Ranjona Banerji: Tall statues for taller promises

By  Ranjona Banerji | Posted  04-Jan-2017

A brick-and-mortar statue by the sea is so last century. Why not a statue that truly represents a digital and cashless India?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi performed the bhoomi pujan for the grand Shivaji statue in December. Pic/PTI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi performed the bhoomi pujan for the grand Shivaji statue in December. Pic/PTI

Mumbai is getting what it so badly needs: a statue by the sea. New York has one after all, and is that fair?

In keeping with current traditions, the last state government came up with this idea and this state government is fulfilling the last government’s dream. After all, just about every bill left un-passed in Parliament by the UPA is being pushed through Parliament by the NDA which had roundly condemned the same bills when they were introduced by the UPA.

So why should life be any different if BJP is pushing through a statue idea that the Democratic Front alliance came up with? And why should it be strange that Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes credit for an idea that the late Chief Minister of Maharashtra from Congress, Vilasrao Deshmukh announced in 2008?

Except of course, PM Modi might leave a little room for current Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to also take some of the credit for what is not his.

The promise of constituting this 300-foot statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj by the sea was made in the 2004 manifesto of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party manifesto. Incidentally, the idea of such a high-priced statue was criticised in 2008 and many felt that Mumbai did not need so much money spent on a memorial — then pegged around Rs 1 billion. Many scathing comments were made by the Opposition, who joked that the state government could perhaps afford such a statue for all the pressing problems in Maharashtra had been resolved.

But as we have all learnt, much to our own peril, it is ‘nationalistic’ and indeed noble in the extreme to complain about and criticise actions taken by any government not led by the BJP. So, the anger and disappointment aimed at Congress-NCP’s R1-billion idea is fully justified.

Now, let’s talk about the proposed statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj by the sea — the foundation stone for which has been laid by Mr Prime Minister. The estimated cost of this project is only Rs 36 billion or Rs 3,600 crore. Obviously, the amount is way less than the Congress-NCP proposed R1-billion statue, as any intelligent pro-demonetisation accountant or economist will inform you. Indeed, if you use all the so-called black money deposited in banks since November 8 — roughly Rs 4,500 crore — you have the required funds for this statue by the sea, plus some leftover money to purchase vada pav, pav bhaaji and bhel puri from street-side stalls off Marine Drive. You may call this ‘Black Money Crowd Funding’ or ‘Kala Paise Ka Sahi Upyog Scheme’ (KPKSUS or Kipiksus?).

Other cities may raise objections that all Kipiksus money has gone into Maharashtra, but, well, that’s because Mumbai is the financial capital of the country. Therefore, it makes sense to have all the kala dhan reinvested in Mumbai. I know Delhi is trying to compete, but please! Also, I decided arbitrarily (in keeping with the trend set by the introduction of demonetisation) to not term this scheme ‘Kidiksus’ because ‘Kipiksus’ sounds so much better.

However, I have my own objections to this statue by the sea. A statue is very last century and will do nothing to check terrorism, black money, corruption, counterfeiting and so on. A humongous statue, made using actual concrete, bricks, iron rods, metals and various stones, just does not fit spirit of the current climate of digitisation.

This statue must showcase our new Indian ideas like ‘digitised cash transactions’ and ‘a cashless economy’. The island by the sea will, of course, have its full quota of pav bhaji and vada pav stands — maybe even a couple of kulfi stands, Patanjali stores and PM-modelled mobile wallet booths and data connection kiosks. It might even have that viewing gallery where truly ‘patriotic’ people can levitate (others can use the stairs or the lift) to the top of the declared height of the statue higher than the Statue of Liberty.

But at this puny price of Rs 3,600 crore, surely Mumbai, primus inter pares, city by the sea, Gateway to India, deserves a 21st century virtual statue, to best fulfil the dreams of our Central government? A holographic image projected at the Marine Drive for the world to wonder at. And what a wonder it will be. No statue at all. And all our black money put to good use.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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