So far not a penny has been provided in the state’s budget to erect a statue of Shivaji off Mumbai’s Marine drive – some 3. 5 km from the shore in the Backbay, and yet the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has done the jalpuja for it over the weekend. The project, a memorial, is planned to be built on a tiny island barely visible even during low tide and the cost is an astound Rs 3,500 cr at present costs.
The land is to be reclaimed around the islet to house the imposing 190-metre statue which can be seen from afar. The state government is anxious to get this listed as a work commenced because, BJP, which leads it with rival-cum-partner, Shiv Sena, wants to take credit. Though the project has been in the air for long, the March 2017 Mumbai civic elections has fueled the hurry. BJP wants to wrest its control from the Sena.
If anyone were to reach out to Shivaji now and ask for guidance, he would perhaps say, “If you want to remember me, work for the people”.
Given the size of the funds required for the project in a state stuck with over Rs 3.5 lakh crore, and counting, debt, a debate is natural but the naysayers have already lost but have not thrown in the towel. Fishermen are opposed to it since it curbs their movement, harms the neighbourhood fishing ground. Environmentalists are aghast at the implications of the reclamation but the Environmental Ministry has given the clearance but the National Green Tribunal is being approached.
From the time he rose as a warrior who pushed back the Mughals, Shivaji has been a revered figure, and respect for him is ingrained in the Maharashtrian blood. He is not a mere historic figure but an icon with which the Marathi psyche identifies itself. He has been internalized in the Marathi culture. There is none who can out-tower him. A physical structure is not a crutch he would need to remain in the mind of the people. They swear by him and woe to the person who disrespects him.
A legitimate question does remain: Could there have been better ways to pay respect to Shivaji than a tall statue which is now sought to be increased in height by another 20 metres? Aren’t there other ways to honour him? Cannot the forts he won, rebuilt or built from scratch along the ridge of the mountain ranges and the western coast, now sadly in disrepair, be maintained better? The fort where he was born, Shivneri is in utter neglect. It, however, is not alone.
During his lifetime, the forts were at the core of his military strategy but worldwide, if Indian forts are known, they possibly are the ones in Rajasthan, like the Amer, Mehrangarh, etc. To Maharashtra, Shivaji’s forts are just folklore but not living realities except for Rajgad, built as his seat of power, where was coronated and where his samadhi stands. Getting them into good condition could well cost a fraction of the Rs 3,500 crore proposed to be spent on the statue.
There are other no-cost ways to commemorate him.The state could well move to honour him by practicing his ways of governing the state. It is not unknown how. He had written a detailed note to one of his subedars on what the best way to administer was. It was people-centric: “Go from village to village”, he wrote, and “conduct meetings with farmers and take stock of prevailing situation”. He asked loans to be given, to be recovered gradually when the farming stabilised. Expenditure to make them self-sufficient is “acceptable to us”.
Context it to the farmers’ suicides – at 3.3 persons per one lakh population in 2015, and you get the picture: not only the basics of governance which the Maratha king urged his machinery to follow has been ignored but power for power’s sake is the intent of being in government. If anyone were to reach out to Shivaji now and ask for guidance, he would perhaps say, “If you want to remember me, work for the people”. A statue? He did not even ornament his forts. One suspects he is remembered more in form as statues than for his substance.