Mumbai/ Nagpur: Now, poor Ms Snehal Ambekar, Mumbai’s First Citizen, faces eviction from her mayoral residence in Shivaji Park to make room for her party’s founder, Bal Thackeray’s memorial. In turn, she is likely to ask the Municipal Commissioner, who is more powerful than the mayor in the scheme of things under the 127-year-old municipal Act, to shift elsewhere from the tony Carmichael Road. Alternatively, the Additional Commissioner whose official bungalow is in the poorly maintained zoo, Rani Baug will have to shift.
It is an interesting sideshow of a major political manoeuvring by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. He has agreed to a memorial in the mayor’s bungalow skirting the seashore in Dadar, and deftly ensured that the memorial would be run by a trust not entirely in control of the Shiv Sena. It would be a public trust, of which, as proposed, Uddhav Thackeray, Balasaheb’s successor, would be the chairperson. Like, for instance, Sharad Pawar is of the YB Chavan Prathistan.
Till the Trust deed is finalised and registered with the Charities Commissioner, we would not know if Uddhav Thackeray would head it for life, like Pawar does both the Nehru Centre and the Chavan Centre. But for now, it is a toffee Fadnavis has tossed to the Shiv Sena with which he suddenly wants to get closer; in relation to the situation before the acrimonious poll campaign for Kalyan-Dombivli civic elections where the two parties share power. The Sena would have a mayor for three-and-a-half years, and the BJP for the remaining one-and-a-half.
The Sena needed the BJP to have its man in the neighbouring city’s mayoral chair, much like the BJP needed the Sena to have a stable government, even if it was a troubled government. What if, given the way the two parties have aligned there, after over a year of intense bickering, the Sena were to ask for emulation of the Kalyan-Dombivli pattern? This would mean heading the Maharashtra government for the last one- and-a-half years. Nothing could humble the BJP more than such a demand.
Nothing would make the Sena happier now than a ‘grand’ memorial – whatever that means – befitting the party founder who is the heart and soul of each Shiv Sainik, even the former ones, who have migrated to other parties like Raj Thackeray’s breakaway Maharashtra Navirman Sena. This would ward off problems for a while, what with the chief minister intending to enlarge his cabinet by roping in two from the Sena. This wisdom flows from the loss of face in Bihar for BJP.
Bal Thackeray had founded the party on the Dussehra day in 1966. The Shiv Sena had wanted his memorial at the Shivaji Park ground where he was cremated. Thackeray had conducted his annual rally there every year till some legal issues took him to the Bandra-Kurla Complex grounds. Since the Shivaji Park ground is a heritage precinct, the party insisted on the Mayor’s Bungalow, though that too has a heritage tag, built for a Bikaner princess during the British Raj, acquired by the city government only in 1962.
Because the mayor’s bungalow was the alternative to the Shivaji Park ground itself, the Sena would not even consider any other place. Sena dislikes withdrawing or compromising. If not the ground, the mayor’s bungalow right opposite it would be fine, thank you. Never mind the fact that 72 mayors occupied it since 1962. Except for Murli Deora and Nirmala Prabhawalkar for a year each, only Shiv Sainiks were its occupants. Perhaps, it conferred a vested right on the party to change its use.
Loksatta, a Marathi newspaper made an interesting observation about the choice in an editorial piece. Firstly, Fadnavis appears to be emerging as a ‘memorial man’, clearing the Shivaji memorial in the sea off Mumbai’s Marine Drive, a memorial for Ambedkar, and now for Bal Thackeray. Also, it points to an uncanny Hindu link, as next to the site set aside for Thackeray is Veer Savarkar’s memorial.
Savarkar was a Hindtutva proponent, whereas Ambedkar was sickened enough by the same religion to embrace Buddhism and take an entire oppressed community with him. On the same side of the Caddel Road, is where Bal Thackeray’s memorial would stand, albeit without tinkering with the heritage structure. Thackeray, Loksatta noted, is known as the Hinduhitarakshak – protector of Hinduism.