The state government is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that today's function, in which the Maharashtra Bhushan (the state's highest civilian honour) will be conferred on noted historian Babasaheb Purandare (93), goes off peacefully.
Babasaheb Purandare’s detractors claim he has distorted facts about Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in his writings and period dramas. FILE PIC
The event, which was earlier scheduled to be held at the spacious Shanmukhananda Hall in Matunga, was shifted to the Raj Bhavan, the Governor's 'fortress-like' residence, with the controversy over Purandare's selection escalating in the past week. While some social organisations have threatened to disrupt the function, the MNS has threatened to teach a lesson to those who “dare” to do so (see box).
Purandare's detractors claim he has distorted facts about Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in his writings and period dramas. They refuse to consider him an acclaimed historian and, hence, want the government to scrap the nomination, which was declared on May 1, the state's Foundation Day.
Political outfits like the Nationalist Congress Party and Congress have opposed Purandare's nomination and prominent litterateurs and historians are also divided over the BJP-led government's decision.
Social groups like Sambhaji Brigade have taken it upon themselves to ensure trouble for the police and BJP leaders in the run up to the function. The outfit, which owes allegiance to the powerful Maratha community, attacked the Ahmednagar office of Minister of State for Home Ram Shinde yesterday.
A bus was also burnt in Pandharpur and there were reports of violence in Nanded as well.
The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has, meanwhile, warned Purandare's opponents of dire consequences if they dare to touch the historian, who will be travelling from his hometown, Pune, to Mumbai for the function, or try to disrupt the ceremony. The party workers have been guarding Purandare 24x7 at his Pune residence and they are expected to ensure his safe passage whenever he travels to Pune.
Purandare's itinerary and travel plan was kept a top secret till last evening and sources said he was expected to fly to Mumbai, where he would be put up in a secure place.
Since the ceremony has become a prestige issue for the Devendra Fadnavis government, the state and Mumbai Police have been asked to take unprecedented security measures. All branches of the police departments have been mobilised and have been asked to stay on top of the situation.
According to officials of the Culture Department, about 250 guests have been invited to Raj Bhavan. They include the members of the council of ministers, bureaucrats, police officials, prominent citizens, MPs and legislators from Mumbai and Pune, previous awardees, Purandare's family and acquaintances and media persons. The government has avoided inviting legislators and MPs from Thane and Navi Mumbai so that NCP legislator Jitendra Awhad (from Mumbra in Thane), who has been leading the anti-Purandare agitation, does not get entry.
Restrictions will also be imposed on media persons and television cameras will not be allowed at the venue, with a live telecast taking place only on Doordarshan. Only print and TV reporters will be allowed and to ensure that they don't arrive in their own vehicles or come alone, the media persons have been asked to seek passes from Mantralaya and travel from state headquarters to Raj Bhavan in vehicles provided by the government. Frisking of all guests, barring VVIPs, has been made mandatory.
Private vehicles owned by guests have been given entry cards and passes for parking inside Raj Bhavan. The roads leading to Raj Bhavan will be manned by a large number of police personnel and they are likely to be sealed for other vehicles for some time, said sources in police department.
“The security will be tighter than the bandobast provided during swearing-in ceremonies held at Raj Bhavan,” said a senior police officer.
All entry points to Mumbai will be monitored and police have been asked to keep watch on the vehicles coming in from other districts because organisations like the Sambhaji Brigade are known for using guerrilla tactics. Sources in the Home department said the police have been asked to not treat the brigade's volunteers with kid gloves if they create any trouble in Mumbai or elsewhere.
Joint commissioner (law and order), Mumbai, Deven Bharti told mid-day that his teams were prepared to meet any eventuality. He refused to elaborate.
A PIL, which was filed against the selection of Purandare in the Bombay High Court, will come up for hearing on Wednesday. The fate of the ceremony will depend on the directive issued by a bench of Justice Naresh Patil and Justice S B Shukre.
Urging the High Court to stop the award ceremony, Pune-based petitioners Padmakar Kamble and Rahul Pukale have questioned Purandare’s credentials and his selection by a government-nominated panel.
MNS chief Raj Thackeray yesterday accused NCP president Sharad Pawar of indulging in ‘dirty politics’ over the decision to confer the Maharashtra Bhushan award on Purandare.
Raj Thackeray. Pic/Rane Ashish
"Pawar had felicitated Purandare on a few occasions. Did he not think then that what Purandare has written is not right," Raj said, addressing a press conference at his residence in Dadar. Pawar had said he respects Purandare, but he (Purandare) is not a historian.
"Pawar is indulging in dirty politics. Babasaheb Purandare is just an excuse for that. He is doing so because a brahmin (Devendra Fadnavis) has now become chief minister of Maharashtra," the MNS chief said.
"If anyone touches Purandare, I will create ‘tandav’ (havoc) in Maharashtra. Some people in BJP are also responsible for this controversy over the award to Purandare," he said. — Agencies