The Opposition on Friday joined hands to target the BJP over its move to lease out some of the forts in state for tourism development. Rattled by the offensive, the ruling party went into a counteroffensive.
On September 3, Devendra Fadnavis-led cabinet had approved a revised tourism policy for Maharashtra, which included proposal of renting out forts to private tourism developers and hoteliers on lease basis.
While the new policy mentions that the move would not apply to historical forts that exist on the protected monuments list of the Archaeological Survey of India, Opposition parties, mindful of the upcoming assembly polls, linked the move to commercialisation of forts built by Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
The Maratha community, which accounts for about 32 per cent of the state’s population, is politically the most dominant in Maharashtra. While it has traditionally favoured the Congress and the NCP, the BJP has made deep inroads into the community, especially with the move to provide reservations to the Marathas in education and jobs.
The NCP was the first to hit out at the government over the issue. Invoking the Maratha warrior king, NCP’s legislative party leader and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar said, “The forts depict the rich legacy of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Renting them out is an insult to him and his followers. The ruling party first used his name for political reasons and is now using it for earning more. We strongly condemn the move.” Other NCP leaders, including party’s MPs Amol Kolhe and Supriya Sule, Maharashtra NCP president Jayant Patil, and Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council Dhananjay Munde, among others, also fired salvos at the government.
Congress also criticised the move with the party’s senior leaders also linking the move to Maratha history and targeting the government. Raj Thackeray-led MNS also hit out at the government, with party leader Anil Shidore accusing the BJP of “commercialising” the pride of Marathas.
The state’s Tourism department issued a clarification, saying the policy made it clear that the local flora and fauna and the aesthetic value of fort premises will be protected and that no permanent constructions in the forts will be allowed.
“There is no plan to touch heritage forts that have historical value and are protected under the ASI. There is no question of renting out forts that reflect Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s history. We have already earmarked Rs 500 crore for their repairs and maintenance. Some people are politicising the issue and instigating the sentiments of people,” Tourism Minister Jaykumar Rawal said.
Tourism department Secretary Vinita Vaid Singhal also denied plans to make such premises available in the venue market. “Social events that fit into the fabric of Maharashtra’s political life will be allowed. There is no question of renting out the place as a wedding venue,” she said.
Incidentally, BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP and Shivaji’s descendent, Sambhaji Raje, also came out in opposition to the move of leasing out forts. He even called on Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis over the issue on Friday.
Fadnavis on Friday also said there was no such proposal to open historical forts for commercial activities.
“The government has and will continue to always safeguard and protect all historic forts from Chhatrapati Shivaji era or any related establishments of historical heritage in Maharashtra,” the chief minister said.