Statues, wasteful political spending

The laying of the foundation stone of a Shivaji memorial in Mumbai by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the latest in the politics of statues being practised in the country. This involves the use of personalities from the past, through erection of statues, to derive political advantage. It is part of a bigger politics that uses names and events from the past though representation, interpretation, appropriation and other ways to create an image, an association or an identity that appeals to the people or some sections of people. The BJP in Maharashtra has been planning the statue for some years and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has pushed its case now. The party wants to claim the legacy of the warrior king, who is being projected as a symbol of Maratha pride and a Hindu hero who fought the Mughal empire. It also wants to wrest the ownership of the legacy from its ally and rival Shiv Sena which had sought monopoly rights over the legacy till now.

But the party’s political project costs the people of the state Rs 3,600 crore at current estimates. It has risen to this level from Rs 900 crore in 2009 and is certain to escalate further. The present cost is about half of the allocation for irrigation in the state which is known for drought and farmer suicides. It is wrong to use high amounts of tax payers’ money for a project that does not benefit the people. The party should raise funds on its own if it wants to build a costly statue like this. It is claimed that the statue will be the tallest in the world, taller than the Sardar Patel statue that the prime minister has proposed to build in Gujarat. The Patel statue will be ready before the next Lok Sabha elections and the Shivaji statue before the Assembly elections in Maharashtra.

The statue is being erected off the coast of Mumbai and has invited criticism and opposition from economists, environmentalists and fishermen. Economists have shown how wasteful the project is and environmentalists have pointed out that it would damage the fragile ecosystem of the area. The statue is being built on the fertile breeding ground of marine life including fish. The livelihood of a large number of fishermen will be affected. Fadnavis even gave a special exemption for the plan from mandatory environmental hearing. The society should not be made to pay the price of a party’s political plan. The prime minister tells the nation to avoid wasteful expenditure but himself launches a work of monumental wastage of public funds.

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