Political tussle among the key players in Maharashtra to claim the legacy of Chhatrapati Shivaji has been in full play on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the state for laying the foundation for a grand memorial of the Maratha king in Arabian sea off city coast.
While the BJP has fully cranked up its organisational might to project the ‘bhumipujan and jalpujan’ by Modi as a high profile event, its bickering ally Shiv Sena as well as opposition Congress and NCP have miffed at the way the ruling party is trying to ‘appropriate’ it, though they support a mega memorial to the 17th century warrior king.
Shivaji, who carved out his own kingdom in early 17th century areas in the heartland of Maharashtra as well as parts of today’s Karnataka and Telangana, has been held in high reverence by the people of the state, and political players cutting across ideologies never failed to invoke him.
Sena, which has always claimed the legacy of Shivaji, faced a challenge on that front for the first time from the BJP in 2014, when general elections changed the social and cast equations with aspiring Marathas, OBCs and some dalit factions joined hands with the saffron party.
Sensing the change of wind, BJP has started moving slowly in ‘appropriating’ Shivaji and his legacy.
The BJP leaders, however, dismissed that the party has been cultivating Shivaji for electoral gains.
“It has been a misconception that BJP is trying to seek the legacy of Shivaji Maharaj. We were with Shiv Sena earlier and supported and fought for a memorial. Now, we have our own government at the Centre as well as in the state.
“We are making it a grand event because the personality of the king deserves it and everybody in the state has tremendous respect for his contribution in those days,” BJP Mumbai unit chief Ashish Shelar said.
Vinod Tawde, a senior BJP minister in state government, has already refuted charges of the BJP-led government spending a huge amount for the event.
“If entire Maharashtra has respect for the king, then putting up flags and boards across the state for such special occasion should not be viewed skeptically. All we have done is putting up some saffron flags and decoration of some areas. (There is) nothing wrong in it,” Tawde said.
State unit Congress president Ashok Chavan said, “There is no question in objecting to Shivaji Maharaj’s memorial. The memorial should be done but taking care of demands of fishermen who are solely dependent on the fishing activity. Their livelihood should not be affected.”
When asked about the extravagant celebrations, Chavan said, “The memorial is being constructed by the state government and not any private party. The BJP should not hijack the entire event as the state government is going to spend money for the memorial and not the BJP.”
BJP, before it separated from Shiv Sena ahead of Assembly polls in 2014, had started a campaign with an appeal to voters to support Modi with blessings of Shivaji.
According to art director Nitin Desai, who is in charge of decoration, “There are some replica of Shivaji’s naval strength floating on sea water near the island, where PM Modi will lay the foundation of the memorial. It is for creating the feel of Shivaji and his rule during 17th Century.”
However, Prakash Akolkar, journalist and author of a book on Shiv Sena’s journey, said, “Neither Sena nor BJP are serious about Shivaji and his legacy. Shivaji had some 300 major forts in Maharashtra, which was his strength. Not a single fort is maintained properly to show his true legacy.”
In 2015, Modi had laid the foundation stone for construction of the memorial of dalit icon Babasaheb Ambedkar at Indu mill in Central Mumbai, apparently with an eye on Dalit votes ahead of Bihar elections.
However, after the foundation stone ceremony, no major development has taken place, he claimed.
“Similarly, ahead of the Mumbai municipal corporation polls (due early next year), the BJP is trying to woo the voters and keep the Maratha community appeased through such extravagant ceremony. It is hijacking of icons from other parties. The BJP has seen the major Maratha rallies across the state in last two months; hence they are alerted,” Akolkar said.
The elections of BMC, Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad and Nagpur municipal corporations are to be held in next two months, followed by Zilla parishad elections in some 20-odd districts.