Shiv Sena’s recent brouhaha over a memorial at Shivaji Park for its late chief Bal Thackeray is not only unjustified, but also a promise made in his name and broken by his own supporters.
After Thackeray died on November 17, there was a demand for his cremation at the park, where for more than 40 years he addressed his followers. The state hesitated, no doubt fearing that sainiks wouldn’t budge from there. Yet, its bigger concern was it was the only place where the lakhs who turned up could gather without risk to life or limb. Hence, the government, allowing the cremation on November 18, gave the ground to Sena for 24 hours; and the Sena accepted that condition.
Now, 24 days later, Sena supporters are refusing to leave the spot where Thackeray was cremated, claiming it’s a holy spot, has an emotional bond, etc. A promise made on behalf of Sena supremo Bal Thackeray has been broken by a few Sena leaders, such as Sanjay Raut and Manohar Joshi, either for political ambitions or economic considerations.
The government has both requested and warned the Sena to move out, but in vain. There is little doubt that Shivaji Park has the potential to become an ugly battleground.
Joshi had said they are willing to break the law to hold on to this parcel of land. He is, of course, unwilling to break down even one of the three towers to make way for a memorial at Kohinoor Mills, a property owned by his family. And Raut has been urging sainiks to gather at the park to stall the government.
The interesting part is that Sena executive president and Saamna editor Uddhav Thackeray has maintained a studied silence on the matter. To his credit, he has behaved with decorum that others have not shown, only once commenting that the issue of a memorial was between Sena supporters and their supremo. Uddhav has done a lot to make the Sena much more acceptable to the middle class and non-Marathis, which can explain why he was able to ensure Mumbai’s victory in the BMC elections in February 2012. Only Marathi votes can no longer do that in this cosmopolitan and upwardly mobile city. It is time that he tells the sainiks to hand over the ground to the government, thus keeping the promise the Sena made to the government and allowing the army to celebrate Vijay Diwas on December 16 without hindrance.
Not doing so will not only show him in a poor light the citizens who are fighting to retain city’s open spaces, but will also show that within the Sena, he is not leading but being led by the likes of Raut. It is a test of leadership that he should be wary of losing.
Finally, it would be worthwhile to note that Indu Mills will soon house a memorial befitting one of the greatest men ever, Dr BR Ambedkar. That this should be okayed 56 years after he died itself is a reflection that a vast majority of Indians continue to view him with distaste; after all, unlike Gandhi or Nehru who fought the British, Ambedkar fought upper caste Indians. Any poll will still show a majority of upper caste Indians saying reservation is wrong (but no one will say having only one caste as priests in temple, a reservation of privilege, is also wrong).
Thus, while a massive area was earmarked for Gandhi, and Nehru’s erstwhile home turned into a memorial for him, as was the case with Indira Gandhi later on, no such thought was given to Ambedkar. That the emancipator of the world’s longest suffering class of people, the Dalits, deserves a grand memorial should never be in doubt.
Recent public memory will associate Ambedkar’s memorial with politics played by different parties and by the grabbing of land last year by a few overzealous supporters. But on the whole, the demand for converting Indu Mills land has been quite peaceful and is a guide on how one should go about seeking a memorial.