India Insight

What do you have to do to be worthy of your own statue?

June 5, 2008

Two statues were in the news this week, both controversial in their own way. First, Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, ordered a 45-day-old statue of herself be pulled down to be replaced by a bigger one.

File picture of MayawatiThen Mumbai announced it was building a statue of Shivaji Bhosle, a 17th-century Hindu warrior king more often known by the honorific title Chhatrapati Shivaji. The statue, city officials said, would grace Mumbai’s Back Bay and be taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty.

Mayawati’s self-aggrandisement has provoked a mixture of amusement and scorn. The Hindustan Times pointed out that it takes a certain kind of chutzpah to spend public money on statues of yourself. Amit Varma, who blogs at India Uncut, worries we are at the start of a slippery slope: how long before Mayawati wants a statue of herself taller than Lady Liberty?

But perhaps Mayawati’s chutzpah serves a greater good. Mayawati is both a woman and a Dalit, the name given to those born into the bottom of the Hindu caste system. Neither group, on the whole, has traditionally enjoyed much power in Indian society. Maybe Mayawati intends her statues to herald that changes are afoot? Perhaps she really is India’s Lady Liberty?

Mumbai’s leaders, at least, have chosen to honour a figure whose place in history is more established.

But is Shivaji the best person to be immortalised as India’s New Colossus?

Although the statue is being planned by Maharashtra state’s centre-left Congress-NCP coalition government, Shivaji’s name is more closely linked with the nativist politics of Shiv Sena (the Army of Shivaji), a party in Mumbai which believes that India is an essentially Hindu society and that Mumbai’s long-term residents have greater rights than more recent arrivals to the city.   

True, Shivaji was a Hindu who fought the Islamic leaders of the Mughal empire and annexed vast swathes of their land to create the Maratha Empire. But some scholars, including Rafiq Zakaria, have argued that Shivaji’s name has been misappropriated by Hindu nationalists. Shivaji fought not for Hinduism, but for religious freedom, according to Zakaria. 

“To show bigotry for any man’s own creed and practices is equivalent to altering the words of the Holy Book,” Shivaji wrote, referring to the Koran, in a letter to the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, who was felt to lack the religious tolerance of his more liberal predecessors. “Islam and Hinduism are terms of contrast. … If it is a mosque, the call to prayer is chanted in remembrance of Him. If it is a temple, the bells are rung in yearning for Him alone.”

Thanksy Thekkekara, the state government official who told me about the planned statue, said Shivaji was chosen because he was one of Maharashtra state’s “greatest icons” who fought against oppression, including the “Muslim oppression of the Mughals”.

She said he was a was a “great protector of the weak sections of society, including women and the poor.”

What do you think? Is there someone else more deserving than Shivaji of being cast in bronze 300 feet tall and set on a pedestal out in the Arabian Sea? And with the cost of installing the statue expected to be in excess of 1 billion rupees, about $25 million, is this a luxury Mumbai can do without?
 
 

Comments
5 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I can understand upstarts like Mayawati or Laloo wanting a statue of their own. But it would be disappointing to see the Maharashtrians justify themselves this waste.
Shivaji is one of the most respected warrior leaders of the country and there is a lot of respect for him not just in Maharashtra alone, but all over the literate and civilised parts of India.
The one billion rupees can be used for education or developing infrastructures in Maharashtra’s villages (why not plant plant trees all over Maharashtra and make it green?) – acts which Shivaji would have approved of. But wasting such money will only equate such a noble leader with the barbarian Mughals and the current lot like Mayawati.
A lot of Indians go abroad and stare open-mouthed at such concrete vagaries (even the statue of liberty). These people lack a sense of judgement. They haven’t seen the beauty of India I bet – they just want to take photographs in front of American symbols.
Let us not take encouragement from this breed.

Posted by Koleth | Report as abusive
 

While there is a statue for lady liberty, there is nothing wrong in replacing a dis-proportionate statue of Ms Mayawati, the Original Inhabitant of Jambudvipa, that the Great Prabuddha Bharath, a would be Prime Minister of Jambudvipa, that is the Great Prabuddha Bharath.

The RSS & the Shiv Sena have converted the tolerate Hinduism as anti-Muslim and anti- original Inhabitants of Jambudvipa, that is the Great Prabuddha Bharath. And the New Colossus Shivaji as anti-Muslim.

Hence it most deserves to cast the world’s beat secular leader Baba Saheb Dr. B.R Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution, which has stood the test of time in bronze 300 ft tall statue taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty and set on a pedestal out in the Arabian Sea.

 

While I am not a supporter of religious intolerence, I like the idea of having a grand statue in the Arabian Sea to match other big icons in the world. I think they DO serve a purpose – mainly by making the future generations aware of the status of persona whose statue is being erected. They do serve to give a pride to the millions of souls and raise their collective self esteem. Whether it’s Shivaji or Ambekar or just an abstract concept (similar to Liberty). For example, if they wish to convey to the world that they are a warrior breed, Marathi people could built a “statue” of a grand “sword and a shield” “bigger than lady liberty” !

The question is – yes, the city of NY has liberty standing by it, but more than that, the city lives the concept, breaths it and it runs in its blood. How much of the “Freedom fighter” spirit is left in Maharashtrians these days? I doubt if they are any better than many other “fighter” communities in India – like the Punjabis/Rajputs/Gorkhas etc.

The idea of liberty in practical day to day life is so uniquely attached to NYC that the statue can’t be anywhere else in the world. (and btw, it was a “gift” from France. that itself has some meaning)

why not instead build a “symbol” that stands for Maharashtra? How about Sant Dyaneshwar? how about a great wall with Pasaydaan written in 300 languages of the world? how about a grand statue of Dyaneshwari itself? or even a vast group of marathi saints that revolutionized “bhakti pantha”, each from a different cast ? perhaps no. since it won’t raise a controversy!

Are we so unimaginative that we cannot think of anything but Shivaji? ven his mother’s statue would be a little more novel idea than what has been going on….

Posted by AM | Report as abusive
 

to give a pride to the millions of souls and raise their collective self esteem. Whether it’s Shivaji or Ambekar or just an abstract concept (similar to Liberty). For example, if they wish to convey to the world that they are a warrior breed, Marathi people could built a “statue” of a grand “sword and a shield” “bigger than lady liberty”!The idea of liberty in practical day to day life is so uniquely attached to NYC that the statue can’t be anywhere else in the world.

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Posted by ammy100 | Report as abusive
 

about dyaneswar maharaj it is obvious that there should be a grand statue to inspire people spirituali and remember him as a saint , guru a realised soui , a master poet

Posted by sumitra | Report as abusive
 

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