OPINION
Guru Gobind Singh Ji astride Napoleon’s horse?
Napoleon painting row: Punjab Govt insists on riding its high horse
- S Pal
Napoleon painting row: Punjab Govt insists on riding its high horse



Top intellectuals call out the govt’s bluff as row rages further
 
ON THE FACE OF IT, this was the easiest controversy to be put to rest. 

Place both the paintings side by side — the one that figured in the Amarinder Singh government’s official advertisement to mark the 350th birth  celebrations of the Tenth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji, and the other painting of Napoleon Crossing the Alps, painted by a lackey court artist named Jacques-Louis David in the year 1802.

Now, one needs to have an IQ of less than 10 to decide if it is an outright thievery, an inspiration, a blending, a cultural exchange, or an idea refracting a different meaning. The defence that the Amarinder Government’s unnamed official spokesperson came up with can only be termed as a poor understanding of her/his job.

Most governments employ lackey spokespersons/advisors etc with a specific, well defined aim: when someone unduly criticises the government, they are expected to defend it with gusto; when caught in an indefensible tough position, they are expected to indulge in some semantic gymnastics; when the government is caught with its pants down, they are expected to rustle up any fig leaves they can manage. 
There is another job description that such advisors, mostly churning out press releases, have: it is to cut their losses and change the news cycle as fast as they can when a narrative is doing too much damage to their master.

Unfortunately, the spokesperson of the Amarinder Singh government thought it more prudent to defend Napoleon’s horse than address either the issue of wrongful depiction of the Tenth Sikh Master or unintended opprobrium earned by a CM who is a war historian himself.

Personally, I don’t think vile motives were involved when the Punjab Government chose this particular depiction to be included in the advertisement that appeared for days in national newspapers and on other media platforms. In fact, I am well inclined to believe the official spokesperson when she/he states that the depiction was taken from a site and was already in the public domain.
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Personally, I don’t think vile motives were involved when the Punjab Government chose this particular depiction…I am well inclined to believe that the depiction was already in the public domain, but perhaps the official spokesperson of Punjab government wanted to handover a gift to the Akali Dal spokesperson.
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All that the government had to do was to say that since it clearly seems to be a hack job/plagiarism and the similarities with Napoleon Crossing the Alps painting much too clear, it will immediately withdraw the impugned advertisement, and will use a more acceptable image. 

In fact, it should have asked the SGPC to provide the government with stock images that can be used while preparing content related to various days connected with Sikh gurus. It would have been a sane way to pre-empt the polemic of opposition Akali Dal.

Instead, the official spokesperson perhaps wanted to handover a gift to the Akali Dal spokesperson. In this case, it was a horse, its front legs raised, in a rearing position. And the Amarinder government had it coming, kicked in its side by a stallion named Marengo. {In all of history, there is no mention of Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji having a horse named Marengo. Is there? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marengo_(horse)}

Now, well known professor of religious studies, Dr Harpal Singh Pannu, has said in terms so simple that even government spokespersons can understand it: You made a mess. Say sorry. And hold accountable the concerned people.

And he has expressed a real fear: "This is a disease that can spread rapidly. The Maghi Mela of Muktsar is coming up next. What if a painter takes it into his head to morph the head of Mai Bhago on a painting of Durga Mata riding a tiger?”
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Dr Harpal Singh Pannu has said, "This is a disease that can spread rapidly. The Maghi Mela of Muktsar is coming up next. What if a painter takes it into his head to morph the head of Mai Bhago on a painting of Durga Mata riding a tiger?”
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Dr Pannu certainly knows more than sarkari spokespersons about Sikhism, comparative religious studies, notions of martyrdom, representation of religious figures in art and depiction of wars, besides the role of lackey artists and pen pushers in the courts of the rulers – from Napoleon’s to Amarinder’s. 

Well known human rights activist and one of the most prominent Christian voices in India, Dr John Dayal, has stated publicly, "There is a whole code to the depiction of horses in statuary. A leg raised has a meaning, and a rearing stallion quite a different one.” Dr Dayal describes himself as "gloriously unemployed, perhaps not employable” — which is another way of saying that he will find it loathe to become an advisor to any government, considering the ethical somersaults involved in the job — but he makes a very valid argument.
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The Tribune makes a very simple case by saying that "the choice of the image raised eyebrows as paintings/sketches of the Guru by several artists, ranging from the legendary Sobha Singh to contemporary names such as Kanwar Singh, Bhagat Singh Bedi and Raj Singh Tattal, are easily available.”
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A number of people on various social media platforms have raised this point about the posture of the horse. Why would the horse of the Tenth Sikh Master be shown in a rearing posture, denoting a reluctance to move forward?

Well known author Amandeep Sandhu, whose book, Roll of Honour, made a powerful case for the need to remember, moderated an animated discussion thread on Facebook, before finally saying, "Haye Rubba! I am so inclined to laugh out loud but I am deeply sad. Jacques-Louis David got it wrong, our homegrown photo-shopper got it wrong. The artist managed to demolish Napoleon and our copy-cat really managed to insult Guru Gobind Singh. All that we do is celebrate, without logic, without thought, even defend plagiarism!”

On Wednesday, December 27, The Tribune carried a well reasoned article by senior journalist Vikramdeep Johal. Titled, "Two Paintings and a political row.” The article pointed out a very well known fact that the similar painting was made by late Punjabi artist Gurbux Singh Theathi and said he "had drawn inspiration” from David’s ‘Napoleon Crossing the Alps.’ 
While we leave it to the readers to decide whether it is a case of inspiration or low level thievery, Johal is probably right when he says, quoting sources, that the creators of official advertisements "probably copy-pasted these images without ascertaining their genesis.”

The Tribune makes a very simple case by saying that "the choice of the image raised eyebrows as paintings/sketches of the Guru by several artists, ranging from the legendary Sobha Singh to contemporary names such as Kanwar Singh, Bhagat Singh Bedi and Raj Singh Tattal, are easily available.”

If that is not simple enough for sarkari hacks to understand, one can only understand why an author like Amandeep Sandhu will want to close a conversation like this: "Last comment please, I am no one to spend my Sunday to talk about something that is plain to me: of course, the Guru needed a poor French painting to convey his own significance.”

There you go, official spokesperson. You won. It’s just that the Guru doesn’t need puny little men to defend him. The Founder of the Khalsa Panth is up there with the greatest of the great, and neither needs borrowed iconography nor semantic cud chewing, and certainly not a horse called Marengo.

Post Script: By the way, it is just David’s painting that shows him crossing the Alps riding a horse. In reality, he crossed over astride a mule. Think about what you are defending!
 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

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