WITH the elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) round the corner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Maharashtra is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit to Mumbai on December 24 is a grand event high on symbolism and glitz.
While Modi is coming to Mumbai to lay the foundation stones for a host of infrastructure and development projects, the BJP wants to leverage the visit to kick off the party’s campaign for BMC polls. The event would be a break from tradition, confirmed top government sources. While such bhoomipujan ceremonies are normally official occasions involving a lot of protocol, top sources said the Mumbai event would involve culture fanfare too. Incidentally, besides the party’s own funds, the ruling party is also using money from the state exchequer to publicise the event.
The Directorate General of Information and Public Relations, Maharashtra’s nodal agency for information dissemination, has instructed officials in all 37 districts in the state to erect hoardings and advertisements celebrating the event. In the run-up to the ceremony, the government will release radio jingles, newspaper and television advertisements, and online commercials to promote it.
Modi will lay the foundation stones for several infrastructure projects — including two Metro rail projects, the Mumbai Urban Transportation Project (MUTP-III), the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, and two elevated bridges — collectively worth over Rs 60,000 crore, and also witness execution of formal agreements between the state government and the Indian Railways for implementation of the CST-Panvel and Bandra-Virar elevated corridors, collectively worth Rs 55,000 crore. The biggest hype being built up is surrounding the ‘jalpujan’ for the memorial of Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji off the Arabian Sea, which is being branded as the BJP government’s ‘vachanpurti’ or fulfillment of an electoral promise.
“Our workers will bring out processions in all districts celebrating the vachanpurti,” said BJP’s state chief Raosaheb Danve. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis too attempted to score political points, terming the proposed memorial as the “world’s tallest”. The invoking of Chhatrapati Shivaji comes at a time when the government has been facing silent protests from the Maratha community demanding reservation in education and government jobs.
Adding symbolism and history to the actual jalpujan event, Fadnavis has ordered collection of water from all rivers across the state and earth from historic sites, which will be brought to Mumbai in metal pots (kalash) on Friday. This will then be collected in a larger pot, which Modi would immerse at the jalpujan site. “A rath (chariot) containing the holy waters and the earth will travel across Mumbai on December 23,” said a BJP office-bearer.
On December 24, Modi is expected to perform jalpujan at the memorial site at 2.59 pm. Three hovercrafts have been hired to carry the PM and other dignitaries to the 16.5-hectare rock islet 2.4 km off the Western Coast along Girgaum Chowpatty.
Interestingly, despite the BJP’s poll pitch, ally Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray will accompany Modi for the jalpujan. Maharashtra Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, Fadnavis, Chhatrapati Shivaji’s descendants Udayanraje Bhosale and Sambhaji Raje (both Parliamentarians), and two pandits will also be part of the entourage.
After returning to the Chowpatty, the dignitaries will leave for the MMRDA ground in the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) where foundation stones for the remaining projects would be laid. The government has roped in art director Nitin Desai to enact different scenes from Shivaji’s life in the form of floats at intersections along the route. “While the memorial itself depicts the Maratha king in the warrior mode, the floats will depict his coronation,” said a senior official.
“The plan for now is to erect floats near Girgaum Chowpatty, the Haji Ali junction, and the BKC gate. A few more locations might be added later,” he said. On its part, the BJP too has planned to put up flags and commercial hoardings along the route.
The BJP also has plans for a show of strength at the MMRDA ground. But departing from protocol, the government has decided to seat Thackeray, who does not hold any public post, on the main dais with Modi. Sources said the Shiv Sena chief had positioned that he would boycott the event if he was not on the main dais. In a further show of symbolism, members of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s family will be sharing the dais too. Union ministers Venkaiah Naidu, Suresh Prabhu, Nitin Gadkari and Ramdas Athavale would also be present, said sources. While Modi will address the gathering, the BJP has also given in to the Shiv Sena’s condition that Uddhav Thackeray be allowed to speak. While senior officials were tight-lipped about the total expenditure from the public exchequer on the ceremony, the sources confirmed that it would be to the tune of a few crores.
Thackeray softens stand
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has managed to tone down Shiv Sena’s reluctance to the bhoomipujan ceremony by pandering to Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s ego. Departing from official protocol, the government has allowed Thackeray to share the main dais with PM Narendra Modi for the official function on December 24. The Shiv Sena chief had earlier cited his apprehension regarding the Shivaji memorial project by highlighting that the local fishermen community was opposed to it. The Shiv Sena had also locked horns with the BJP over the location of a carshed for Metro line (Metro-III) from Colaba to Seepz. Last October, Thackeray had boycotted a similar foundation stone laying ceremony for the Bhimrao Ambedkar memorial on Indu Mill land in Prabhadevi after he was denied a seat on Modi’s dais.