As sentiments are the core of our democracy, leaders always enjoy public affection irrespective of their performance. So, memorials of popular figures fall on the same lines, as compassion ranks higher than public audit. In the past, Mumbai has witnessed mammoth public gatherings at the funerals of Lokmanya Tilak and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. The then administration allowed Tilak’s last rites to be performed at Girgaum Chowpatty. Today, the place close to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Road has a statue and a small garden. In the case of Dr Ambedkar, the funeral took place at Dadar Chowpatty and the place is now known as Chaityabhoomi.
There is hardly anything in Mumbai that can be called a fitting memorial to stalwarts from the social and political arena. A demand for Dr Ambedkar’s memorial is yet to be fulfilled as the proposal for allocation of Indu Mills land awaits formal approval.
So, the turmoil over erecting a memorial as a fitting tribute to the contribution of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray seems premature. But in the near future, the state may witness a major political conflict over it. The conflict has dragged all the major political parties into a controversy. Shiv Sena wants a memorial at Shivaji Park, where Thackeray addressed a number of rallies, including the traditional Dussehra rally for years together. But Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has cited legal problems as hurdles in its way.
The political hullabaloo is so confusing that it has led to change of stand by NCP and Raj Thackeray led MNS. The Congress’ coalition partner NCP was quick to jump the gun when its Minister Bhaskar Jadhav, a former Shiv Sainik, said the government will consider it positively.
The statement was enough to create a furor in political circles as it came without any formal discussion at the government level. Later, NCP spokesman Nawab Malik added fuel to the fire taking a dig at the CM. He said his party will neither oppose it nor support it. But, it was for the CM to follow rajdharma or mitradharma. The comment was aimed at the growing camaraderie between the CM and the Sena.
The BJP has no independent role in this matter except supporting the Sena’s stand. But, some sort of acrobatic show was on display in MNS when its BMC corporator demanded Indu Mills land for the memorial. But the party soon distanced itself from the comment.
Uddhav Thackeray has hinted at what is likely to surface in future. While appealing to all to maintain restraint, he said the decision on a memorial will be taken by his Shiv Sainiks and he would not come between the memorial and them. This clearly means that if the Sena workers decide to have their way, he will not intervene. Party spokesman Sanjay Raut has also snubbed the MNS indirectly saying other parties should keep themselves away from the issue.
At BMC level, amidst the controversy an all-party committee dealing with the issue. The Republican leaders are fuming over a demand for Thackeray’s memorial at Indu Mills. Earlier, the Shiv Sena had to eat humble pie when it had to withdraw a demand of erecting a memorial of Jagannath Sunkersett, known as a prominent leader and an architect of Mumbai.
Municipal bodies such as Thane have approved funds and land to erect memorials of Thackeray, but in Mumbai the BMC doesn’t have a suitable piece of land to be allotted for a memorial. The civic body, under rule of Sena and BJP, never appeared serious to preserve the land pool in its possession. Instead, the civic body forgoes its claim and lets most of the prime plots reserved under the tag of a recreation ground, playground and gardens go back to the original land lord citing “want of sufficient funds” as a reason in most of the cases.
The Sena will certainly bank on the issue, as it desperately needs it to consolidate its position in the absence of its founder chief. The Congress, with a clear refusal, instead of looking for an amicable solution, will offer the Sena an opportunity to go all out. This will keep the Sena in good stead when NCP is eyeing to cash in on Thackeray senior’s absence. For the party, the growing discontent among the Thackeray cousins has come as a big morale booster. Had it been the other way round, the two Senas would have disturbed the political equations of the Democratic Front.
Also, the issue of a memorial and a raging debate over it will certainly take political centre stage. The various scams and recent controversies at the government level, involving prominent faces from the Congress and NCP will take a back seat. This is what the Congress and NCP wants ahead of the forthcoming session of State Legislature.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY