January 25, 2021
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Yes A Statue, No A Statue

Does the Shiv Sena (A) Desire a memorial irrespective of its cost? (B) Not want a memorial at such an exorbitant cost? (C) Rubbish the very idea itself? or D) Believe that if there is to be Shivaji Memorial then it should be the sole karta-dharta?

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Yes A Statue, No A Statue

Bal Thackeray, Shiv Sena president and family patriarch, spoke to Saamna, the newspaper of which he himself is the editor. The interviewer was, as always, the executive editor of the paper and Shiv Sena MP in Rajya Sabha, Sanjay Raut. Pater Thackeray is interviewed in his own paper, frequently. 

This time, in a lengthy one on Oct 4, among various other issues, he held forth on the proposed 309-feet Shivaji Memorial off the Mumbai coast, which is meant to be a notch higher than the Statue of Liberty. “The idea of erecting the Shivaji Memorial in the Arabian Sea is nonsense,” he told readers of Saamna, and rubbished the idea as an election gimmick by the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra. There was, he reminded Saamna readers, a grand Shivaji statue at the Gateway of India, “the entry into the country”. 

To be sure, others have denounced the idea and timing of such a lavish memorial in the sea, when the state is unable to address key issues such as farmers’ suicides, falling agricultural output, abysmal shortages of power and water. Loksatta editor Kumar Ketkar bore the brunt of the attack last year when he raised such questions in an editorial and asked if the proposed Rs. 350 crore could not be put to better public use. Pro-statue activists of a little-known organization Shiv Sangram, broke into his house. Other commentators have pointed to the race to be on the right side of Shivaji’s followers, especially in urban Maharashtra, which is creating the spectacle of  “competitive Shivajiness” between political parties. 

For years, Shiv Sena prided itself as the only and true legatee of the Maratha emperor. Then, Sharad Pawar’s followers professing to be pro-Maratha groups got wise; they attempted every trick in the book to usurp the Maratha plank away from other contenders. Remember the attack damaging the reputed Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune over author James Laine’s book on Shivaji? Shiv Sangram is one such group, Maratha Mahasangh is another. Other groups have joined forces under the Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Mahasangh to uphold Chhatrapati Shivaji’s legacy and demand educational and employment reservation for Marathas in the state. Two months back, these groups objected to the state-government appointed committee to approve design for the Shivaji Memorial, on the grounds that it was chaired by a Brahmin. It perhaps escaped them that the Brahmin, Babasaheb Purandare, is popularly and scholastically considered an authority on the Maratha emperor. The Congress-NCP government, in an obvious pre-election mode, made budgetary provisions for the memorial this year. This, ostensibly, ought to prove the “Shivajiness” of both parties towards the emperor. 

As criticism began piling up, cub Uddhav Thackeray, recently re-christened CEO of the Shiv Sena, found himself in a piquant predicament – if he opposed the memorial and budgetary provision, his loyalty to Chhatrapati Shivaji would be doubted and pegged lower than that of the Congress-NCP; if he approved the plan and proposal, he stood the risk of seeing rival political parties walk away with Shiv Sena’s core identity. He did not oppose the memorial. In fact, he criticized the critics and emphasized that “no matter how much money is needed, the memorial should come up…(because) Shivaji Maharaj is the pride of Maharashtra”. It was assumed, indeed taken for granted, that pater Thackeray was right behind the memorial, as well as Uddhav’s endorsement of it. 

After the interview, it appears that father and son saw it differently. It is possible that in the Thackeray household, the father and son do not talk to one another, and do not keep track of each other’s interviews to the family, sorry party, newspaper. Uddhav gamely attempted a face-saver – my father was not against the memorial, only its implementation. Whatever does that mean? It is likely that the father and son, in fact, jointly hit upon the “speak in many tongues” principle to confuse the Sena cadres till they figure out a way to take charge of the memorial construction and have the legatee “Hindu Hriday Samrat Balasaheb Thackeray” name on the plaque of the memorial. 

So, the puzzle is, does the Shiv Sena 

A) Desire a memorial irrespective of its cost?
B) Not want a memorial at such an exorbitant cost?
C) Rubbish the very idea itself? or
D) Believe that if there is to be Shivaji Memorial then it should be the sole karta-dharta? 

Anyone with a passing acquaintance with Maharashtra and the Sena’s politics will choose Option D. It would be closest to the truth. 

And, there’s cousin cub Raj Thackeray’s view to consider too. He has emerged as the third Thackeray (shouldn’t he call himself Thakre, after he hauled up filmmaker Karan Johar for using ‘Bombay’ instead of ‘Mumbai’ in the movie “Wake up, Sid”?) whose words are of great import to the city. Uddhav’s son Aditya is the fourth, gingerly stepping out of the wings. Cousin Cub first pooh-poohed the memorial plan and said it would cost nothing less than Rs. 3000 crore. He was strutting around in glee on Sunday, when he found that the Pater agreed with him, not with the Cub-CEO. 

It’s not a great coincidence that the two younger Thackerays (Thakres?) find themselves ranged on either side of the battle line, even about a proposed memorial. So, there emerges another piece of the puzzle: assuming that Chhatrapati Shivaji ought to be honoured with the memorial, who in which party should decide that? This piece of the puzzle is easily fitted -- whichever party or alliance comes to power would go ahead with the memorial, because it would want to prove its “Shivajiness”. 

Shiv Sena, of course, would be raring to lay the first brick. 

There’s more. If Chhatrapati Shivaji can have a memorial in the sea, so should Babasaheb Ambedkar, say the Dalit parties and groups. Depending on their clout in the next government, Mumbai may have not one, but two, memorials in the sea. Farmers, power plants, roads, transport and housing, everything else can wait until the next election, if that.


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