Maharashtra: BJP MLA’s remarks over Shivaji Memorial spark protest, Opposition parties demand apology

Speaker Haribhau Bagde convened a meeting with the leaders of all the parties. Some BJP leaders also urged the MLA to apologise in Assembly.

A day after Opposition parties asked the ruling BJP to clarify its stand on the proposed Shivaji Memorial, the state Assembly saw another uproar on the issue on Tuesday. After Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis spoke about memorial and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan responded, Atul Bhatkhalkar’s remark – “bhalte” (immaterial) – invited a backlash from the Congress, NCP and the Shiv Sena whose members walked into the well of the House and demanded an apology from the MLA.

Following the ruckus, the House was adjourned briefly for four times. The Leader of the Opposition, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, said: “It is insulting and he should seek an apology. He should be expelled from the Assembly.”

NCP leader Ajit Pawar said: “Bhatkhalkar’s remarks against Shivaji displayed his extreme right-wing Manu mindset.” Shiv Sena MLA Sunil Prabhu said: “Unless Bhatkhalkar apologised, we would not allow the House to function.” Later, Speaker Haribhau Bagde convened a meeting with the leaders of all the parties. Some BJP leaders also urged Bhatkhalkar to apologise in the Assembly.

“My remark was not against Shivaji. It was against Prithviraj Chavan. Yet, I withdraw the remark and I apologise to the members in the Assembly and the people of Maharashtra,” Bhatkhalkar said.

On Monday, The Indian Express had reported that in an attempt to to bring down the cost of constructing the proposed statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji in the sea off Mumbai, the Maharashtra government has tweaked the design so that the height of the warrior king is now 7.5 metres shorter than originally proposed, although the sword he wields will be taller than in the original design.

Documents accessed by The Indian Express under the Right to Information (RTI) Act show that the state government had originally proposed a statue standing 121.2 metres tall, including the sculpture of the king on his horse together measuring 83.2 metres, and a 38-metre sword. On Monday, the Opposition parties asked the ruling BJP to clarify its stand on the proposed statue. At the House on Tuesday, the BJP said the Congress-NCP had built the shortest statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on the Mumbai Vidhan Bhawan premises. The statue with a height of 7.2 feet and a pedestal of 10.6 feet, was built in 2009.

Speaking about the proposed Shivaji Memorial earlier in the day, Fadnavis said: “The government was committed to build the world’s tallest Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj statue on the Arabian Sea with a height of 210 metres. There will be no paucity of funds. Adequate budget has been allocated.” While responding to former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan’s allegations that the government had raised the height of the pedestal and shortened the height of the Shivaji statue, Fadnavis said: “The final design of the project was approved during our tenure. All clearances for the project were completed during our tenure. The pedestal height had to be raised to provide a solid foundation to cope with the high wind pressure in the middle of the sea. The structural design of the pedestal and the statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji mounted on a horse wielding a sword was prepared by the JJ School of Art and Architecture, incorporating all the engineering challenges. So, where is the question of altering any design, which was not in existence. Where was the question of cost cutting when the final budget is being determined by our government?” To counter the Opposition’s charge, Fadnavis furnished details of eight statues built during the Congress-NCP government, between 1992 and 2009 in Mumbai.

“Mahatma Jyotiba Phule statue’s height was 16 feet and the pedestal on which it was mounted was 21 feet. Former CM Yashwant Chavan’s statue was 9.5 feet and the pedestal was 13 feet; Vasantdada Patil’s statue is 9.4 feet and Vasantrao Naik’s statue is 12 feet, the pedestal is 18 feet. Dr B R Ambedkar’s statue is 9 feet high and the pedestal is 13 feet. Swami Ramanand Thirth’s statue is 10.9 feet high and has a pedestal of 17.4 feet. The statue of Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj was 10 feet and pedestal 13 feet,” he said.

Earlier, Chavan had said: “The government has reduced the height of the Shivaji statue and raised the pedestal by 50 metres. To retain the overall height of 210 metres, it has now increased the height of the sword. The government’s design change is to curtail expenditure.”

He added that: “The L&T Company has been awarded the project for Rs 2,500 crore, along with Rs 300 crore GST.” The design change was to bring down the original cost of Rs 3,800 crore cited by the company, he had said.

The government has rubbished the charges as baseless.

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