The 3600 crore budget allocated for the statue of Shivaji in the Arabian Sea has been met with ample criticism, often by comparing the budget to the health and education budgets of Maharashtra. The criticism also includes the adverse impact it will have on the environment and the loss of livelihoods of lakhs of farmers. The only contrary right-wing argument, however, is that it will generate revenue via tourism, which is misleading if not a state-funded propaganda. The numbers don’t match, neither does the state’s attitude to tourism stand consistent with this. Allow me to explain.
A popular video by Dhruv Rathee busts the myth of covering the cost of the statue via tourism. As per the video, even Taj Mahal earns only 20-25 crore annually via tourists and it would take more than a century to cover the cost at this rate. And if the government truly cared about tourist revenue, what about investing in the existing tourist spots we have?
The Archaeological Survey of India has nearly 200 monuments that it identifies as national heritage sites. There are thousands of other monuments that the ASI has not been able to care about. In the 200 monuments under ASI, we also have UNESCO-recognised World Heritage Sites like Humayun’s Tomb, Red Fort and Qutab Minar. While the ASI longs for funds to preserve this heritage, the government doesn’t seem to care. We have enough to build tunnels in Katra to ease the pilgrims to Vaishno Devi and to build statues in the sea to honour Shivaji, but when it comes to the existing monuments, we seem to have a cash crunch.
The statue of Shivaji is in continuation of the Hindutva narrative of history that paints all Muslim and Christian rulers as brutal tyrants and the Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh rulers as peaceful and tolerant. Built partly on facts and partly on myths and propaganda, this narrative of history has a tendency to separate ‘our’ history from ‘theirs’. The tombs, mosques and palaces the Muslim rulers built can never be considered a part of ‘our’ heritage in that narrative of history, and thus Delhi, despite having three UNESCO-declared heritage sites, cannot be the seat of tourism.
While Akbar was a secular king, greatly interested in the culture and spiritual thought of India, and even born in India, he can never be the face we would want to put forward for such a statue. Jehangir, who is well-known for his chains of justice cannot be a possible candidate either. Aurangzeb and Taimur have long been declared as the most brutal tyrants we’ve had. Sher Shah Suri who rebuilt the Grand Trunk road connecting Kabul to Chittagong could’ve been close. But then, Shivaji was a Hindu ruler who fought against Muslims and nothing beats that!