To inspire his nation, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has laid the foundation stone for the world’s tallest statue, a 192m-high figure of a 17th-century warrior king to be erected on reclaimed land 4km off the coast of Mumbai.
When complete in 2019 the structure will be twice the height of the Statue of Liberty and three times taller than Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer – but it has attracted strong criticism.
Modi justified the project on the grounds that it would inspire the Indian nation to emulate the achievements of the king, Chhatrapati Shivaji.
"Even in the midst of struggle, Shivaji Maharaj remained a torchbearer of good governance," he said. "So many aspects of his personality inspire us."
The choice of Shivaji also plays to the Hindu nationalism of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party; Shivaji fought the Islamic Mughal empire, spiritual ancestor of Pakistan, to create a Hindu kingdom in the Maharashtra region.
The decision to spend so much on a symbolic project has proved controversial, given the lack of basic infrastructure in much of the country. Even in urban areas, only 30% of India’s sewage is subject to any kind of treatment, resulting in the pollution of three-quarters of India’s lakes, rivers and coast.
The project has been slammed by Ujjal Dosanjh, a Canadian politician of Indian origin, who published an open letter to Modi in the Indian Express newspaper attacking the "heinous politics of clever, but criminal distraction from the life and death issues of poverty, corruption, injustice and inequality in India".
There have also been objections from environmental groups, who say the construction work will disrupt marine ecosystems in the Arabian Sea.
Advocates of the project respond that cost is no object when it comes to honouring India’s national heroes. Devendra Fadnavis, the prime minister of Maharashtra, said recently: "How can we think about the cost when it comes to building a memorial for Shivaji Maharaj? He is our pride and it is only fitting that we should build a grand memorial in his name."
Mumbai’s main train station and airport are named after Shivaji, who is also one of the symbols of a Hindu cultural revival promoted by Modi.
Image: One of the many existing statues of Shivaji, this one in south Mumbai (Amit/Creative Commons)