Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated infrastructure projects worth Rs 1.06 lakh crore for Mumbai on Saturday, indicating that the countdown to the Brihanmumbai Mahanagar Palika (BMC) elections is underway. In doing so, Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also got one up over ally Shiv Sena. A slogan war followed the 'jal pujan' ceremony between workers of the two parties, but it was about the hijacking of the Shivaji figure, considered the Sena's most potent icon.
After the ceremony, Modi gave a speech where he claimed to have the support of 1.25 billion Indians in his campaign against black money, and also said the proposed Shivaji statue would become a money-spinner to drive the trillion dollar tourism industry.
Modi also initiated a slew of other infrastructural projects in Mumbai. Accompanied by a large number of BJP volunteers who had collected soil from Shivaji's forts and water from the various rivers of Maharashtra, the event was seen as a show of strength by the party, which was flexing its muscles in Sena's backyard, over the Sena's favourite icon: Shivaji.
In the weeks leading up to the event, Shiv Sena had put up hoardings claiming credit for Shivaji's legacy, and describing the event as a dream project of the late Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.
BJP and Shiv Sena have had alliances to form the central and the state governments, but are yet to agree upon a seat-sharing formula for the upcoming civic polls. But with BJP corporators exposing irregularities in Sena-ruled BMC, the rank and file of Sena's cadre is already jittery about the prospect of not being in power at the country's richest civic body.
At Saturday's rally, Sena workers shouted slogans in favour of party chief Uddhav Thackeray, while BJP volunteers were hailing Modi. It was up to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to intervene and calm people from both sides down and remind them of the sanctity of the situation. Fadnavis spoke on the public address system, asking youth to stop the sloganeering and respect Shivaji. It worked for a while, but lasted only till the time Uddhav took to the stage to deliver his speech. BJP workers immediately started chanting Modi's name, prompting Sena workers to react.
Uddhav took the opportunity to urge Modi to free Shivaji's forts from the restrictions of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), so that they could be developed, give environmental clearance for the coastal road; and develop a recreational park on the eastern waterfront.
Taking a cue from Uddhav, Modi said he would ask the ASI to ease norms and allow developmental works at Shivaji's forts. He also said that the ambitious statue project had the potential of becoming a money-spinner for the country, saying symbolic and iconic attractions are always tourism magnets. Comparing it to the Taj Mahal, Modi stressed upon the need to present India's history in the right perspective, by developing ancient and iconic things that are lying neglected.
Taking a dig at the opposition parties, Modi said that the war against corruption launched by his government ever since it took over would continue unabated till the war was won. "After 70 years of experience, we have to accept that it would have been better if we would have walked the path of development, instead of furthering the kind of politics that have gained roots," he said. "Development is the only way which can tackle our problems."
He thanked people of the country for standing by him after demonetisation despite a shortage of currency notes, and warned hoarders of dire consequences.
Fadnavis countered the opposition to the Shivaji statue project, by saying, "Those who forget history, only have the present, no future." He said that it would not be just a statue but a live entity that would inspire citizens.
Updated Date: Dec 24, 2016 20:26:46 IST