Friday’s preparations for the ceremony (bhoomipujan) planned on Saturday to start work on the mid-sea memorial to Chhatrapati Shivaji have added turbulence to the choppy relations between allies Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena.
The BJP irked both its ally and some Maratha community leaders by the way it totally dominated Friday’s functions. The entire area around the Shivaji statue in Chembur, where BJP leaders welcomed people carrying pails of water, soil and stones from across Maharashtra for the bhoomipujan, was decked up with the party’s flag. Senior BJP ministers such as Vinod Tawde and Chandrakant Patil, and party functionaries Raosaheb Danve and Ashish Shelar, dominated proceedings.
The procession rally that followed was also dominated by BJP flags and placards with the face of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will carry out the bhoomipujan on Saturday.
This was supposed to be an event organised by the Maharashtra government, of which the Shiv Sena is a part. The party was absent at the Chembur event as well as in the procession. Instead, Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray had a meeting with party leaders on the upcoming BMC elections.
Sena leaders put up their own hoardings around the party’s headquarters in Dadar, attributing the implementation of the Rs 3,600-crore Chhatrapati Shivaji memorial in the Arabian Sea to the late party supremo Bal Thackeray’s efforts. The hoardings, with a photo of Chhatrapati Shivaji and Thackeray with the proposed design of the memorial in the background, proclaimed, “He Shiv Smarak vhave hich Shiv Sena pramukhanchi iccha.” (That this memorial should materialize is the only wish of the Shiv Sena chief.)
The five-hour-long procession saw bikers sporting saffron turbans and waving BJP flags escort a decorated truck bearing the map of Maharashtra on which all the cauldrons carrying material from across the state for the bhoomipujan were kept, district wise. At the Gateway of India, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis accepted the cauldrons and put them in one container, which he will handover to Modi.
Sena leader Sudhir More said the Shiv Sena leaders were not taken on board for any of the preparations. “Except for extending an invitation to our party chief, they have forgotten the Sena.” Party Chief Uddhav Thackeray plans to attend the actual bhoomipujan on Saturday, travelling with Modi to the islet where the memorial is proposed to come up. Thackeray, who had earlier said he would attend the event only if given ‘due respect,’ will also share the dais with Modi at a public gathering at the Bandra Kurla Complex.
The Sena and the BJP have had a blow-hot, blow-cold relationship of late with the BMC elections less than two months away. While the Shiv Sena, reduced to being a junior partner at the state level, is looking to guard its home turf, the BJP is aggressively trying expand its presence in the country’s financial capital.
The BJP’s strategy to reach out directly to the Marathas, who has been demanding reservation, has irked some community leaders denied a chance to share the limelight. Shiv Sangram outfit leader Vinayak Mete, who was closely involved in finalising the memorial’s design and planning the bhoomipujan, was present at Chembur on Friday morning, but disappeared soon after. Referring to the BJP flags and the party’s imprint on the whole event, Mete said, “What can one say? The BJP should have ensured that everyone is included...Despite being insulted I am happy that my dream for building Shivaji’s memorial is coming true,” Mete said.
Similarly, Rajendra Kondhare, general secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Mahasangh, said, “We are happy that the memorial is finally taking shape, but no political party should try to usurp this for its own purposes. Leaders from the Maratha community took active interest in the project planning and bhoomipujan preparations, but today they were all overshadowed by the BJP. The party completely hijacked the whole thing.”
Senior BJP Minister Chandrakant Patil, however, maintained that the government has taken care to make this event an inclusive one, and has appealed to everyone to join in. “Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is not a political topic for us. It is an emotional issue. The government appealed to all the gram panchayats in every district and a lot of Shiv Sainiks have also participated at the grassroots in good numbers in getting the whole thing together.”
The memorial project has also been attracting criticism for the massive Rs 3600 crore expenditure involved. The fisherfolk in Mumbai are also protesting against the memorial saying that the project would affect their traditional fishing activity.
However, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Friday said the criticism over constructing the memorial will not deter the state government from completing it. “Nothing can stop the state government from constructing King Shivaji’s memorial. We are ready to invest any amount to complete memorial of our deity,” said Fadnavis while addressing the gathering at the Gateway of India event. Slamming those opposing expenditure on the memorial, Fadnavis said he is not surprised as Shivaji also had to experience opposition during his rule.
He then targeted the erstwhile Congress-NCP government and said it was unfortunate that the previous regime couldn’t get requisite permissions for completing the memorial from the Centre in the last so many years. “I am thankful to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi for granting all the permissions,” he pointed out. A grand cultural event was organized at Gateway of India where soil brought from forts built by the Maratha warrior and water from rivers across Maharashtra were transferred in a single container by the chief minister.
The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) was also not far behind in its criticism. Party workers whitewashed an advertisement for the bhoomipujan painted on the compound wall of the under-construction Kohinoor Square in Dadar. Sandeep Deshpande, the party’s corporator from Dadar, said, “The wall of the Kohinoor complex has always been used by MNS to put its political banners. On Thursday night, without even informing us or asking us, the BJP completely whitewashed our advertisement and painted theirs. So we did the same to their advertisement. Whatever has been happening today is completely a gimmick ahead of BMC polls.”