Universal condemnation and shock at theft of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj statue from San Jose public park

Mayor Ron Gonzalez of San Jose receiving the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj statue in 1999. From left: Suneel Kelkar, President of San Jose Pune Sister City Organization, Mayor Ron Gonzalez, Vijay Pendse – another founding member of SJPSC, whose idea it was to set up the sister city relationship.

Ritu Jha-

The recent stealing of Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj statue located in San Jose’s Guadalupe River Park has not just shocked the Indian American community but also the president of the Sister Cities International Foundation and Chair Emeritus, Global Envoy for the Sister Cities International Network Tim Quigley, who termed it “an assault.”

Officials have called it a theft, and not a hate crime. The four-foot statue of the iconic 17th-century Maratha ruler was a gift to San Jose from its sister city Pune in Maharashtra, India.

Jon Cicirelli, director of the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department and who manages the City’s sister city program, told indica, “The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj statue located in the city’s Guadalupe River Park was noticed to be missing on the afternoon of January 31 by staff of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy. The theft of the statue was reported to the San Jose Police Department. The statue appeared to be sawed in four locations.”

He said there are no suspects so far as “there were no cameras in the park that would have recorded the theft.”

Arjun Batra, newly appointed councilmember of the City of San Jose, District 10 told indica, “This is a very unfortunate incident. I am concerned.”

Batra said he has spoken to the councilmember of District 6 and Jason Su, executive director at the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, and they are working together on this.

Batra said, “The statue is very important and San Jose values the Sister City relationship with Pune which was established in 1992. The statue was installed in 1999. A lot of visitors, especially people from India, visit the park specifically to catch a glimpse of the statue. They love to see the legendary Shivaji Maharaj’s statue displayed in the US.”

“The metal statue’s four legs have been cut and the installation has been stolen. Since it was a huge and heavy statue, it is logical to deduce that it must have taken a lot of time to hack it off its base. The city’s authorities are now trying to find out if anybody saw the incident happening or has any pictures of the people who were doing it. But at the moment none of that has come forward. We are trying to understand what really happened,” said Batra.

The park’s administration has alerted all the scrapyards nearby, in case somebody tries to sell the metal. Batra believes that unlike the other incidents of Gandhi statues being vandalized in the US, this crime may have more to do with theft.

“It does not look like a hate crime,” Batra said. “Though it is difficult to say anything definitively till the culprits are caught or evidence of the incident is recovered, to me, it looks like an act of vandalism or theft.”

The way the metal statue was hacked off its base, he believes that this is a planned theft more than vandalism. “The people responsible must have needed heavy-duty cutting equipment like a power saw and a large vehicle like a truck to cut off and carry away the statue. More than one person was involved in the theft,” Batra said.

“Lately we have seen catalytic converters being stolen from cars for the precious metals they contain. I have asked that question to Jason Su because he is more familiar with installations at the park and my colleague, councilmember Deb Davis. They have told me that there are similar installations and memorabilia in Dublin city, a sister city of San Jose, that have been damaged or stolen in the past. We have other sister city monuments in the park in San Jose where Shivaji Maharaj’s statue was installed,” the councilmember said.

While the theft is being probed, Batra and other representatives of the community are working on trying to find the stolen installation. They are also planning to restore, recapture or replace the statue.

“We know that the artist who made the statue has passed away. If we end up replacing it, then another artist who can make a similar statue will be roped in. We will be working together on this project with the city. I’ll help councilmember, Deb Davis, and do whatever is needed to restore the installation as a mark of our respect for our Sister City Pune, and make sure that our partnership is properly reflected in whatever monuments and statues we have.”

President of San Jose Pune Sister City Organization Sunil Kelker expressed shock over the incident. He told indica, “It’s appalling. I was told that somebody used a big saw to cut the four legs of the statue and then took it away. We suspect they may have stolen it for selling the material and to make some money. In 1999 it was a gift from the people of Pune to the people of San Jose in 1999. I think this was the first statue of Shivaji Maharaj in the US.”

Recalling how Pune became a sister city to San Jose, Kelker said that then made a presentation to the city council and explained to them how the two cities can work together to improve relationships between different people.

“There are seven Sister Cities of San Jose… it (the statue) was a sight to behold and it was was visible from Taylor Street as you walked a little toward the park.”

“The statue has deep religious and cultural meaning. Stealing it is an assault,” Quigley said. “The monument has been a symbol of San Jose’s commitment to peace and mutual respect. The thieves do not realize that it’s really an assault on the spirit of this connection. It was very fabric of San Jose and very texture of who we are as a community. I hope the culprits may have a change of heart and do the right thing.”

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