In a move that reflects the frosty ties between the two leaders, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray may skip Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s functions in Mumbai on Sunday. Modi will be in the city to lay the foundation stone for Dr BR Ambedkar’s memorial at Indu Mills in Dadar and to conduct bhoomi pujan for two new Metro lines at Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC), where he will also address a rally.
Amid palpable tension between the Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over no invitation being extended to Thackeray for Sunday’s events, Sena leaders said their party chief will go to Beed, where they have lined up events for drought-relief distribution.
“For us, farmers in distress are equally important, and so Uddhavji has to visit the Marathwada as planned earlier,” senior Sena minister Ramdas Kadam said.
Sena leaders were expecting chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to personally invite Thackeray to both the functions. “We are just about 24 hours away from the events, but the MMRDA, which is organising the events, has still not bothered to invite Uddhavji. There has been no informal communication from the BJP too,” said a Sena leader.
The Ambedkar memorial is politically significant as the ruling alliance wants to show the Dalit population that their government is doing what the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government failed to do. The Sena is worried that its ally will take all the credit for the construction of the memorial as well as the two new Metro lines.
Both the projects also assume significance with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections scheduled for 2017.
While the BJP indicated that Fadnavis may call Thackeray to extend an invitation, sources who spoke on condition of anonymity claimed the chief minister was not keen on the Sena chief sharing the dais with the prime minister at the events. “It is a government function, so there could be an issue of protocol,” said a senior BJP minister.
A source from the Sena said they know Fadnavis wanted to resolve the row and avoid a confrontation on the issue. “If that [call from Fadnavis] happens, Uddhavji may decide to go. If not, he will proceed to Beed,” said the source. The party will then decide if any of the Sena ministers should attend the ceremony or not.
The Sena’s pre-emptive reaction is steeped as much in history as in the current tension with its ally, the BJP. Ever since Modi’s political elevation, he and Thackeray have shared lukewarm relations, bordering on frosty. One reason for this has been that unlike other senior BJP leaders, Modi has refused to go to Matoshree and meet the Thackeray family, even when Bal Thackeray was alive. Even during campaigning for the Lok Sabha polls, Modi refused to visit Matoshree whenever he was in Mumbai.
Last year, even as it was in talks with the Sena over a post-poll alliance, the BJP left it to the last minute to invite Thackeray for the swearing-in of the BJP ministers. Fadnavis made a phone call finally and Thackeray made an appearance at the ceremony, sharing the stage with Modi.
“Even this time, the BJP clearly doesn’t want Thackeray in the frame as it would mean sharing the credit for the projects. Their game is clear to us and we don’t mind skipping the ceremony altogether,” said a Sena leader, who is close to Thackeray.