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This is not necessarily an Indian phenomenon. Throughout history, memorials to the dead have served as valuable political resources. Many countries across the globe have a tomb dedicated to the unknown soldier. These tombs are often national monuments that receive special attention on commemorative days. It is the physical presence of memorials that is valuable and more powerful than countless oral narratives. Memorials refresh collective memory and transport the past to the present.
Since memorials are political, it is not surprising that the Sena demand has met with mixed and confused responses. The Congress officially did not comment and was probably waiting for a formal demand. However, subsequently, the Congress accused the Sena of attempting to grab public land while protecting the more "appropriate" privately owned land of its own leaders. The minister of state for urban development, a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) representative, said the demand would be considered "sensitively".
Different voices emerged from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). To score a political point, one MNS corporator suggested that the memorial be built on an alternate piece of land, where a memorial for Ambedkar is being planned. The official spokesman for the MNS, however, said great leaders should be commemorated through public welfare projects in the name of the departed. Residents' associations, it was reported, were hardly enthused by the suggestion and sought the protection of the judiciary to prevent the appropriation of one of the few open spaces available in the city.
Those who want a memorial, and those who oppose it, actually agree on one issue. They realise the "significance" of the man it seeks to commemorate. For the Shiv Sena, the death of the founder could be crippling, given that it has already been wounded by the formation of the MNS. The Sena is no longer what it was. Even while the leader was alive, the breakaway MNS had appropriated a part of the Sena legacy. Its longstanding ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had also been flexing its muscles for some time now. It is essentially a battle for survival, and the Sena is fighting hard not to be pushed to the margins.
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