Visit London and you’ll see grand statues of renowned soldiers and statesmen — ranging from the Duke of Wellington (the former Colonel Arthur Wellesly of Assaye and later Waterloo fame) to General Henry Havelock, who raised the siege of Lucknow in September 1857 and extended the British rule in the subcontinent for another almost hundred years, on prominent crossroads, avenues and park corners. Most of the London statues were not erected by governments of the day seeking cheap popularity by riding the reputations of figures dear to the British nation at the expense of the state treasury, but by a grateful people reaching into their own pockets, rifling up the funds collectively, to immortalize their heroes in stone and metal.
Chhatrapati Shivaji is one of those genuinely iconic characters in India’s chequered history whose prowess in mobile warfare distinguished by canny use of the mountainous terrain, surprise, stealth, and quick silver strikes had driven Aurangzeb to distraction and fueled the Maratha ascendency in the affairs of the subcontinent — the Mughal Empire falling apart post-Aurangzeb. His extraordinary daring to meet with Afzal Khan who planned to kill him, an encounter that ended in the Bijapur sultanate’s commander being disemboweled instead by Shivaji Maharaj using the wagh nakh (tiger claws) — is the sort of storied action the “great Maratha” was famous for and that long ago passed into lore.
This great warrior king deserves a grand and imposing memorial to remind us all not to be overawed by the reputation and capabilities of adversaries, and to use geostrategy and clever, asymmetric, hard power to bring down even the mightiest foe.
Shivaji is a national figure belonging not to Maharashtra alone. But any initiative that is of sarkari provenance will ipso facto be tainted by suspicion of petty political gain. Shivaji is of and for all the people of India, and a campaign to collect a huge quantum of monies by private subscriptions from the citizenry would be a fitting tribute to the imperishable fighting qualities of the Chhatrapati — qualities that the Indian nation lost long ago. The nation needs heroes, and it is for the Indian people to voluntarily contribute — which they will — to such an extent as to make this project viable. The state government’s role in the event should be no more than to offer the site and clear legal, and other hurdles to enable the building of the memorial, the scale of it limited only by the sum of private subscriptions. The private sector corporations based in Mumbai would happily ante up the foundational funds and spearhead the country-wide campaign to collect the rest by going to the people.
The problem in this scheme of things could be the plan to build the statue on the small islet just offshore of the Mumbai coast that is deemed the ideal location. It would require reclaiming land, a majorly capital intensive activity. So the compromise between private contributions that are unlikely to reach the Rs 3,600 crore mark — the estimated cost of the project, and the government earmarking the entire amount from its near empty purse — the reason that no monies have so far been allotted for the construction by the BJP government in Maharashtra led by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, is for the state and private subscriptions to join in a public-private (PP) partnership. It will still the not unreasonable criticism of public funds being diverted from the social welfare and development sectors. However, the installation of a massive Shivaji as the new Gateway to Mumbai and India as an outcome of PP-partnership is something Narendra Modi’s regime would be enthused by. Fadnavis should take the initiative and propose this option.
This will also set a precedent in a country a little too used in the last 60 years to departed leaders being remembered by political parties and their governments at the Centre and even family members (sometimes forcibly) occupying valuable real estate (bungalows and such) in Lutyen’s Delhi and turning them into so-called “memorials” — a flimsy excuse for the said families to expropriate government properties for private use.