The Maharashtra BJP has, apparently, succeeded in its efforts to appropriate the credit for the Shivaji Maharaj Memorial which at 192 metres is slated to be the tallest monument in the world to be built at an astronomical cost of Rs 3,600 crore. The memorial, planned to be built in the middle of the Arabian Sea, off Mumbai’s coast will be a showpiece for the Fadnavis government in Maharashtra and will give the BJP a headstart in the upcoming civic elections in the State even as the Shiv Sena laments that credit is being taken away from it, and the Congress-NCP combine protests that it was their government that first conceived a memorial for the tallest leader of the Marathas seven years ago. By getting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lay the foundation for the memorial, Fadnavis has indeed stolen a march over rival parties. Several voluntary bodies and political parties have been creating a ruckus and alleging that such a huge amount is a sheer waste and that the money could rather have been invested in redevelopment projects and distributed among farmers who have been facing starvation deaths. Critics point out that the budget for the memorial is higher than the Rs 2,400 crore-budget for running 1,250 municipal schools across Mumbai. It is also true that Maharashtra has the highest debt burden among all states in the country at a whopping 3.6 lakh crore. But the State government with the full support of the Centre has brushed aside all objections including those from environmentalists who say that building a memorial in the sea would disturb the ecology and degrade the environment. The fishing (Koli) community is upset about the marine loss that would result from building a memorial. The community, which is set to lose a major chunk of its livelihood, has been angered. The government, however, has promised jobs and all tourism-related contracts to the community.
It is undeniable that Chhatrapati Shivaji is Maharashtra’s greatest icon and it is natural that political parties cash in on his name. The Congress-NCP combine swore by him in the 2009 election, the BJP used it to the hilt in the 2014 assembly polls, and Shiv Sena has over-exploited him including the use of his name in christening their party. Yet, it is not right to overlook considerations of ecological damage and cost over-runs. The Fadnavis government would do well to be duly sensitive to these issues as also to the fact that farmers in the State in general are in distress.