Samadhi politics

Those who want a memorial, and those who oppose it, actually agree on one issue. There is political life after death

What's this noise about memorials? It is nil nisi bonum, not surprising. Death has become an integral part of the political culture of independent India. Indeed, it appears to be a very good political investment. It began with the Congress, which exploited almost every death in the first family of the party for political purposes. It is now being followed by others. Funerals are first deliberately orchestrated and turned into public spectacles, and often, official functions. Subsequently, public spaces are appropriated for memorials to immortalise the dead.

The Shiv Sena demand for transforming the site of the funeral of its founder Bal Thackeray into a memorial for the late leader was, therefore, according to script. While Thackeray himself held no public office, the funeral received official recognition and was attended by key dignitaries, personalities from different fields, as well numerous followers and admirers. It has been reported that it was the first funeral at a public space in Mumbai after Bal Gangadhar Tilak's in 1920. The national capital, Delhi, has, of course, seen many, thanks to the Congress.

While states may be the new centre of gravity in Indian politics, it probably still pays to die in Delhi. No city in the country commemorates the death of political leaders as much as Delhi. Today, these various spots are an integral part of the tourist circuit of the capital. The banks of the Yamuna have literally been captured by the dead. The cremation spots of various leaders have been turned into samadhis dedicated to the memory of the dead. The residences of three former prime ministers are museums and memorials. They display besides photos and paper clippings, artefacts and various personal belongings of the deceased. The Indira Gandhi memorial also has on display her blood-stained saree, as well as some pieces of fabric and shoes of Rajiv Gandhi that were worn on their last days. What is on display is clearly designed to selectively remind people of the past and highlight particular aspects that take forward a political agenda.

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