In a major embarrassment, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was on Friday forced the postpone the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the 450-foot statue of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar at Indu Mill in Mumbai’s Dadar after the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which is executing the project, failed to invite members of Ambedkar’s family and senior leaders from Congress and NCP.
Also, some senior Cabinet ministers in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government were extended an invite only a day in advance.
The government is planning to build a 450-foot statue at the Indu Mills compound, which will be the centerpiece of the proposed Ambedkar memorial. It will also include an auditorium, a library and a research centre.
Uddhav was scheduled to conduct the ceremony at 3 pm but postponed the event hours before it was to take place. The MMRDA, which is the nodal agency for the project, had invited only 16 political leaders, including the CM. The authority comes under the state urban development department headed by Shiv Sena’s Eknath Shinde.
Sources said Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Social Justice Minister Dhananjay Munde were informed of the programme only one day in advance. While Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar, was not invited, his brother Anandraj was sent an invitation around 11.30 am on Friday.
Further, senior NCP and Congress leaders, such as NCP chief Sharad Pawar and ministers Ashok Chavan and Jayant Patil, were not invited for the event.
In a statement released by his office, Uddhav said: “After the Cabinet decision of increasing the height of the memorial, the MMRDA planned the foundation stone-laying programme. But I brought to their notice that everyone needs to be involved in such an important programme and have given instructions to organise a better programme by inviting all the prominent dignitaries for it.” He added that nobody should play politics on the issue.
Anandraj Ambedkar said he was not in favour of the function being held amid the Covid-19 pandemic. “I got the invite only around 11.30 am. I told the MMRDA that it should have avoided holding the function when we have over 10 lakh Covid-19 cases in the state,” he added.
The NCP also expressed its unhappiness over the mismanagement by MMRDA. “Our stand is that it was not appropriate to organise such a small function for the foundation stone-laying ceremony of Ambedkar memorial. There was mismanagement in the planning of the programme… Leaders from the three parties should sit together and organise the event,” said Nawab Malik, Minority Development Minister and NCP’s chief spokesperson.
The event is significant for the NCP, as soon after the 2019 Assembly election results were announced, Sharad Pawar had given a call to his party workers that they needed to reach out to Dalits and neo-Buddhists. “Traditionally, Dalits and neo-Buddhists have been with the NCP. However, in the recent past, they have joined the Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi. We will have to redraft our strategy to bring them back into the NCP fold,” he had said.
Soon after being sworn in as the deputy chief minister, Ajit Pawar had visited the Indu Mill to review the ongoing work of the memorial. The NCP chief had also visited the site in January, three weeks after Ajit Pawar’s visit.
The ceremony was being organised as the state government had on September 10 approved the estimated cost of the project and raising the height of the statue as per the revised design of the memorial. The height of the statue has been increased from 250 feet to 350 feet, taking the overall height of the memorial to 450 feet. The estimated cost of the project is Rs 1,090 crore.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone of the memorial in October 2015.
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