Race to appropriate Shivaji

When it comes to politics, it is no different in Maharashtra than Uttar Pradesh, only personalities differ. In the backdrop of a looming drought and price rise, hundreds of suicides of debt-ridden farmers of Vidarbha and a huge Rs 1,70,000 crore loan that has been accumulated over past 10-15 years, the Maharashtra government thought it fit to gift the people of the state a huge statue of the great warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji in the Arabian sea off the Marine Drive, at a staggering cost of Rs 350 crore.

 The statue proposal was on the manifesto of the Congress-NCP alliance. Now, with the assembly elections round the corner, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan unveiled the design of the statue in the state secretariat. The monument is to be 321 feet high, 16 feet higher than the famed American Statue of Liberty at New York. It will also have a museum dedicated to Shivaji. The public will be able to access it from jetties and even a helipad. But the plan is yet to get environmental clearance.

The actual statue of Shivaji would be 161-feet tall, 10 feet taller than that of Liberty, with the foundation measuring 160-feet as against Liberty’s 154 feet.

 Shivaji is an indisputable icon in Maharashtra and every political formation worth its salt tries to appropriate it. The right wing Shiv Sena swears by him, the BJP-RSS venerate him, and the Congress-NCP do not want to lag behind.

 When the proposal was first announced in 2005, a prominent Marathi newspaper mocked the state government for conceiving it in the light of so many problems faced by the state. On the very next day, the editor of that newspaper Kumar Ketkar came under violent attack by radical organisation Shiv Sangram, led by former NCP leader Vinayam Mete. The protestors had barged inside Ketkar’s home in Thane and damaged windows and furniture, and also burnt copies of the newspaper.

 For the Sena-BJP, who are targeting the Congress-NCP on every issue, the fact that the proposal is still on drawing boards has given a ready handle to attack the ruling coalition. Both political formations are competing with each other to better the other, as far as Shivaji’s legacy is concerned.

Memorials galore

Since most voters identify Shivaji with Sena and the BJP, the Congress and the NCP leave no stone unturned to appropriate him. When a proposal was moved to rename the Victoria Terminus of Mumbai, it was the Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, who had aptly suggested its renaming after the great philanthropist and pioneer of railway in India, Jagannath Shankarshet, who was also one of the founding directors of the Great Indian Peninsular (GIP) Railways. His bust was carved by the British architects along with 11 other directors on the famous VT structure. However, then Congress’ railway minister Suresh Kalmadi rushed in to rename it after Chhatrapati Shivaji, and so it became CST. No one dared oppose it.

Same was with Mumbai’s international airport. Again, it was Thackeray who proposed to name it after J R D Tata, who heralded civil aviation in India. Instead, it was again renamed as Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, and everybody was silenced.
 Even in case of the proposed statue, both political formations are now under compulsion to build it, and no one would dare oppose it. Even the common man prefers silence when it comes to Chhatrapati Shivaji, even if he knows that the state just can’t afford splurging such a huge amount on a monument. There are already a number of memorials and monuments to Shivaji. The one at his fort capital Raigad needs better upkeep. The same Congress-NCP government had promised to install Shivaji’s statue there, but the proposal is gathering dust.

 The 321-feet high monument will be 1.4 km off the coast, but the state is yet to get coastal clearance for even more modest projects, such as the proposed Pedder road flyover’s end at Wilson College on Marine Drive and two steel bridges for cars on Worli seaface. Considering that even these are not off the ground yet due to bureaucratic hurdles in New Delhi, the proposed monument seems unlikely to be an exception.
Ambedkar statue
Not to be outdone, the Republican Party of India and its allies, which have formed a Republican Left Democratic Front, have announced that if voted to power, they will construct a befitting memorial to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar in the Arabian sea, off Chaitya Bhoomi at Dadar in Central Mumbai. It was at Chaitya Bhoomi that Ambedkar was cremated and a memorial now stands there.


Where your taxes go

* Mayawati’s latest mansion with 18-ft high stone walls and matching copper and brass gates is priced Rs 42 crore. Built on a sprawling 1,00,000 sq ft area on Mall Avenue, Lucknow, it is now called Maya
Avenue as every second house has been taken over by her.
* A much billed Government initiative to cut population bribes people to delay having kids.
* The Punjab Government has sanctioned Rs 1 crore “to set up an ultra-modern facility to tame, train, rehabilitate and teach manners to rogue monkeys.”
* The Tamil Nadu government “commemorated the 86th birthday
of chief minister M Karunanidhi” with  gold rings for all children born in city corporation hospitals in Chennai and given Tamil names.

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