Lakhs expected to throng Chaityabhoomi that is near makeshift Thackeray memorial

As the 56th death anniversary of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar draws near, the Maharashtra administration is saddled with a vexing law-and-order problem that threatens to envelop the city in a lethal social conflagration.

On December 6, lakhs of people are expected to throng the holy Chaityabhoomi in Dadar, where Dr. Ambedkar’s last rites were performed in 1956. Since the recent passing away of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, who was cremated at Shivaji Park on November 18, Shiv Sainiks have been insisting on a memorial to their leader on the cremation spot, which is a stone’s throw away from ‘Chaityabhoomi.’

In a bid to preclude a conflagration, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Commissioner Sitaram Kunte has shot off urgent letters to Chief Secretary J.K. Banthia and Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh.

On November 17, moments after Thackeray’s passing away, Sena MP Sanjay Raut and Mayor Sunil Prabhu (of the Shiv Sena) immediately applied for ‘special permission’ to cremate the Sena patriarch at Shivaji Park.

While permission was granted amid frenzied consultations with Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, BMC authorities expected the Shiv Sena to dismantle the makeshift memorial.

But the elaborate edifice, a stage with Thackeray’s photo, embellished with halogen lamps and guarded by overzealous Sainiks, is now functioning as a virtual memorial more than two weeks since the passing away of the Sena founder.

Sena leaders have refused to back down from their demand for a memorial at the spot, with MP Sanjay Raut stating that the final word on a memorial would rest with the Shiv Sainiks.

RPI (A) endorsement

In a bid to assuage the sentiments of its political ally while managing those of his own vote bank, the Dalit Republican Party of India (A) led by Ramdas Athawale put out a front-page statement on the Sena mouthpiece on Friday, emphasising his party’s endorsement for a memorial to Thackeray.

At Thackeray’s memorial service earlier in the week, Mr. Athawale sang paeans to the Sena icon, lauding his “endeavours” for the upliftment of the Dalit community.

Ironically, there was never much love lost between Mr. Thackeray and the Dalit community, while the Sena patriarch personally looked upon Mr. Athawale with suspicion, regarding the Dalit leader as an unreliable cog in the tripartite Mahayuti alliance, the other member being the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“The purpose is to send out a message to the lakhs of Dalit pilgrims coming to visit the site from all over the country. It is to ensure that Thackeray’s cremation spot is not desecrated accidentally,” a Republican Party of India leader told The Hindu. He described Mr. Athawale’s moves as steps to develop “a better moral understanding” with the Sena.

Harried State administration authorities are, meanwhile, planning to nudge Mr. Chavan to request Sena Executive President Uddhav Thackeray to remove the makeshift memorial.

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