The first time I ever felt the need to question the idea of not criticizing someone after are dead was when ‘the Leader’, K. Karunakaran met his maker. Most of what makes his legacy as a leader happened before I was born. By the time, I started understanding the subtleties of politics, he along with his son were no more than caricatures in Kerala popular culture. His breakaway party from the Congress was called DIC(K). Democratic Indira Congress (Karunakaran) and every comedy show on Malayalam television joked about him. But the day he died, the sudden change in his popular image in Kerala to the celebration of his legacy as the Leader shocked me. The complete erasure of the Rajan Murder Case, his brutal repression of the Naxalite movement, allegations of corruption were all swept under the rug and person after person eulogised him. Pointing out his flaws was seen as ‘disrespect to a departed soul’.
As much as I can acquiesce to the belief that one must pay respects to a public figure who ‘contributed a lot’, I cannot respect the belief that obituaries ought to be eulogies because public figures are not just known for their contributions, but they are popular or unpopular for what they represent. It is another fact that more often than not, these ‘contributions’ aren’t really defined. Their legacy is for the rest of time, not just today. So questioning what they represent is not necessarily disrespect to the dead, it is necessary to counter those that use that particular figure to justify an agenda of their own. Our past is filled with figures who have been elevated to the point of sainthood after which they are acerbically criticized because they were not saints. Titles like Mahatma, Chacha and Lokmanya have distorted history rather than venerate real contributions. They have enabled revolutionaries, nationalists and plain hate-mongers to use them as symbols to advance their own agenda. The biggest example today is Ambedkar. Always a hero of every dalit movement since their inception, absorbed by the left, Congress and BJP very recently to serve their own idea of what India should be.
Recorded history requires facts, not adulations. Let people decide for themselves who ought to be respected.