The Big Story: Statue wars

On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the Chhatrapati Shivaji memorial off the coast of Mumbai. The mega structure, to be dedicated to the 16th century Maratha ruler, who now represents Maharashtrian pride, would include what is pegged as the world’s tallest statue at 190 metres in height. With an estimated bill of Rs 3,600 crore, it will also be the costliest memorial built in India.

This is the second chapter of what seems to be a statue war building up across the country. In 2013, the Gujarat government, under then chief minister Narendra Modi, decided to install a colossal statue of freedom fighter Sardar Vallabhai Patel at a cost of Rs 2,990 crore. This structure would be only eight metres shorter than Shivaji’s in Mumbai and has been called the “statue of unity”. In Tamil Nadu, the government is in the process of finding a fitting place for the statue of mother Tamil, the deity representing the language.

The push for the Shivaji statue in Maharashtra gained momentum after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014. From a budget of Rs 700 crore in 2009, the estimate has now shot up to Rs 3,600 crore. Given the track record of governments missing deadlines on key public projects, cost escalation is a real concern.

But what has come as a shock is Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis rejecting all opposition to the memorial and drowning the questions of bad economics in the rhetoric of “Marathi pride”. In 2015, when Fadnavis was trying to obtain all clearances for the statue, the state saw record number of farmers committing suicide. Between January and October that year, about 2,600 farmers took their lives . The suicides were partly the result of drought conditions in several districts that destroyed crops and built up debts. The Shivaji statue would cost half the state’s total irrigation budget of Rs 7,200 crore.

The statue project has also shown absolute disregard to environment norms, with the Centre providing the memorial an exception from public hearing. This was despite the fact that fishing communities in Mumbai have opposed the statue as a threat to their livelihood as it has been planned on land reclaimed from the Arabian Sea.

The narratives behind such memorials are identical. Political parties try to outplay each other in honouring elements that are seen to represent people’s identities and appropriate their legacies. These include languages, religions and heroes. But in the process, good economics and hard-earned money of taxpayers seem to be the greatest victims.

The Big Scroll: on the day’s big story

This Indiaspend story looks at how the Maharashtra government could have fruitfully spent the money allocated for the Shivaji statue.

Sabita Kaushal writes on why the Shivaji and Patel statues should be made to obtain green clearances without compromising on any process.


  1. In The Hindu, Adnan Farooqui says the Congress should focus more on regional interests to revive itself from the current slump.
  2. In the Indian Express, academic Christophe Jaffrelot writes on why the emergence of populist movements driven by nationalism across the world could pose a threat to democracy. 
  3. Shashi Shekar in the Hindustan Times on why the legacy of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was much more than mere electoral triumphs and defeats. 


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