Din in Assembly over Shivaji statue

The Assembly witnessed noisy scenes on Tuesday after the Opposition took umbrage at BJP MLA Atul Bhatkhalkar terming ‘vague’ the topic of discussion on the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial in the Arabian Sea. The din forced the Speaker to adjourn the House four times.

Former chief minister and Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan led the Opposition’s charge on the issue. He claimed the height of the statue had been lowered by 7.5 metres and the sword’s height raised by the same length. Mr. Chavan said the government was reducing the height of the statue to reduce expenses. He said, “We will not tolerate any changes in the height of the statue.” The State government had proposed a 212-metre memorial with a 38-metre sword, making it the tallest in the world, at an estimated cost of Rs. 3,600 crore.

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BJP MLAs created a ruckus even before Mr. Chavan could finish his point. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said Mr. Chavan was misleading the House. He said, “The Congress-NCP government did not act when they were in power for 15 years. The height of the statue has not been reduced in any way. We are committed to construct the world’s tallest statue. The design is ready and the model has been prepared.”

Mr. Fadnavis clarified that the first design of the statue sent to the Environment Ministry was a “schematic” one to get clearance. He said the consultants later worked out a design that would enable the statue “withstands the pressures of the gutsy sea wind and waves”.

Mr. Bhatkhalkar then objected to Mr. Chavan’s statement and raised a point of order against it. He alleged that Mr. Chavan was raising a “vague” issue to sidetrack the business of the House. The Opposition members strongly objected to Mr. Bhatkhalkar’s remarks. Leader of the Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil said, “Mr. Bhatkhalkar should apologise and be suspended for calling the issue vague.” NCP leader Ajit Pawar said the State would not tolerate insults to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

Mr. Bhatkhalkar said he did not intend to talk about Chhatrapati Shivaji. He said, “I only used the word
[any random issue]. It was relating to Mr. Chavan. I did not even name Shivaji Maharaj. But keeping in mind the sentiments of members of the House, I apologise to the House and entire Maharashtra. Despite this explanation, if anyone’s feelings are hurt, then I take my words back.”

Not satisfied with the reply, the Opposition members shouted slogans against the government. They squatted in the well and sought Mr. Bhatkhalkar’s suspension. The House was adjourned for 10 minutes.

When the House reassembled, Shiv Sena also lashed out at Mr. Bhatkhalkar. Sena MLA Anil Kadam said, “Mr. Bhatkhalkar must apologise with folded hands.” It led to a confrontation between Sena MLA from Aurangabad Sanjay Shirsat and BJP MLA Yogesh Sagar. The Shiv Sena said any issue relating to the Maratha warrior was of supreme importance to the State and demanded that he apologise to the people of Maharashtra.

Mr. Shirsat asked Mr. Bhatkhalkar to apologise for having said that the issue was “trivial”. His party colleague Sunil Prabhu seconded him. Senior ministers from both parties then intervened to cool tempers. Amid all this, Congress MLA Abdul Sattar tried to run away with the Speaker’s mace, but was stopped by marshals. It led to the second adjournment for 15 minutes.

With the BJP left with no one to bank on, Mr Bhatkhalkar apologised for his comments. The Opposition then demanded a meeting of group leaders to discuss the issue. After another adjournment of 20 minutes for the meeting, Speaker Haribhau Bagde reprimanded Mr. Bhatkhalkar for his remarks.

(With PTI inputs)

I apologise to the House and entire Maharashtra. Despite this explanation, if anyone’s feelings are hurt, then I take my words back

Atul Bhatkhalkar


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