Just eight days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Madison Square Garden mega show, the Maharashtra government, too, tried to have its own big bash in New York, spending almost Rs 5 crore on a pre-Diwali event at Times Square.
However, none of the ministers from the Congress-NCP government could turn up at the event on September 20 organised by the state-run Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) as the model code of conduct was in force. And, much to their displeasure, BJP’s Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting and Environment, Forest & Climate Change, took the stage, wished the audience a happy Diwali on behalf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and posed for pictures.
The event, to boost the tourism sector, was organised by MTDC — under NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal’s Ministry of Tourism — and half of the cost was paid three months in advance. Bhujbal said MTDC had spent only Rs 2.1 crore as the event’s title sponsor. “The rest of the expenditure was borne by other sponsors and event organisers,” he said.
When contacted, Javadekar told The Indian Express, “I was in New York for the UN Climate Summit then. I was told by our permanent mission there about this programme. I was there for just half-an-hour with our envoy Dnyaneshwar Mulay (Consul General in New York) who invited me.” He said he was on stage for just a few minutes and passed on “Diwali greetings to the large number of NRIs gathered there on behalf of Shri Narendra Modiji.”
Meanwhile, the one-day event itself has come under the lens for the huge expenditure it entailed. State government sources said the expenses are being reviewed now. MTDC had contracted Neeta Bhasin’s Event Guru for the pre-Diwali celebration for Rs 2.1 crore. Another Rs 1.68 crore went to Network Advertising Pvt Ltd towards organisation of turnkey management and cultural events. Sundry amounts were spent on several other activities.
When contacted, Prithviraj Chavan, then Chief Minister, said since 50 per cent of the payments were made in advance, he cleared the proposal. “But I stopped them from holding road shows,” he told The Indian Express.
Chavan quit as Chief Minister on September 26 after the NCP withdrew support to Congress ahead of the Assembly elections.