After days of deliberations between the government and the Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray’s makeshift memorial has finally been removed from Shivaji Park. Though debate still continues over whether a garden should be allowed within the maidan, it is heartening that the government managed to stare down the Sena.
First of all, the maidan and its periphery are no place for a memorial of any kind. Of late, one has seen Shivaji Park in the eye of controversy with so many functions, events, rallies and speeches all with no connection to sport being held there. Even though there have been appeals to keep Mumbai’s maidans for sport, given the paucity of space in the city, these become an inevitable ground for huge gatherings. So, it is up to the govt to do whatever it can to preserve maidans for outdoor recreation. Coaches and young cricketers have often rued how the ground and the pitches are dug up periodically to erect scaffoldings for all kinds of rallies, ruining playing and practice conditions.
The moving of the memorial also sends another message that the government has teeth and when forced to, it will bare them for the citizens. The memorial had become an ego battle between the state and the Sena, with a who-blinks-first dimension to this stand-off.
For too long now, Mumbaikars have been held ransom by political party followers claiming one grievance after another, resorting to flash strikes, dharnas, traffic disruptions, rail rokos and even violence. There has been a fear psychosis set in this city, which used to be so resilient, because thousands have been stranded for hours as public transport has been disrupted on some pretext.
That the government stood its ground and the Sena decided to reconsider, even though one does not know what happens now, is a temporary win-win situation for all.