A recent controversy that has erupted is over the construction of 192 metre Shivaji Statue. There has been divided opinion on having such an expensive statue worth Rs. 3,600 crores.
Critics are opposing it from four different perspectives. The first one is in relation to excessive costs, the second one from the opportunity cost undergone which could have been used for other socially relevant purposes, the third emerging from fisher folk and fourth from environmentalists.
- The cost associated with the statue would be many times higher in comparison to other huge structures in the world namely Statue of liberty, Letkin Satkyar of Buddha, spring temple Buddha and Ushiku Daibutsu.
- The cost is more than Mumbai Municipal Corporations entire year’s annual budget, the budget for Municipal Schools (Rs. 2,400 crore), and budget for drinking water projects in rural areas (Rs. 2,500 crore) and budget for a scheme for malnourished children (Rs. 270 crore) are much lesser.
- The site planned for the memorial is said to be a lifeline for the fisherfolk. It is considered to be a breeding spot for at-least 32 varieties of fish eaten in Mumbai. The livelihoods of around 80,000 fishermen may get threatened due to the project.
- Environmentalists argue that it would have disastrous affect on marine life and ecology in the Arabian Sea. The 5.4 million tons of mud generated from metro project would be used for Shivaji memorial that would make sea turbid filled with foreign particles. Marine life will be affected as a result and fisherfolk would be hard affected.
Despite the criticism that is emerging from multiple quarters, the Government takes the initial step of laying foundation stone. The symbol of Shivaji has an ideological relevance for Hindutva forces. In the ideological narrative of the Hindutva brigade, Shivaji has been seen as an anti-Muslim, casteist and follower of religion. He has been depicted as a Hindu warrior fighting the Muslims. Building this narrative acquires importance for building their concept of Hindu Rashtra.
According to the founder of RSS, Hedgewar “If we keep Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj as our ideal, we will remember his heroics for the cause of defending Hindudom. The samarthya i.e. power of Shivaji is as much as that of the Saffron Flag. The history we remember looking at the saffron flag, and the motivation we get from it, the same is got from Shivaji Maharaj’s life. Shivaji lifted the saffron flag which was truly in the dust, re-established Hindu Pad-padshahi and rejuvenated the dying Hindutva. So, if you want to keep a man as ideal, then keep Shivaji as the one.”
Depicting Shivaji as a religious warrior, RSS chief Mohan Bhagawat stated “Shivaji led from the front at a time when around 350 years of foreign rule had made the entire society pessimistic and a sense of gloom prevailed all around. Shivaji broke shackles, both mental and physical, and instilled new vigour among all countrymen. He established a glorious polity, led it towards victory and spread nationalism all around.” By foreign rule, Bhagawat refers to Muslim rule.
Given the fact that Shivaji gets depicted as a Hindu warrior fighting the Muslims and its importance for promoting Hindutva agenda, it is not surprising that hundreds of saffron flags flew during the foundation laying ceremony of the statue.
It is not that there aren’t alternative interpretations on Shivaji. Rationalist Govind Pansare argued that Shivaji was popular because his priority was welfare of the common people and justice for all. Shivaji is shown as religious but not anti-muslim and superstitious. According to him, “Shivaji had not become popular because he was just a Hindu king, but because his priority was welfare of the common people. He fought for justice, ensured security to women, and recruited fighers irrespective of their caste and community to help the dream of Swarajya come true.” This alternative version of Shivaji challenges the dominant narrative of the Hindutva forces. Hence it is not surprising they tried to silence this narrative.
The Hindutva advocates see in Shivaji a symbolism for promoting their concept of Hindu Rashtra through propagation of anti-minority attitude. Statue remains a means for reinforcing this mindset and promoting Hindutva.
T. Navin is an M.Phil from JNU. He is working with an NGO as a Researcher.