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No Horse Trading This! How Statue is Splitting Odisha’s Capital and Politics

Naveen Patnaik

Naveen Patnaik

The horse statue at the centre of a political controversy is a replica of the iconic horse and warrior sculptures seen in the 13th-century Sun Temple of Konark.

Horses have hardly raised political heat in a state where they are so rare, except in sculptures of ancient temples. As the Odisha government plans to relocate a modern statue of a horse from a major roundabout in the capital Bhubaneswar to facilitate beautification of the site, there is massive hue and cry. The Opposition parties have protested any relocation of the statue and the people of Bhubaneswar seem divided.

The sudden outpouring of emotions for this 33-year-old statue of a horse and warrior from Mastercanteen Square in Bhubaneswar started when the state government’s Department of Culture granted last week the Bhubaneswar Smart City Limited’s (BSCL) wish to shift it. As per plans, the huge stone statue would be shifted to Raj Bhawan Square so that BSCL could begin widening of the roads around Mastercanteen Square and build modern public amenities there.

News of the shifting plans led to protests by the Opposition – both the BJP and the Congress – as it has accused Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government of disrespecting the state’s art and culture. Senior Congress MLA and former minister Suresh Chandra Routray sat in protest near the statue and vowed never to allow it to be relocated until he is alive. Soon eminent writers, sculptors, artistes and other public figures voiced their protest to the shifting plans, saying it would mean a “damage to Odisha’s heritage”.

The horse statue at the centre of controversy is a replica of the iconic horse and warrior sculptures seen in the 13th-century Sun Temple of Konark, some 60 km off Bhubaneswar. The Odisha government had adopted the Konark horse and warrior as the state’s emblem in 1964. The statue seen at Mastercanteen Square was built by famous Odisha sculptor Raghunath Panigrahi, a Padma Bibhushan awardee who passed away last month after battling with COVID-19.

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It was Odisha’s Congress Chief Minister JB Patnaik, who had put this statue at the public square in 1988. Since then, standing as it does on a stone pedestal in front of Bhubaneswar railway station, this statue has become a popular monument and has been identified with the city of Bhubaneswar.

“There is a plan to widen the roads at Mastercanteen Square and build a multi-modal hub there along with a flyover. Once they are built, visibility of this horse statue will be greatly reduced. It may become invisible. That is why we have allowed its shifting to another square, so that it remains preserved,” said Ranjan Das, Director of the Department of Culture.

But those protesting the relocation plans want the statue to be where it is. “This statue is synonymous with the city of Bhubaneswar. Why cannot the government build the flyover and other infrastructure while letting this statue stay where it is? Modernisation plans must not be allowed to damage heritage structures in any way,” said Prafulla Rath, an eminent researcher on Jagannath culture.

“Many eminent people of Odisha have been hurt by plans to relocate this monument. This monument symbolises our heritage. So the Odisha government should respect the sentiments of the people and consider beautifying the Mastercanteen Square without relocating the statue,” said Union petroleum and natural gas minister Dharmendra Pradhan of BJP.

Horses have been as rare in Odisha’s landscape as horse trading in the state’s politics. Growing public sentiment against relocation plans of the horse statue has put the state government in a dilemma. Even as political protests are gathering force, the last word on it is yet to come.

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first published:June 21, 2021, 11:31 IST