on how and where statues can be erected.
Starting from the Munro statue on Anna Salai, you find statues and busts everywhere - on broad stretches, on narrow traffic islands or within huge roundabouts.
It is imperative that this lack of framework is taken seriously and the lacuna filled given that the Chennai traffic police recently shared startling statistics on road accidents purportedly caused by the placement of the 'Sivaji' Ganesan statue.
According to K Soundararajan, Assistant Commissioner of Police (Traffic), Mylapore, the 8-ft tall bronze statue on the Kamaraj Salai- Radhakrishnan Salai junction obstructed the view of motorists, and blindsiding them on the northern side where there was a pedestrian crossing. He went on to add that there had been 12 road accidents in 2012 including a fatal one, and 8 accidents till date this year at that spot.
The above counter affidavit by the traffic police was filed recently, in response to an old petition seeking the removal of 'Sivaji' Ganesan statue. In 2006, PN Srinivasan filed a petition in the court, wanting it to restrain the state government from erecting the statue at the Kamaraj Salai –RK Salai junction. He also wanted it to come up with an alternate location.
However, the Court did not pass an order although it refused to restrain the then state government , and the statue was unveiled to the public in July 2006. The petitioner's son followed up the case when his father passed away, and the hearings have been on going and will continue next week as well.
While the crux of the issue is whether relocation of the statue would help motorists and pedestrians alike, there is a feeling among some that the furor over the location of the statue of 'Sivaji' Ganesan is a political one, since the statue was originally unveiled during the DMK regime. In a state where the nexus between politics and cinema dates back decades, there will always be a suspicion that politics pervades everything, says a senior journalist.
In the past, the two leading Dravidian parties have clashed over the location of the statue of Kannagi, the legendary figure who took on a ruler for wrongful verdict and went on to burn down the city of Madurai. If one party removed it while in power, another brought it back on its return. However, in the case of Sivaji Ganesan, even the late actor's fans have thrown their hat in the ring. Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Samooha Nala Sanga Peravai as they call themselves, is a registered body and they have filed a petition wanting to be impleaded as a party in the 2006 case.
Also opposing the shifting of the statue is the Tamil film directors' body. "Sivaji Ganesan has achieved so much in the fields of theatre and films. Many people have learnt Tamil after observing his clear diction. He helped people visualize the majesty of freedom fighters like Veerapandiya Kattabomman and VO Chidambaram Pillai, with his performances.
He also brought honour to Tamil Nadu when he was awarded the Chevalier award by the French government. To have his statue on the Marina stretch is a matter of pride for Tamilians. So, we request you not to remove the statue," read a communique from them to the city police. 'Sivaji' Ganesan was a towering film personality whose acting prowess set the bar for the film industry and a legion of actors including Rajinikanth are said to have primed themselves on his dialogues, particularly the 'manjal araithu koduththaya' dialogue.
Experts say that while the merits of the case are being debated on and off the court (by fans and others), if the state government decides to frame a uniform policy on statues in the wake of the petition, it could be a historic one.
"Let us take the scientific data provided by the police on road dimension, volume of vehicular and pedestrian traffic and then arrive at a policy. Let us do away with erecting statues in the middle of the road from now on. Former urban planners and architects can be consulted in determining the size of a statue in proportion to the traffic island or roundabout as the case may be. This could be made applicable to the entire state," says the expert.
Our legends would have their place in public arena, in a manner they deserve to be showcased.
Other columns by the author:
Not guilty: Can Kanchi seers revive the Mutt now?
Chennai is a huge canvas, I tried to fill it: Nirmala Lakshman
Love marriage in Tamil Nadu? Go to Court
BJP party deaths in TN: Politics or personal?
Dalit boy's death: A Vanniyar group that is fighting against casteism
Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist