Memorials needs a public debate

  • Shailesh Gaikwad, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 09, 2015 15:38 IST

The issue of several memorials planned by the Maharashtra government is back in the news again, this time with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Shiv Sena locked in a slanging match over the same.

The AIMIM has opposed the state’s plans to build memorials of Chhatrapati Shivaji, Sena chief late Balasaheb Thackeray and BJP leader late Gopinath Munde saying it would be a waste of public money and the government should instead think of building hospitals. On the face of it, the suggestion to spend public money on more useful purposes than memorials is logical but then the AIMIM doesn’t have a history of being logical in politics. The outfit can be as unreasonable as some other right-wing political outfits and the noise being made by its leader now seems more political than anything else.

However, the arguments and counter-arguments over the memorials have again brought the issue in the public domain. Frankly, the issue of memorials needs a public debate. Does the state government really need to spend crores of taxpayers’ money on some structures to be built in memory of departed leaders or historical figures? Or shouldn’t the government do something better that would turn out to be of great help to the needy and serve as an ideal memorial for such personalities?

T hroughout his life, Thackeray rooted for the Marathi manoos and Marathi culture even though his ways of doing the same were criticised by others. Won’t it be a good idea to set up an institution dedicated to study Maharashtra — what the state needs in future in terms of agriculture, industrial development as well as preserving and developing Marathi culture?

The government wants to spend hundreds of crores to build a grand memorial to Dr BR Ambedkar on the land of defunct Indu Mills at Prabhadevi. The issue has become a sentimental one for Dalit leaders and their followers. At the same time, lakhs of youth from socially backward classes are jobless as they are unaware of the kind of education and skills needed to get employment in the new economy. In Maharashtra alone, the rate of school and college dropouts among the youths from the socially backward class is high. So is the rate of unemployment. Why can’t there be a professionally-run institution for such underprivileged youth where they will be guided and trained for jobs in retail or financial services or IT-enabled services sectors? Building such an institution would lead to thousands of backward class youth standing on their own in their lives.

Munde is revered by lakhs of poor sugarcane cutters in central and north Maharashtra, many of whom keep migrating every year. Since they keep migrating to sugarcane fields and sugar factories for work, the worst sufferers are their children, who can’t continue with their schools. There are some initiatives taken for their children’s education but those are not enough. Won’t it make more sense to build boarding schools for children of these workers in some of the districts in Maharashtra where their numbers are high? That would be a fitting memorial for Munde.

The grandest of the memorial projects is the one planned for Chhatrapati Shivaji. This is going to be built by reclaiming land off the Mumbai coast. It would not only require a huge chunk of money (approximately Rs 1,000 crore) but concerns are also being raised over ecological damage the reclamation would cause. At the same time, several nature-lovers have been seeking to direct the attention of the Maharashtra government towards the poor condition of more than 350 forts in the state. Barring a couple of them, all forts are in dilapidated condition and their historical treasure is on the verge of being forgotten.

Why can’t the state government adopt prominent forts, restore them and turn them into a showcase of Maharashtra’s history as well as a great tourism attraction? Why can’t Raigad fort which was Shivaji’s capital be restored to its original glory showing how Marathas used to live in the grand fort and handle the administration of their kingdom from there? Won’t that be a fantastic memorial for the king who cared more for his subjects than for his own life?

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