After marking the birth anniversary of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray this January with the inauguration of a memorial torch at Shivaji Park, for next year’s birthday present to their deceased party founder, sainiks have demanded that the memorial site be made eight times as big as it is now.

Sena also wants the expanded memorial site to be demarcated by an iron railing and gate, said a front-page report in this paper yesterday. This will not only require the ground to be dug up, but will also result in a material change in the appearance of the park, which is a heritage site.

One cannot see any justification for acceding to this demand. The chief minister has already announced that the Mayor’s bungalow will be converted into a memorial for Thackeray, so why the need to expand the memorial site at Shivaji Park as well? Much has been said about the lack of open, green pockets in Mumbai, and this is yet another example of how these spaces are shrinking. If the memorial site is expanded and separated with an iron grille and gate, it will become inaccessible for the public.

Every open space in this concrete jungle of a city needs to be fiercely protected. Surely the few green pockets we have left do not need to be encroached upon. Parks across the city are for fresh air, play and recreation. Let us keep it that way and not politicise them. In particular, Shivaji Park, the nursery of Indian cricket, has suffered considerably because of numerous rallies and gatherings that have been held there periodically. On so many occasions, cricket coaches have rued how the ground has been dug up, resulting in difficulties in conducting cricket nets there the next day.

Let this not become another instance of political or financial muscle swallowing the city’s grounds. If the Sena really wants the goodwill of the people, let it keep the current memorial as it is, not shrinking the open space in its old stomping ground.