Mumbai: Amid constant bickering with ruling partner BJP, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis at an event here on Wednesday, though the Opposition dismissed it as a “poll ploy”. Fadnavis also tweeted pictures of him and Uddhav participating in rituals marking the the start of construction of a memorial for Sena founder Bal Thackeray.
On Bal Thackeray’s 93rd birth anniversary, the two leaders jointly offered prayers to Lord Ganesha and performed ‘vaastu pujan’ at the memorial site at Shivaji Park in Dadar area.
Until now, the Sena had been targeting the BJP, its ally at the Centre and in Maharashtra, over issues such as the Rafale aircraft deal, Ram temple, farm crisis, rising fuel prices, etc. The two parties have also spoken of going it alone in the Lok Sabha elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took to Twitter to laud Bal Thackeray’s intellect and oratory skills.
“Remembering the courageous Balasaheb Thackeray on his Jayanti. Respected Balasaheb was unwavering in his commitment towards protecting the rights and wellbeing of people,” he tweeted.
“He was bold and was blessed with a sharp intellect and wit. His oratory skills mesmerised lakhs of people,” Modi wrote on Twitter.
PM Modi is expected to be invited for the formal ‘bhoomi pujan’ ceremony, a source said.
Fadnavis and Uddhav were seen warmly shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries at the event.
A Sena legislator present there said the two leaders had a brief meeting over tea. “However, there were no political discussions,” he said.
“The chief minister and other BJP leaders were very comfortable in the presence of Uddhavji and his family,” he said adding it seemed they were “members of one family”.
The chief minister later tweeted that Bal Thackeray will continue to remain a source of energy and inspiration for him.
A number of BJP and Sena leaders, city mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation chief Ajoy Mehta and members of ‘Balasaheb Thackeray Rashtriya Smarak Nyas, including BJP MP Poonam Mahajan, were present at the event.
On Tuesday, the Maharashtra Cabinet approved Rs 100 crore for the construction of the memorial, which is expected to begin next month. The move is being seen as an attempt to reach out to the ally ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
The prime sea-facing property built in 1928, measuring around 11,500 sqm, currently houses Mumbai mayor’s bungalow.
The Sena had last year announced to go solo in future elections. A party leader on Tuesday said the state government’s decision to approve funds for the Thackeray memorial would have no bearing on alliance prospects between the two parties for the upcoming poll.
Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said the memorial should have been built at ‘Matoshree’ (the Thackeray residence in suburban Bandra), as he (Bal Thackeray) spent all his life there.
“Despite the Sena having a lot of money, it is using the government’s and people’s money, which was not needed. The BJP is only trying to woo the Sena ahead of elections,” he said.
They want an alliance to happen, so people’s money is being used. “More than the memorial, the BJP is concerned about polls,” Sawant added.
NCP leader Chitra Wagh said the memorial’s announcement was made a few years ago, but its construction did not start despite the Sena being in power in the BMC and a partner in the state government.
“The Sena has always belittled the BJP. However, as elections are nearing, both the parties have realised they will be decimated if they do not come together. Hence, this drama in the name of memorial,” she said.
The BJP desperately needs Sena’s “change of heart” to retain its relevance, she claimed.
Meanwhile, the Sena, in an editorial in its mouthpiece ‘Saamana’, continued its anti-BJP tirade. “Pakistanis are carrying out attacks on the border, soldiers are dying in Kashmir. However, we are showing our ‘josh’ by taking credit for surgical strikes,” it said.