Ravikiran DeshmukhThe announcement by the state government of expediting the issue of Chhatrapati Shivaji memorial was along expected mainly due to the prevailing political atmosphere, where such issues take precedence over other matters like guarantee of a safe and peaceful life for the citizenry — especially the womenfolk — for the ruling Congress-NCP coalition.

The government has announced a committee, to be headed by guardian minister for the island city Jayant Patil. The phrasing of the announcement was carefully chosen by CM Prithviraj Chavan as he said an ‘appropriate’ memorial of the Maratha king will be set up and the committee will monitor and follow up the process. The panel is expected to coordinate with central agencies for necessary clearances from Coastal Regulatory Development Authority and Union Environment Ministry.

The term ‘appropriate’ raises doubts over the previous plan that said a 309-ft statue of Shivaji would be erected, along with a cafeteria, a garden and an open-air theatre disporting a sound-and-light show on the life and times of the warrior. Apart from this, a museum to exhibit the accoutrements and arms used by the founder of the Maratha Empire was also in the pipeline.

The cost of the project, when it was announced on the eve of the general elections in 2004, was expected to be Rs 100 crore. It rose to Rs 300 crore before the 2009 parliamentary elections and has now breached the Rs 350-crore mark.

So, exactly what happened to the plan during the last 8 years? Just talk and talk, and nothing else. Yet, political parties are keen on memorials of eminent personalities when we are facing issues that threaten the very core of public life – spectre of water scarcity, debt burden of Rs 2.70 lakh crore on the state, and deteriorating law and order situation.

Congress and NCP became eager especially after the decision on the 14-acre Indu Mill land for a Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar memorial, followed by Shiv Sena’s demand for a suitable memorial of Bal Thackeray. As our present leaders have managed to segregate past ones on caste and religious lines, the issue of Shivaji memorial was certain to gain prominence. In the meantime, netas from Kolhapur secured approval for a memorial of Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj at Shahu Mills. After winning hearts of followers of Dr Ambedkar, the ruling combine hoped to appease the Maratha community with these two memorials.

But, flip-flops over the issue of the Shivaji shrine seem to have become the order of the day. It was an election promise of Congress-NCP in 2004. In July 2005 a high-level committee studied all aspects of the proposed memorial. The project was given a go- ahead by the state in June 2008 and in November that year 11 international firms responded to a competitive bidding process.

Later, the Ashok Chavan-led government, ahead of the 2009 general elections, sought to take credit and unveiled a replica of the memorial at Mantralaya. In the meantime, Jayant Patil, who was finance minister in 2007, had stated that the Navy had raised certain objections and imposed restrictions over the proposed site of the monument and the government was scouting for another location near Gateway of India. And now the new committee headed by him will monitor and coordinate the assignment.

Necessary authorisations are still awaited. Chavan had assured legislators during the budget session in March this year that all efforts would be made to get the necessary permissions within a year by suggesting amendments to Coastal Regulation Act. Nine months have passed and nothing has materialised. Will everything change in just three months? Who knows.

Shiv Sena that has been using Shivaji’s name to further its political interests is criticising the government over the delay. But, its late party supremo Bal Thackeray had termed the plan ‘stupidity’. “This is stupidity. There is no need for this as there is another memorial of the king near Gateway of India,” he had said during an interview to Saamana in October 2009. But his son Uddhav backed the memorial plan. Raj Thackeray has already termed the venture a waste of money.

While the BJP is raising its voice in support of the memorial, one of its MLAs from Konkan, Pramod Jathar, has opposed the present idea, demanding the monument be erected at Sindhudurg or Vijaydurg fort near Malwan. He cited traffic congestion and reclamation of land as major problems in Mumbai.

Apart from this, Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL) had, two years ago, announced a grand Shivaji memorial on a two-acre plot at the entrance of the airport from Western Express Highway. The monument is still waiting to take shape.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY