A day after a picture of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis with a criminal from Pune went viral on social media, his attendance at the birthday celebration of controversial godman Narendra Maharaj has sparked controversy once again. Social activists have slammed Fadnavis for sharing the dais with the godman and for reportedly saying that dharma satta (the power of religion) was greater than raj satta (political power).
Fadnavis, along with Union ministers Shripad Naik, Hansraj Ahir, legislative assembly speaker Haribhau Bagade, Ratnagiri MP (Shiv Sena) Vinayak Raut and local BJP and Shiv Sena leaders attended a function to celebrate Narendra Maharaj’s 50th birthday at Nanij in Ratnagiri on Saturday.
“Political power represents the system of the ruler and his citizens, but religious power has the utmost importance to sacrifice,” said Fadnavis, speaking at the function.
The CM also said Prime Minister Narendra Modi could not attend the function due a scheduling conflict.
Social activists slammed Fadnavis, saying that his action was against constitutional guidelines. “As a person at the helm of power in the state, the CM is expected to safeguard and promote the constitutional guidelines by promoting scientific views. Attending a function to felicitate a religious guru, who claims to cure ailments such as cancer with the help of witchcraft, is totally against the constitutional framework,” said Mukta Dabholkar of Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti. “We had written to the CM on Friday and asked him to keep away from such functions as it spreads a wrong message in this progressive state. However, he did not pay heed to our appeal,” said Dabholkar.
Mukta is the daughter of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar who was allegedly killed by right wing groups.“Narendra Maharaj was held guilty in a departmental inquiry for corruption and was terminated from government service years ago. Criminal cases have been registered against his followers for threatening anti-superstition activists,” she added. Significantly, Maharashtra has enacted a law that makes provisions for stringent punishment for those who cheat or hurt people by spreading superstitious statements.
“The CM has endorsed the Rashtriya Swayansevak Sangh’s ideology of giving religious power more importance over political power. The doctrine was described in the Manusmriti and the CM now wants it to be implemented in Maharashtra. The BJP has been trying to gain political mileage by using godmen and so called spiritual leaders across the country and recently in Haryana, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. This is a dangerous trend,” said NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik.
Former chief minister Ashok Chavan too had drawn flak for inviting godman Shri Satya Sai Baba to the official bungalow to seek his blessings after he was sworn in as CM in November 2009. Rationalists had criticised Chavan, saying it was not in consonance with the state’s secular tradition.
Fadnavis drew flak on Friday after a picture of him and Pune-based criminal Baba Bodke went viral on social media. Bodke has several cases, including murder, pending against him. Fadnavis’ office however, said the CM did not know Bodke and had been accompanying businessman Suresh Hawre’s wife at the function.
A minister in Fadnavis’ cabinet, Rajkumar Badole, too stirred controversy with his remarks on the Maratha protests.Maratha organisations and opposition parties reacted strongly, demanding his removal from the cabinet. Badole termed the Maratha rallies as protests held by wealthy people. “The rallies by wealthy people are getting a massive response. Anybody wakes up and start demanding reservation. We will not tolerate any suppression of the rights of scheduled castes and tribes. I will not hesitate to resign if such a move is attempted,” he said in a rally on Saturday.
Congress leader and leader of the opposition in the legislative assembly, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, said Badole should sacked immediately. NCP MP and descendent of Chhatrapati Shivaj, Udayanraje Bhosale, said Badole would be held responsible if the peaceful protests turned ugly.