Bal Thackeray apparently does not want another memorial to Maratha warrior-king Shivaji.
In what is quite a change of tune for the man who named his own party, the Shiv Sena, after Shivaji and threatened mayhem in the early 1990s if Victoria Terminus was not renamed after the chhatrapati (emperor), Thackeray on Sunday called the state government’s plan for a second Shivaji memorial “stupidity”.
“This is stupidity,” the 83-year-old said in an interview to party mouthpiece Saamna. “There is no need for another memorial when a statue of Shivaji already exists near the Gateway of India.”
The comment is being seen as a bid to discredit the ruling Congress-NCP combine and prevent them from getting a third consecutive term in power — and perhaps even an attempt to garner votes in an increasingly cosmopolitan urban populace.
“Bal Thackeray’s comment on the memorial could be his way of evening the score with the Congress,” said political commentator B. Venkatesh. “He is perhaps also hitting back at the party for taking up the Shivaji issue, which has been a key Shiv Sena theme and agenda all these years.”
In the interview published on Sunday, Thackeray went on to say that the proposed Rs 350-crore memorial planned off the coast of Mumbai — a project that has caused widespread discontent among voters, many of whom see it as a waste of public funds — would probably never even come to be.
“The memorial is aimed at wooing voters before the Assembly elections,” he told Saamna editor and party Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut. “It is an election gimmick.”
Thackeray added that election promises “are never fulfilled” by the Congress.
“Former chief minister Sushilkumar Shinde announced free electricity for farmers on the eve of the [2004 national] elections. Today he is the Union power minister… what happened to the promise,” he said.
Speaking on the party’s succession plan, Thackeray said he would remain in control “once the Sena-BJP combine came to power”.
“The remote control of the government will remain with me,” he said. “And when I do pass it on, it will go to Uddhav.”
Sunday’s rather un-Sena-like comment on the Shivaji memorial may be a sign of just this progression — a shift from the party’s once-radical pro-Marathi stand to the more inclusive agenda Uddhav has been moving towards since he took over as working president in 2003.
The interview, meanwhile, ended on a light note.
To a query on the squabble between BJP leaders Gopinath Munde and Nitin Gadkari, Thackeray quipped: “Don't ask me about their relations. It’s like inquiring with me about the neighbour’s wife.”