The historical monuments that exist must continue to struggle against the elements, while a new monument that doesn't make sense gets Rs 3,600 crore. File pic
We don't need stand-up comedians in Bombay because our state government is always at hand to help us laugh out loud every other week. It made me spill my cup of tea a few days ago, when I was told about a government representative who had informed the Bombay High Court that the construction of a 192-metre high statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the Arabian Sea was not a political stunt.
The representative was in court on account of a PIL challenging the proposed Shivaji memorial to be built at a cost of Rs 3,600 crore. The PIL, filed by a city resident, referred to the decision as illogical and uncalled for, which is something a whole lot of people living within and without our city's borders have been saying for a very long time now. Unfortunately, if we were to prevent the government from acting in an illogical manner, it would have very little to do. This is why I assumed the official response was made simply because the poor representative had no clue about what a political stunt was.
As a citizen who cares, here's a quick lesson for our elected representatives who routinely struggle with inflated egos and words that hold more than four letters: A political stunt is something done to attract the attention of the masses, and gain public influence, for no reason other than to exercise positions of governance. When looked at how our government functions, and has for as long as you and I can remember, you will agree with me when I say that almost nothing done by the people at Mantralaya is not a political stunt.
There was more about the report that made it hard for me to continue sipping from that cup of tea. According to an affidavit filed by someone from the Public Works Department, our government has always endeavoured to dedicate memorials to people who have contributed much to the state of Maharashtra in the past. I thought about that statement long and hard. As someone who was born and brought up in Bombay, I struggled to think about a single person that the government had done anything for.
Wasn't this the same government of Maharashtra that sat back and did nothing while the old Ambedkar Bhavan was demolished? It's where Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar founded the Buddhist Society of India, and housed a printing press he set up in 1947 along with several handwritten manuscripts. What was the government doing when it was torn down, considering what Ambedkar did for India, let alone this state?
Where has this government been since 1920, the year Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak passed away in a four-storey building called Sardar Gruha near Crawford Market? Apart from a bust of the freedom fighter, there's little to suggest that even residents of the building know much about its history.
A proposal for a national memorial was supposedly made in April this year, and the government says it intends to "consider" it.
Here's another thing to consider: Ambedkar and Tilak both lived in Bombay for a while. There is little proof to suggest that Shivaji ever visited our city, apart from historical mentions of a trip to Kalyan. He passed away a little over 100 kilometres from Bombay, in Raigad, but continues to grace all kinds of monuments simply because some people believe this wins them votes.
Unsurprisingly, none of those who claim to respect the warrior king have ever bothered to take care of the many forts associated with his reign. None of these monuments offer visitors basic amenities like clean toilets or drinking water. The Archaeological Survey of India has gone on record to state that it has never been given enough staff or budget to care for them. The 2016-17 state budget allotted Rs 60 crore for their conservation. In other words, these fabulous historical monuments that already exist must continue to struggle against the elements, while a new monument that doesn't actually make sense gets Rs 3,600 crore. The most shocking thing about these beautiful forts is the government's inability to even agree upon how many of them still stand today!
So, contrary to everything the government says in its numerous affidavits, it isn't hard to conclude that this statue, like everything else done in Maharashtra, is little more than a political stunt.
The High Court is supposed to take up the petition for further hearing a couple of weeks from now. I hope the judges ask some tough questions before making that judgement.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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