Rs 3600 crore: The cost of 'patriotism'

Last Updated: Wed, Dec 28, 2016 13:36 hrs
Modi lays foundation for Rs 3,600 crore Shivaji Memorial!

Days after most of his bhakts trolled Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor on Twitter for naming their son after one conqueror, the Prime Minister laid the foundation stone to inaugurate a monument in honour of another.

As I write this, sitting in a city that was recently devastated by a cyclone, watching councillors negotiate with residents about how much they will have to pay the corporation workers for clearing up the trees that have fallen into their compounds, I find myself overwhelmed at this thought: Even as I’m being extorted for money to clear trees that I did not plant, trees that have collapsed on weakened roots because the government did not bother with their upkeep, my tax money is being used to build an exorbitant statue of a long-dead conqueror who attacked my state among others.

Since my tax money is also allegedly being spent on getting trolls to abuse me – as I’m sure has already been evidenced or will shortly be evidenced by the comments below this piece – I must perhaps make it clear why it is not unpatriotic or anti-national to call a long-dead conqueror, a long-dead conqueror.

Those who have studied history in school – unless the textbooks have been edited to leave out this fact – will be aware that the projection of Shivaji Bhonsle as a national hero, a patriot, was a conscious process, a brainwave of the freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

The trolls and the equally ignorant will be unaware, and so here’s a short history lesson – in order to unify the populace against their colonial masters, Tilak and his supporters came up with several initiatives to foster pride in Hindu culture and its heroes. One such initiative was the grand celebration of the Ganapati Festival in 1895. Another was the creation of a leader for the Hindus against the threat of the marauding invader, and so it was that a group meeting in Poona resulted in a decision to commemorate the birth anniversary of Shivaji the following year.

They began to collect donations for the renovation of the Shivaji Samadhi, which had been left to the elements for a fair bit of time.

“It has been a matter of constant and painful surprise (to us) as to why we, the people of Maharashtra, did sleep so soundly so long...The people of no other country in the world would have forgotten the great man who laid the foundation of our empire, who upheld our self respect as Hindus, and who gave particular direction to our religion,” Tilak wrote in his newspaper Kesari, on April 14, 1896, the eve of the Shivaji Festival.

Tilak often spoke of the importance of heroes and their heroism under “swarajya”. He believed that the notion of patriotism had to be roused in the masses through religion.

A hundred and twenty years later, when we have been an independent nation for seven decades, the current government believes rousing patriotism in the masses and tying it with religion is the solution to all our problems and all its failures.

Why whine about demonetisation when we can choose to be patriotic instead?

Why fill newspaper pages with pictures of a bumper crop gone to waste because of the cash crunch when we can choose to be patriotic instead?

Why have prime time discussions on whether the legal enforcement of the national anthem at the cinema is judicial overreach when we can choose to be patriotic instead?

Why commit suicide from depression over one’s inability to repay loans when we can choose to be patriotic instead?

Why educate our children when we can choose to be patriotic instead?

Why provide material for trolls to earn their keep when we can be patriotic instead?

And so, a sum of Rs 3600 crore – which could feed a million people for an entire year, which could clothe two million people, which could cover the school education of more than 70,000 children, which could build shelters for 30,000 families, which is a billion times the amount 22 percent of the population makes in a day – is being spent on a monument to a dead man who was a symbol of the country’s ability to fight the invader a century ago and who will become a symbol of the country’s inability to fight the enemy within once his 150-metre high statue is erected.

That is the cost of patriotism.

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Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. 

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