Vishal Dadlani, the singer and composer, is planning to petition the high court against the state's plan to spend 350 crore on building a colossal statue of Shivaji on an artificial island. You can read the petition here, and sign if you sympathise.
Though I think the island is a dumb idea, I don't believe Dadlani makes a good case against it. His basic contention is that because we're in the middle of a drought, the money budgeted for the statue could be better spent elsewhere. I'm against arguments of this kind because they can be used against any subsidy of the arts. Why host a theatre festival when people are starving? Why spend tax rupees on bringing musicians, artists or dancers to this country when the money could be spent fixing roads or increasing power generation? It is impossible to make utilitarian arguments in favour of the arts.
In any case, it ought not to be up to the court to stop the government from spending money, unless specific laws are contravened.
I object to the island idea for a different set of reasons. Its concept was drawn up when the Sea Link project was already in an advanced stage. Our chief minister decided to place the island where it would be obscured by the final stretch of the sea bridge connecting Haji Ali to Nariman Point.
To allow for the island to be visible, the SeaLink plan was modified. As it currently stands, the final segment appears doomed. They're never going to get permission to dynamite their way through Malabar Hill. If they do, they then have to build an underwater channel parallel to Marine Drive. This will be prohibitively expensive, and the extra cost ought to be considered part of Shivaji Island's outlay.
In my view, the change in the Sea Link's orientation is the only strong basis for challenging the building of Shivaji Island. Is it not irresponsible for a carefully planned and crucially important infrastructure project to be altered, in a way that renders it unbuildable, in order to accommodate a vanity monument?
Shivaji is associated with hills rather than the sea. He raided sea ports such as Surat and nibbled at the fringes of what are today Bombay's northern suburbs, but neither he nor the Maratha leaders who came after him ever established ascendancy over these parts. Would it not have been more sensible to identify a location with which the king is intimately associated and build a statue and museum there as a way to vitalise the surrounding economy? But of course, our ministers were thinking of outdoing the Statue of Liberty, and so Shivaji had to be placed on an island. It is worthwhile recalling the sonnet by Emma Lazarus engraved on a plaque inside the statue on Liberty Island. It ends:
... "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
While Liberty invites people from across the globe and promises them a just and inclusive new home, those who practise Shivaji politics aren't welcoming of migrants even from other parts of India. Noted for his liberalism while he lived, the Chhatrapati has become, through being co-opted as a mascot for identity politics, a symbol of divisiveness based on language, caste and creed: Marathi against Hindi, Maratha against Brahmin, Hindu against Muslim.