Chief Minister-elect Ashok Chavan ignored protests by anti-superstition activists and hosted controversial spiritual guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba at his official residence, Varsha, on Sunday.
Off limits to the media, Varsha looked festive – floral arches and red carpets greeted Sai Baba (82) and his entourage.
A political leader, requesting anonymity, said Chavan and his family performed padyapooja (prayer at the feet) of the guru and later hosted a sumptuous maha prasadam (auspicious lunch) for the guests and devotees including family friends and former Union home minister Shivraj Patil, among several other Congress and NCP leaders.
While anti-superstition activists phoned news channels and newspapers to protest, Chavan called the programme “my personal matter and nothing to do with politics”.
Narendra Dabholkar, president of Andhashraddha Nirmal Samiti (organisation for the eradication of superstition), said from Pune: “Chavan has disregarded the Indian Constitution, which calls for a scientific approach to everything. He should have taken a cue from former prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who in his entire political career did not visit or worship any baba.”
The Shiv Sena, which often violently enforces a version of Hindutva ideology, protested Chavan’s move. “We have no complaints if Chavan visits Sai Baba at his ashram. But Varsha is not Chavan’s personal property. It belongs to the state’s 10 crore people, so no such event should be held there,” said Subhash Desai, the Sena’s group leader in the Assembly.
Nine days after Maharashtra voters returned them to power, there was no progress in power-sharing talks between partners Congress and NCP.
The NCP wants 21 berths in the 43-member council of ministers as per the 1999 formula. It has also refused to give up important departments like home, finance, energy and rural development.
On a busy day when senior leaders from both sides discussed the issue with their respective party colleagues, the NCP panel did not show up for the round of talks Sunday evening indicating that all was not well within the alliance.