IN an unusually worded official letter demanding the immediate re-opening of places of worship, Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari mockingly asked Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray if he has turned “secular”, provoking Thackeray to respond by reminding Koshyari that the word “secular” is in the Constitution he had sworn to protect when he took oath of office in Raj Bhavan.
Koshyari sent the letter Monday. Thackeray hit back Tuesday saying he did not need his Hindutva credentials certified by Koshyari.
NCP leader Sharad Pawar closed ranks with Thackeray, with a strong letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing “shock and surprise” at the “intemperate language” used by the Governor.
“In the very preamble of our Constitution, the word “secular” is added that equates and shields all religion and hence the chair of the Chief Minister must uphold such tenets of the Constitution. Unfortunately the Governor’s letter to the Chief Minister invokes the connotation as if written to the leader of a political party,” wrote Pawar.
He added: “I firmly believe that in a democracy, free exchange of views between the Governor and the CM must take place. However, the tone and tenor used must always be in keeping with the stature of the constitutional post occupied by the individuals.”
The BJP, which began a state wide agitation today for the reopening of temples, slammed Thackeray. Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis said in Jalgaon that the language used by the Chief Minister in his letter to the Governor was not “appropriate”. Said Fadnavis, “Governor is a constitutional position. It has certain decorum. Any communication has to maintain that dignity”.
Koshyari’s missive was apparently prompted by Thackeray’s address Sunday that the government had decided not to open places of worship because of the continuing danger from Covid. Thackeray said that “it was out of love and care for the people” that the government was treading cautiously.
In an affidavit in the court, the government said the Ganesh festival “was really an eye-opener” that overcrowding could set off a “major surge” in the spread of infection which will be “impossible to contain.”
??????? ??????????, ??????????? ????? ????????? ????? ????? ??. ???????? ??? ???? ???????? ?? ??????? ??????? ????? ???? ???. pic.twitter.com/8duuQl45tV
— Office of Uddhav Thackeray (@OfficeofUT) October 13, 2020
Calling this “most unfortunate,” Koshyari said: “It is ironical while, on one hand, the state government has permitted the opening of bars, restaurants and beaches, on the other hand, our Gods and Goddesses have been condemned to stay in the lockdown.”
The state government has been firm on not reopening places of worship fearing that large gatherings, especially during the festival season, could turn into infection super spreaders. In his address, the CM said: “Navratri, Diwali and other religious festivals are coming up. We are slowly opening our doors for prosperity and good health but not for the coronavirus”.
Incidentally, on three separate occasions in the lockdown, the government had to permit religious gatherings for limited period: Parsi community prayers for the dead at Doongerwadi on orders from the Bombay High Court; paryushan prayers at three Jain temples over nine days on the directions of the Supreme Court; and a tazia procession limited to five people for Muharram, on the orders of the High Court.
In his letter, Koshyari lauded Thackeray for being a strong votary of Hindutva. “You had publicly espoused your devotion for Lord Rama by visiting Ayodhya after taking charge as the Chief Minister. You had visited the Vitthal Rukmini Mandir in Pandharpur and performed the puja on Ashadhi Ekadashi.”
Then Koshyari went on to ask if the CM was “receiving any divine premonition to keep postponing the reopening of the places of worships time and again or have you suddenly turned ‘secular’ yourselves, the term you hated?”
He mentioned that places of worship were reopened in Delhi on June 8 and across the nation towards the end of June. There have not been reports of a surge in Covid-19 cases from any of these places, he added.
“I request you to announce forthwith the reopening of all the places of worship with all necessary Covid-19 precautions,” stated Koshyari. The Governor enclosed with his letter three representations for the reopening of places of worship.
These are by BJP’s Mumbai unit president and legislator Mangal Prabhat Lodha; BJP leader Haji Arafat Shaikh; and Congress corporator of Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation Sarah Akram.
However, sources said, the Congress has demanded disqualification of Akram after she rebelled against the party during the mayor and deputy mayor elections to help BJP in March 2020.
On Tuesday, Thackeray countered Koshyari. “What you mentioned about my Hindutva in the letter is absolutely correct,” he said in a letter to the Governor written in Marathi. “But my Hindutva does not need your certificate. Also, I don’t need to learn it from anyone. It does not fit into my Hindutva to welcome home, with a smile, those who call my state or the capital of my state Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.” This was a reference to the Governor’s meeting with film actor Kangana Ranaut.
Taking objection to the Governor’s question on whether he had turned secular, Thackeray asked, “Why should you ask such a question? Are you saying that only opening places of worship is Hindutva and not opening them is secular? Secularism is the core part of the Constitution based on which you took oath as Governor. Don’t you agree with it?”
On the three representations, Thackeray said these were from BJP office bearers and their supporters. “It could be a coincidence. Anyway, the government is seriously considering your request and I assure you that a decision will be taken as soon as possible by taking all due care,” he added.
Women and Child Development Minister Yashomati Thakur said the “Governor should bear responsibility if cases rise”.
Last month, the state government said that even with due restrictions, allowing religious gatherings “was not a practically feasible option” in view of rising Covid-19 cases in urban and rural areas across the state.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines