Narendra Modi’s day out in city: BJP aims to please Mumbai and Marathas
A five-hour procession from Chembur to the Gateway of India, saffron flags all along the route from Marine Drive to BKC the landmark Bandra-Worli sea link doused in saffron lights, and traditional live music and dance performances all along the way — the BJP government is leaving no stone unturned in capitalising on the bhoomipujan (foundation-laying ceremony) of the Chhatrapati Shivaji memorial and a clutch of other showpiece projects, making it a show of its own strength.
The party is looking to kill two birds in one stone – visibly show how it can bring developmental projects to Mumbai ahead of the Mumbai civic polls and pacify a restless Maratha community, which has been protesting for quotas in government jobs and education. Significantly, the BJP has not taken its alliance partner Shiv Sena along while organising the two-day event.
Besides Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will conduct the bhoomipujan on Saturday, a number of other BJP Union cabinet ministers—Nitin Gadkari, Suresh Prabhu, Manohar Parrikar and Venkaiah Naidu — will also attend the event, filling the dais with BJP faces.
While BJP leaders continue to insist that the grand preparations are above party politics and should be seen as honouring Chhatarapati Shivaji, in the same breath they emphasise on how it is the BJP government that has sped up the Rs3,600-crore project, stalled for years.
BJP minister Chandrakant Patil said, “The plan for a grand memorial for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was in the works for many years. However, it was only after the BJP government came to power that the project gained speed. We got all the permissions, finalised the design and called for tenders. Now, we are at such a stage that the bids will be opened in January for the first phase of the construction, which will be completed in three years.”
The BJP-led government’s ambitious bhoomipujan plan is not limited to just the cutting of a red ribbon on a plaque, followed by a public address about the government’s achievements and plans. It is a two-day gala, involving a procession of BJP leaders and Chhatrapati Shivaji’s supporters from across the state in Mumbai, followed by the actual ceremony and a public address at BKC with the entire city decked up in saffron flags. Groups of people from across the state will bring water from Maharashtra’s rivers, and soil and stones from Shivaji’s forts, for the bhoomipujan. Across the state, the government has also launched an advertisement campaign through audio-visual media and hoardings at various places.
Shivaji is held as an icon by the Maratha community, which constitutes 33% of Maharashtra’s population. Lakhs of members from the community took to the streets in organised silent protests across the state earlier this year. While the protestors claimed they were not against any one particular political party, the BJP, being the ruling party, felt the strongest shock waves.
The grandiose bhoomipujan plans are especially noteworthy considering a clutch of municipal corporations across the state such as Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, Thane, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Solapur, Amravati and so on are headed to polls next year. While the Congress is looking to consolidate the Muslim and Dalit votes, the BJP does not want to lose any Maratha votes from its pie.
Incidentally, Maratha organisations were in the process of planning the Mumbai chapter of their massive protests, which so close to the civic polls would have worked against the BJP. Instead, with the bhoomipujan plans, members of the community will now march on the streets of the state’s capital along with the government.
Incidentally, even the BJP’s ally Shiv Sena has always projected Chhatrapati Shivaji as its icon. However, the party has had very little participation in the entire planning, even as Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has agreed to attend the event, after much drama where he demanded ‘appropriate respect.’
A slighted Sena legislator from the Marathwada region said, “We were at the forefront of the protests for the Maratha community. We have always tried to voice their demands and guard their rights, but in all this preparation of arranging material and support for the bhoomipujan, we have not been consulted even once. Everything is being done only by their [BJP’s] legislators and supporters here.”
Similarly, while Mumbai’s guardian minister for the suburbs Vinod Tawde will greet groups of people carrying material for the bhoomipujan at Chembur along with senior BJP ministers Patil and Prakash Mehta, the guardian minister for the island city, Sena’s Subhash Desai, is not likely to be present.
Tawde said, “We are trying to do all this going beyond the party and politics. We are not doing anything keeping any election in mind.”
However, former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan from the Congress said there was no doubt the BJP was trying to make this more of a party event than a government one. “Even basic protocol of government functions is not being followed. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is an icon for the entire state and not just any one party. Earlier, the Sena usurped his name for its own political purposes and now the BJP is doing it. The BJP is desperate because its demonetisation move has backfired and it now wants to veer attention away to something else,” he said.
Chavan said it was his government that had revived and accelerated the project in 2013, when he as chief minister formed a committee under Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and then cabinet minister Jayant Patil to draw up a plan, and a chief secretary-led committee to monitor approvals.