After several tantrums by the Shiv Sena over their chief being given ‘due respect’ during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the city on Saturday, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis rushed to pacify the BJP ally to avoid a complete boycott like the last time the PM was in Mumbai.
On Tuesday, the Sena clearly indicated that party chief Uddhav Thackeray would skip the PM’s function if not given ‘due respect’ — meaning Thackeray should be invited to share the dais with Modi. Fadnavis, who doesn’t want any friction with the alliance partner at this juncture, sought special permission from Modi’s office to circumvent protocol and invite the Sena chief, who does not hold any public office, to share the stage with Modi when he lays the foundation stone for a few showpiece projects in Mumbai.
“I have personally invited the Shiv Sena chief for Saturday’s event,” Fadnavis told the HT.
A BJP minister, on the condition of anonymity, said, “The chief minister has told me personally that Uddhavsaheb will be invited to the event 101%, and it is possible that the formal invitation has already been extended to him. The chief minister applied for and received special permission from the prime minister’s office to invite the Sena chief, even though it does not fit into the protocol.”
The minister, however, said the government will not be able to give Thackeray a place right next to the prime minister on the stage, as requested by some Sena leaders.
“The chief minister and the state governor will be on either side of the prime minister. Designation and post have to be respected after all, and are greater than experience, seniority, wealth, power or anything else. For example, LK Advani is much senior than our prime minister today, but at any function, it is Modi who will be given the position of most respect,” the senior leader said.
Last year, all Sena ministers and leaders had completely boycotted a ceremony where Modi laid the foundation stone for Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s memorial at Indu mills in Dadar and two new Metro rail projects in Mumbai, citing the “unceremonious invitation” to Thackeray at the eleventh hour. With Thackeray not holding any public office, BJP leaders and government officials were said to be confused about how to accommodate him on stage next to the prime minister, leading to the last-minute invite.
This time, Sena legislator from Thane Pratap Sarnaik raked up the issue during the state legislative Assembly in Nagpur.
The prime minister will visit Mumbai on Saturday to conduct a bhoomipujan for the showpiece mid-sea Chhatrapati Shivaji memorial, two new Metro projects for the city and the Sewri-Nhava Sheva Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, just two months ahead of the Mumbai civic polls. The state government is making grand preparations, planning to get water, stones, and soil from across various locations significant to Chhatrapati Shivaji’s life across the country, followed by a large public address at Bandra-Kurla Complex. This assumes significance politically because the ruling The BJP is wary of Maratha protests for reservation in government jobs and education. Shivaji is the biggest icon of the community and the much-delayed memorial has been a sensitive issue.
However, while government officials as well as BJP ministers have been actively involved in the planning, participation from the Sena, a junior partner in the government, has been nearly negligible, sources said. The Sena further attempted to furtively distance itself from the preparations, with Thackeray stating he plans to talk to farmers protesting against Fadnavis’ pet Nagpur-Mumbai expressway project on Saturday, the same day as the bhoomipujan.
Sena leaders, however, said that although Thackeray said he would meet the farmers at Shahapur in Raigad district, the date is not carved in stone and can be adjusted in case the leader decides to attend the bhoomipujan ceremony.
Thackeray said at a function: “If everything is taking place respectfully I will attend the bhoomipujan. We always back any good work that is being done. Even when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister, he had set aside protocol to invite and share the stage with Balasaheb Thackeray. The chief minister and I are in touch and others need not worry about it.”
Ever since it was reduced to being a junior partner of the BJP after the 2014 assembly polls, the Sena has consistently had a hot and cold relationship with its ally that has grown choppier off late with elections to the Mumbai civic body scheduled next year. While the Sena and BJP have contested the polls together in an alliance for the past 20 years, this time, with the BJP having aggressive ambitions of expanding in Mumbai, there is a cloud of uncertainty on the future of the tie-up for the polls.