Maharashtra govt, opposition engage in war of words over Shivaji’s statue

According to a report published in a leading English daily, the government has, in a bid to slash the cost of constructing the statue, has tweaked the design so that the height of the equestrian statue is now 7.5 metres shorter than originally proposed.

The Maharashtra assembly saw uproar on Tuesday after the opposition latched onto a media report to accuse the government of reducing height of the proposed statue of Maratha king Shivaji in the Arabian sea to save money, a charge denied by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

Former Congress Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan led the opposition’s charge on the issue, saying the government has “time and again” reduced the height of the statue even as it claimed it would be the tallest structure in the world.

Atul Bhatkhalkar (BJP) objected to Chavan raising “any random” issue keeping aside the agenda of the business of the House. The opposition members strongly objected to the usage of the words by Bhatkhalkar and called for his suspension.

Amid the din, which forced four adjournments, the Shiv Sena also lashed out at Bhatkhalkar, saying any issue relating to the Maratha warrior was of supreme importance to the state and demanding he apologised to the people of Maharashtra.

Bhatkhalkar relented. However, the ruling party MLA sought to clarify he had used the words in connection with Chavan’s remark and not with king Shivaji.

The Lower House also saw fiery exchanges between Yogesh Sagar (BJP) and Sanjay Shirsat (Shiv Sena) over the issue of seeking apology from Bhatkhalkar.

Amid all this, Abdul Sattar (Congress) tried to run away with the Speaker’s mace, but was stopped by marshals. According to a report published in a leading English daily, the government has, in a bid to slash the cost of constructing the statue, has tweaked the design so that the height of the equestrian statue is now 7.5 metres shorter than originally proposed.

Broaching the issue, Chavan said, “This (statue of Shivaji) is an issue which is very close to people of the state. The government is, time and again, reducing the height of the statute. This is the last trick they have used to reduce expenses of the statue by reducing height.”

Attacking Bhatkhalkar for allegedly trivialising the “issue related to sentiments” of the people of the state, Chavan said his party opposed the mentality which “had opposed coronation of King Shivaji”.

“We will not tolerate any changes in the height of the statue, he said.

Hitting back at the opposition, Fadnavis accused the Congress-NCP combine of not doing anything “for Maharaj” (the king) during its 15-year rule in the state (1999-2014). “I got all the clearances, this government got all the clearances,” he said.

The chief minister asserted the height of the statue was not reduced and that the government was ready to spend whatever amount it would take to build the structure. He, however, clarified the first design of the statue sent to the Union Environment Ministry was “schematic” one to get clearance and not the “proposal”.

Later, the consultants worked out a design in a way that the statue withstands the pressures of the gutsy sea wind and waves, he said. “The height of the statue has not been reduced in any way. We will build a statue of our Shivaji Maharaj that will be tallest in the world,” he told the House.

“They (Congress and NCP members) are not able to stomach this because they could not do anything for the past 15 years. They only kept talking about it and are misleading people,” Fadnavis charged.

Not satisfied with the reply, opposition members kept shouting slogans against the government. They squatted in the Well and also sought Bhatkhalkar’s suspension.

Joining the issue, the Shiv Sena, which is part of the BJP-led government, opposed any reduction in the height of the statue.

Its MLA from Aurangabad, Sanjay Shirsat, asked Bhatkhalkar to apologise for having said that the issue was “trivial”. His party colleague Sunil Prabhu seconded him. Bhatkhalkar replied, “I only used the word `bhalatach’ (any random issue). It was relating to Chavan. I did not even name Shivaji Maharaj. But keeping in mind the sentiments of members of the House, I apologise to the House and entire Maharashtra.”

Unimpressed by the apology, Leader of the Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil of the Congress continued to press for Bhatkhalkar’s suspension.

Later, a meeting of group leaders was convened to find a way out of the impasse and Bhatkhalkar was reprimanded against making any such statement in future.

The state government had originally proposed a statue standing 121.2 metres tall, including the sculpture of the 17th century king on his horse together measuring 83.2 metres, and a 38-metre sword.

The government had last month decided that the total height of the project would be 212 metres, making it the tallest statue in the world. The grand memorial is estimated to cost Rs 3,600-crore.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had performed “jal poojan” of the ambitious project in December 2016.

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