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Shutdown in Shirdi over birthplace row

Uddhav Thackeray   | Photo Credit: PTI

The temple town of Shirdi in Ahmednagar district observed a total shutdown on Sunday in protest against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s reported statement that Pathri in Parbhani district was Sai Baba’s birthplace.

While the Sai Baba temple remained open for devotees and tourists, Shirdi’s marketplace and establishments downed shutters in an unprecedented shutdown in the history of the town.

The Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust and other social outfits made provisions for tea, breakfast and meals in front of the temple to mitigate the inconvenience to visitors.

Residents of around 25 villages near Shirdi, too, joined ranks to support the bandh.

The Shirdi shutdown was countered by events and demonstrations by residents of Pathri to convince the locals of Shirdi that the Parbhani village was indeed Sai Baba’s birthplace.

Sena MPs split

The controversy created a split in the ranks of the Shiv Sena, with the party’s MPs from Shirdi and Parbhani batting for their regional claims.

While Shirdi MP Sadashiv Lokhande participated in a protest march in the town, Parbhani MP Sanjay Jadhav countered the claims of the Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust, saying that the Sri Sai Janmasthan Temple Trust in Parbhani had 29 pieces of proof that Pathri was indeed the saint’s birthplace.

Mr. Lokhande said, “I am a Sai bhakt [devotee] first and then an MP… Sai Baba came to Shirdi when he was 16 years of age. The great man always transcended caste and religion and never revealed his birthplace or caste. I will be talking to the Chief Minister tonight and will be leading a delegation from Shirdi to meet him tomorrow.”

At the same time, he stressed that neither he nor anybody else in Shirdi was opposed to Pathri’s development.

“The Chief Minister has announced a grant of ₹100 crore for Pathri’s development … While I am all for that, the government ought not to say that the Parbhani village was Sai Baba’s birthplace,” the MP said, while promising that devotees would not be inconvenienced during the indefinite shutdown.

Fear of competition

In response to the locals and temple trust authorities of Shirdi, their counterparts in Parbhani have claimed that the former were afraid that the development of Pathri would have a detrimental effect on Shirdi’s economy.

“This is a silly controversy … Every time, we see leaders from western Maharashtra play politics over every issue the moment they sense a threat to the status quo. But this time, we have solid proof in the form of municipal records and other sources that Pathri is indeed Sai Baba’s birthplace. The folks at Shirdi are going to have to accept the truth …Why are they getting worried about their existence if their consciences are clear?” asked Mr. Jadhav.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and MLC Babajani Durrani, a trustee of the Sri Sai Janmasthan Temple in Parbhani, accused the Shirdi Trust of deliberately doing away with proof that showed Pathri to be the saint’s place of birth.

“Marathwada is the birthplace of a number of saints, including Dnyaneshwar. There should be no question of controversy on this issue of Sai Baba’s birth ... In fact, a 1972 biography of Sai Baba published by the Shirdi Sansthan mentions Pathri to be his place of birth. It seems they are worried that if Pathri is developed, Shirdi will not attract the same footfall,” he said.

In Parbhani, a bhajan demonstration was observed in front of the district Collectorate, with locals conducting a ‘Sai Jaagar’ programmes to “awaken” their counterparts in Shirdi to the truth about the saint’s real birthplace.

Ironically, even as 30-odd villages observed a total shutdown, it was business as usual in Loni village, the hometown of Congress-turned-Bharatiya Janata Party leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, one of the most vociferous proponents of the bandh.

Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar urged opposing parties to take a conciliatory approach to resolve the impasse, saying that the State government was taking necessary steps so that the shutdown would be called off soon. “The Chief Minister has called for a meeting tomorrow, in which both contending parties will present their case. Till that time, it is pointless to hurt anyone’s sentiments without reason,” said Mr. Pawar.

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 7:31:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/shirdi-bandh-shops-eateries-local-transport-shut/article30599017.ece

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