Mumbai (The Hindu): Modi to lay foundation stone of Shivaji memorial today; BJP accused of playing electoral politics ahead of crucial BMC polls slated for February 2017
On the eve of the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj statue in the Arabian Sea by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, allies and members of the Opposition criticised the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led State government for delaying the project by 22 months to schedule the event ahead of the civic polls, most likely to be held in February 2017.
The Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change had extended the conditional environmental and Coastal Regulatory Zone clearances for the project through a letter on February 23, 2015, a copy of which has been accessed by The Hindu.
However, it took another year for the Vinayak Mete-headed State government-appointed Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Smarak Samiti to announce Egis group as the project management consultant at a cost of Rs. 83.73 crore. On Friday, Mr. Mete, who according to the invitation card is one of the hosts of the event, said the BJP is using the programme to further its political agenda.
‘A familiar poll ploy’
Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam said, “Everything was timed aiming at the civic polls in Mumbai. This is not the first time that the BJP government has planned a memorial ahead of important polls.”
Ahead of the Gujarat Assembly polls in 2012, Mr. Modi, the then Chief Minister, announced the setting up of a ‘Statue of Unity’ in honour of Sardar Patel, India’s first Home Minister. Last year, ahead of the Bihar Assembly polls, Mr. Modi laid the foundation stone of a memorial to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Father of the Indian Constitution, at the city’s Indu Mill.
However, the Patel statue and the Ambedkar memorial are far from completion. Approval for handing over Indu Mill for the memorial is still pending with the Maharashtra government.
Responding to the allegations, Chandrakant Patil, Revenue Minister and senior BJP leader, said, “The monument was never a part of the party’s political agenda. The project is being carried out keeping in mind the government’s social responsibility towards the people. If we gain any political advantage from of the Shivaji memorial, it will be a bonus.”
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Education Minister Vinod Tawde justified the 22-month delay by saying that the government had to float tenders and complete other technical details during the period.
BJP’s allies, however, see a political motive behind holding the ceremony now. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who will be present at Saturday’s ceremony, held a meeting with party leaders at his residence Matoshri on Friday. The leaders were absent from a rally organised from Chembur to the Gateway of India carrying urns with soil from Shivaji’s forts across the State. Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana MP Raju Shetty too accused the BJP of playing electoral politics and asked whether the ceremony was a party function.
The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) also reacted sharply to the BJP’s act of replacing a MNS symbol on a wall in Dadar with PM Modi’s portrait. MNS activists later wiped out the portrait in protest.
The Opposition Congress party also criticised the BJP for announcing big-ticket infrastructure projects without making sufficient budgetary provisions for them. Mr. Nirupam said, “Modiji will launch a flurry of projects on Saturday. But this government has no money to complete it. They should make sure they complete the projects as well.”
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