Memorial to Shivaji

Print edition : August 09, 2013

WITH an eye on the general election in 2014 the Maharashtra government has renewed its promise to build a memorial to Chhatrapati Shivaji off Mumbai’s Marine Drive. The announcement was made at a joint press conference by Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. The MoEF’s clearance for this project within the coastal regulation zone has been given as a “special case”.

Seeing the benefit that the Shiv Sena has gained from “Brand Shivaji”, the Congress is trying to follow suit. The memorial will be built on an 18-hectare islet which will be created on already identified 16.5 ha of bedrock, 4 kilometres off the coastline. It will have a 309-foot equestrian statue of Shivaji, a museum, a library and an open-air theatre and it is estimated to cost Rs.300 crore.

This project had been approved in 2009 and the then Chief Minister, Ashok Chavan, had even inaugurated a replica of the memorial. The then former Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, had rejected the project on environmental grounds.

Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena has decided to stick with what it knows best—parochialism. And it has chosen the film industry as its target. The Marathi film industry, particularly, has picked up of late and the Sena has sought to restructure the multiple unions under one umbrella organisation instead of having separate bodies for cine artists, backstage hands, and so on. It floated the Bharatiya Chitrapat Sena last year.

The outfit plans to launch an agitation to ban Pakistani artistes in the industry and to increase employment of Maharashtrians. This is seen as a move to counter the growing influence of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in this industry. But the State government sent out a firm message stating that “strict action would be taken against organisations that compelled actors and technicians to become their members for working in Marathi films”.

Despite his initial bravado of going it alone, the MNS’ Raj Thackeray seems apprehensive of facing another election without the backing of his former party. After the death of Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena patriarch, last year, speculation was rife that Thackeray’s son and inheritor of the crown, Uddhav Thackeray, would patch up with his cousin Raj. It was not to be. In fact, after Thackeray’s funeral, there was rage in Raj’s camp over slights to their leader; of how he was kept away from the funeral duties for close family members. But with elections coming up, Raj clearly has plans to stake claim to his uncle’s legacy.

When the long-awaited eastern freeway was inaugurated in Mumbai in June, Raj was quick to demand that it be named after Bal Thackeray. Naming and renaming seems to be the MNS’ strategic plan in the run-up to the elections. Dilip Lande, leader of the MNS in the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, raised a proposal to rename Malabar Hill, one of the city’s high-profile areas, as Ramnagari. His arguments consisted of the same tired whines—that Malabar Hill was a British name and that the name came from pirates who looted ships and then took the spoils to the nearby hill. Both arguments hold no water since the hill is named after the Malabar coast.

Lande was, naturally, supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party representative, whose contribution to the argument was to say that Ram stayed at Malabar hill on his way to rescue Sita.

Lyla Bavadam

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