The Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan on Thursday boycotted both the government functions in Nagpur and refused to share the dias with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the wake of heckling of non - BJP chief ministers by BJP workers in recent past, in such programmes.
Chavan kept away from the inauguration of the Mouda Super Thermal Power Project Phase I, and later also skipped the function for laying the foundation stone of the proposed Nagpur Metro project.
The guardian minister for the district, Nitin Raut, also refused to share the dais with Modi. The minister for social justice, Shivajirao Meghe received Modi at the airport on behalf of the state government, in keeping with protocol.
The decision came after two other chief ministers, Bhupinder Singh Hooda of Haryana and Hemant Soren of Jharkhand, were booed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters at meetings addressed earlier by the Prime Minister. Chavan himself was heckled by BJP activists at a function attended by Modi in Raigad last week.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with minister of urban development Venkaiah Naidu, transport minister Nitin Gadkari, minister of state for power, coal and new and renewable energy Piyush Goyal and Maharashtra governor Shankaranayan during a stone laying ceremony of Nagpur Metro Rail and Pardi Flyover at Kasturchand Park in Nagpur. (PTI Photo)
Chavan accused the BJP of politicising the Prime Minister's public events ahead of assembly polls. "I have decided not to attend the Prime Minister's function because of the incidents that took place in recent days," he said.
A group of Congress supporters, meanwhile, staged a demonstration with black flags near the venue of a function attended by the PM.
Hemant Soren booed
Crowds heckled Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, the third instance of public humiliation of opposition leaders, fuelling talk over whether there was a BJP design to undermine the chief ministers in some election-bound states.
The crowd, comprising mainly BJP supporters, booed and kept shouting "Modi, Modi" throughout Soren's speech at a public rally in Ranchi. At one point, he asked the gathering to forget the political rivalry for a day, but that further irked the 70,000-odd crowd and the booing became louder.
"Political powers keep changing; we need to respect the dignity of this stage," Soren said, which irked the crowd of about 70,000 even more and led to louder chants.
The reaction of the crowd appeared to have taken the chief minister by surprise, causing some errors in his speech. Soren mistakenly referred to Modi as the president at least five times.
Modi was in Ranchi to inaugurate a substation of the Power Grid Corporation in the district.
Later, the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) took a strong stand and said the party will not let the BJP hold such events in the state in future.
Asking Modi to apologise to the public and leaders of Jharkhand and Haryana, the party's national general secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya said the BJP should learn how to control its men.
Read: PM says Jharkhand can play a vital role in India's progress
CM Soren too criticised the incident calling it a "pre-planned stunt by the BJP" and "an insult of the federal structure", a reference to Modi’s repeated assertions that his government believed in “cooperative federalism” and taking along all states. “The PM must look into it... the federal system he talks about. I feel it is like raping the system, the tradition of the federal system. There is a plan to break it.”
Soren had earlier asked the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to ensure no 'Hooda-like incident' occurs at the event in Ranchi. The JMM had said that in case of any such incident the party would take strong steps.
The BJP has reacted to the incidents saying its government gives due respect to all CMs.
Well-planned conspiracy, claims Congress
The Congress saw a pattern. Over the past few weeks, Modi has unveiled a string of infrastructure projects in Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra – all opposition-ruled states going to polls this year. “This is a well-thought out plan, a conspiracy… If the PM was serious, he should have sent a directive to his party men immediately to stop this,” Congress’ Ambika Soni said.
But she remained non-committal on whether the party high command has issued any direction to its chief ministers to avoid Modi's functions saying, "No such direction is required to be given" as both Chavan and Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda are experienced leaders.
At the same time, Soni stressed that "the entire Congress party is of the opinion that we will not tolerate any such insult. Whatever they(the chief ministers) have done is right. We are fully behind them".
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said, "It was up to the prime minister to ensure, since he was present on the dais, that such untoward incidents do not take place. After all, if the prime minister of India is incapable of maintaining the dignity of a chief minister, then who else is going to maintain it."
“The PM is guilty not by default but by design for encouraging this. In a planned way, BJP and RSS workers insult chief ministers in the states the PM visits. No prime minister in the past has behaved in this insulting manner with any chief minister anywhere,” said Soni's party colleague, Anand Sharma.
Read: Cong says oppn CMs should not attend 'political functions' of PM
Asked to comment on Congress CMs’ decision to “boycott” Modi’s functions, J-K CM Omar Abdullah told HT, “I think it’s extremely unfortunate that CMs have been forced to take this extreme step. I have attended a few functions with the PM in my state and the crowd has behaved with no heckling or booing. Had that happened, I would also have looked at taking a similar decision.”
So far, the BJP leadership has done little to soothe ruffled feathers, and instead accused Congress CMs of either disrespecting the PM or suffering a complex. It described Chavan’s refusal to share the dais with Modi as “unfortunate”.
“There seems to be a complex in the minds of poll-bound Congress CMs. They should take care that they don’t breach constitutional propriety,” BJP’s Shahnawaz Hussain said. “They should not fall prey to such complex arising out of the PM’s popularity among the masses.”
Inputs from HTC, Delhi