By Vijay Darda | 26-12-2016
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has performed the ‘jal-pujan’ for the Rs 3600 crore memorial 1.5 kilometres inside the sea for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. This marks the first step towards the realisation of a dream project that has been on cards since decades. Delays and cost escalation are the norm for such projects and we can be sure that 2022 deadline would not be met, nor would the project be completed in Rs 3600 crores. But these are minor mundane matters. The real thing is that a befitting memorial is coming up for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. This is an ambitious project that would have tallest statue of warrior king who has the status of a divine hero for millions of people in Maharashtra. They revere him like a God. Legendary tales of his bravery are woven into every day life of Maharashtra.
This is a fitting tribute to the Maratha War King, who established his domination against the Mughals, and set high standards of skill and deception in military warfare. He fought with precision, strategy and even used deception to outwit his enemies.
Though Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj enjoys such an exalted position in Maharashtra and is adopted by all political parties as an icon, he is actually a national hero, and been handsomely remembered by Swami Vivekananda as: “Shivaji is one of the greatest national saviours who emancipated our society and our Hindu dharma when they were faced with the threat of total destruction. He was a peerless hero, a pious and God-fearing king and verily a manifestation of all the virtues of a born leader of men described in our ancient scriptures. He also embodied the deathless spirit of our land and stood as the light of hope for our future.”
If this is the bright side of honouring Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, there is a worrisome aspect related to the legacy of the great warrior king. There are forts and other monuments all over the state that have a bearing with Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s history. For example there is the Shivneri fort near Junnar where the Chhatrapati was born in 1630. It is under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India but it is hardly preserved with the care deserved for a national icon. As Prime Minister Modi pointed out fort tourism can be an attractive tourist destination, but only if the upkeep of these forts is proper and people can learn about history by seeing these places. There are 300 such forts in the state, and a joint centre-state cooperation in preserving these sites and promoting ecologically safe tourism can bring dividends to both the stake holders. It would also promote employment opportunities. It is not that no action has been taken on this front. Some time ago, the state government’s department of tourism had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Archaeological Survey of India and ministry of culture for various projects to develop tourist facilities and amenities in and around centrally protected monument sites in Maharashtra that included many forts. Through this MoU, the director, tourism, was allowed to arrange festivals like “Fort Festival” or “Diwali in Forts” around the monuments. Raigad fort, Sindhudurg fort, Shivneri fort, Rajgad fort and Pratapgad fort were some of the important festivals proposed, but there has been no further progress on the issue.
It is in this respect that apart from revering Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj we need to turn towards action-oriented agenda. It is here that Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis needs to tighten the administration and get the necessary projects implemented. He has shown the ability to work with the central government and cut through the red tape. The forts have to be revived and just as the sea bed memorial would turn into a major international tourist attraction, similarly, these forts with their own history to tell should be another source of tourist attraction. The forts and the memorial should be complementing each other.
There is a ticklish question in this euphoric situation about Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. This is about translating his ideals into our life. It goes without saying that the real tribute to lend is not a statue, it is at best befitting memorial. But the real tribute is when you imbibe his ideals. He was a Hindu king, who had several Muslim soldiers in his army. He was always for full freedom of religion and did not encourage conversion. He also promulgated other enlightened values and condemned slavery. He also applied a humane and liberal policy to the women of his state.
Now this was his approach to such issues way back in 17th century. Such an approach can come only from an enlightened King who is a secular heart. We are aware of the impact the term secular creates in the minds of the present day torch bearers of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and hence the need for this reminder. It is because of this nationalistic character of these icons that they have been worshipped across generations.
In the election season, especially for the high stakes Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation next year, the statue and water memorial shall come into play. We can expect that both the BJP and the Shiv Sena will go to town claiming credit for this achievement, and other parties notably Congress and NCP would not be far behind in recalling that the idea was mooted in their regimes.
But we have seen in the past that as yet no one can beat Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this game. He will back claiming credit for this mega project, and in such an atmosphere even the Shiv Sena would have to take back seat. However, this is on the presumption that the two allies would not be fighting the elections jointly. That probability has not ended finally.
Before I conclude…
Even as I fully appreciate the efforts of the state and central governments for the Chhatrapati Shivaji Memorial, I request the state government to revive my proposal that a fitting memorial to Bhagwan Mahavir embodying his message of peace and non-violence be set up along the sea. As the world is engulfed by violence and terrorism, such a memorial (like the statue of Liberty) would inspire the ideal of peace and nonviolence.