Mumbai: Vishal Dadlani is adept at donning the quintessential ‘angry rocker’ face when performing with his rock band Pentagram. But this time, the band’s 36-year-old lead singer and one half of Bollywood’s popular music composer duo Vishal-Shekhar, is truly furious.
What has irked him is the state government’s proposal to build a Rs 350-crore statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj out in the Arabian Sea.
Instead of composing an angst-ridden rock song to vent his rage, Dadlani started a petition on his website, www.smallchange.in, to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the government’s decision. The petition has already garnered more than 5,000 signatures and Dadlani hopes to submit it to the court by the end of next week.
“Let me make it very clear that this movement is not against any political party and definitely not against honoring the memory of Shivaji,” says Dadlani, echoing the first words of his letter to the Chief Justice of the Mumbai High Court. Thereafter the letter states, “We feel that the proposed statue/ memorial to be built in the image of this great and able King, estimated to cost Rs. 350 crore, is an unnecessary expense for the exchequer of the Government of Maharashtra.”
What triggered this protest was a Facebook status message put up by renowned theatre personality Rahul DaCunha which asked, “Is NO ONE furious that they are building a statue in the middle of the ocean, without asking us and with our money?”
Dadlani realised he was. “People are living in sub-human conditions in Mumbai. Infrastructure is abysmal. Farmers in Vidarbha are committing suicide as they lose their livelihoods and lives because of the drought,” he says agitatedly. “Rs 350 crore will go a long way in sorting out some of these problems.”
He discloses another pertinent fear, that of a recurring government folly: “Halfway through [the project], they’ll proclaim they’ve run out of money and the cost of the statue will not stop at Rs 350 crore.”
He believes a more befitting tribute to Shivaji would be to educate children in Maharashtra. “The cost of educating a child for one year is approximately Rs 1,200. For Rs 350 crore, the government can educate over two lakh children,” he says, having obviously done his research.
Chalta hai no more
Most Mumbaiites are usually content with armchair criticism of governmental misuse of taxpayers’ money. With delivery dates, tight recording schedules and stringent deadlines, Dadlani is by no means a man with time on his hands. But he says he’s fed up of the ‘chalta hai’ Mumbai attitude. “It takes surprisingly little time to do things like this. If your cause is honest, there will be enough people waiting to help you out,” he says. Filmmakers Farhan Akhtar and Zoya Akhtar are among those who have already pledged their support to Dadlani on social networking sites.
Dadlani says he was shaken out of his 35-year-old apathy by the “irresponsible media coverage” of the 26/11 terror attack. He started www.smallchange.in and filed a PIL with over 30,000 signatures to enforce a code of conduct for TV channels during a national crisis. While this PIL is stuck in court, Dadlani won a small moral victory when news channels were forced to propose self-regulatory guidelines.
Not anti-Shivaji, just anti-waste
Rahul DaCunha, who has signed the petition against the Shivaji memorial, attributes this “appalling decision” to the government’s vote-bank politics. “We’re not anti-Shivaji, but building a statue with taxpayers’ money is just not the need of the hour in a state which is falling apart, where starvation and floods have to be dealt with,” says DaCunha.
Other petitioners who have signed up on Dadlani’s website agree. Harianto Mehta’s comment reads: ‘Respected politicians. You have been elected with the trust and confidence that you will wisely govern the policies of this country in the interest of our developing nation. Who is this statue going to benefit exactly? We already have plenty of tourist sites in the city that are urgently in need of refurbishment — why create more such sites where both cost of creation and maintenance is so prohibitive?’
Others like Shirley are more succinct — ‘What a pitiable waste,’ she writes.
DaCunha sums up the public mood when he says firmly, “We’ve kept quiet for too long. Even if the statue is built, it’s time the government knows we won’t be quiet any more.”