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.
Then 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.