Politics intensified in the financial capital a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to land in the city to lay the foundation stone of the Chhatrapati Shivaji memorial in the Arabian Sea among a host of other infrastructure projects. In a bid to take credit for the Maratha warrior king’s memorial, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took out a rath yatra and a bike rally from Chembur in the eastern suburbs to the Gateway of India in the island city. But this “show of strength” did not go down well with the party’s allies, who did not even participate in the rath yatra which carried “holy waters and earth” from across the state for Saturday’s jalpujan of the memorial site.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who is to attend Saturday’s events, has gone into a huddle with his party’s senior legislators and ministers. Top sources in the Shiv Sena said the party is planning a “show of strength” of its own Saturday. With Modi and Thackeray sharing the stage for the event, there was intense debate over the political positions each would assume in their speeches.
Modi is expected to sound the BJP’s bugle for the Mumbai municipality polls. In the build-up to the event, the Sena and the BJP have been trading barbs at one another. Thackeray has also publicly criticised PM Modi over the “shoddy implementation of the demonetisation scheme.” On Thursday, workers from both the parties had confronted each other during the inauguration of the Ram Mandir railway station.
Shiv Sangram leader Vinayak Mete, who is now a BJP legislator, was equally upset for being “sidelined” despite spearheading the state committee that conceptualised and finalised the memorial. “I’m yet to receive an invite for Saturday’s event. We had toiled for the memorial work. It hurts when the effort put in by you does not get acknowledged,” Mete said.
While claiming that he would still go for the main event at the Bandra-Kurla Complex as an ‘aam aadmi’, Mete did not mask his disappointment.
“If the BJP is calling the memorial project their ‘Vachanpurti’ (fulfilment of promise), it is our ‘Swapnapurti’ (fulfilment of dream),” he said.
While saying that there was nothing wrong in bringing out a rath yatra, Mete said all the allies should have been taken along. Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghathana leader Raju Shetti, a member of Parliament, was also believed to be upset that his name did not figure in the invitation card. The Opposition was in no mood to cede political space either. Accusing the BJP-Shiv Sena of “attempting to appropriate Shivaji’s legacy”, Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam said, “The Maratha warrior king does not belong to any particular political party. He is a national icon.” The leader, however, was quick to add that it was the Congress-NCP government that had initiated work for the project.
“This is nothing but an exercise to influence the voters ahead of the Mumbai polls and zilla parishad polls elsewhere in the state. The projects that the PM is inaugurating Saturday are nowhere near the implementation stage,” Nirupam said.
He also took potshots at the saffron alliance for indulging in a “credit war.”
Nationalist Congress Party leader Nawab Malik echoed Nirupam’s viewpoint. Meanwhile, the Congress also slammed the BJP government for spending “crores” in publicity for Modi’s Saturday visit.
“People are suffering due to cash crunch post demonetisation. But the government will spend Rs 77 crore from the public exchequer for the political extravaganza.” Nirupam alleged that the government had spent Rs 15 crore on publicity alone.