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The futile row over renaming Shivaji Park

By Mahesh Vijapurkar
December 11, 2012 15:02 IST
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No doubt in the Shiv Sena's history, the party has close links to the Shivaji Park but does that make it Sena's own? asks Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Every time Bal Thackeray addressed a meeting anywhere, Shivaji Park included, it was the practice to bow to and then garland a bust of Chhatrapati Shivaji after which rest of the business would follow. Shivaji was the icon of the Shiv Sena and derived its name from the historic figure. The name was suggested by Thackeray's father, Prabodhankar Keshav Thackeray. It was, thus, Shivaji's Army.

The pulpit from where Bal Thackeray preached his brand of politics of identity, assertion, revenge, identity and exclusion to his mass of followers at Shivaji Park was always under the shadow of the gigantic statue of the Maratha warrior king. The claimed identity between the party and the persona of Shivaji was thus complete.

The oddity now is that the Shiv Sena, after its era-like phase which ended with his demise last month, and looks in confusion to the future, wants to confer on it a new identity. The 30-acre ground was earlier known as the Mahim Park till 1927 when it was named after Shivaji at the behest of a municipal councillor, Avantika Gohkale. The statue was erected by public contribution.

The proposed switch from Shivaji Park to Shivtheerth has a lot of significance and retention of the 'Shiv' is not to be mistaken for keeping the identity and merely Indianising the name. The 'Shiv' is to perpetuate the party by clever tweaking. Others would find it an unacceptable aberrant. If the Sena was born there, so was the Nationalist Congress Party.

The move does not even fall under the category of renaming places which commemorated British personages with which Mumbai is more than familiar. New identities do not easily get pasted but even ignored. When Prince of Wales's equestrian statue was removed to a corner of a park from a place in South Mumbai, people called it Kala Ghoda -- the black horse. The tribute was to the royal's horse, not royalty itself.

Back to Shivaji Park.

The proposal to rename -- which is the right conferred only on the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai -- will pass muster because the civic body is held by the Shiv Sena. Mayor Sunil Prabhu has already vowed that notwithstanding all criticism and opposition to the demand, the civic body will adopt a resolution using its numerical clout there.

Shivaji Park is actually no one's property except that it is held in trust by the civic body on people's behalf. It has to ensure that it is retained as required under its land use code, for recreation. If anyone, such as the army for its Vijay Diwas march or annual parades, the public meetings of all political parties including the Shiv Sena are allowed, it is by the leave of the civic body.

Now, as the party's mouthpiece Saamna, of which Uddhav Thackeray is successor to Bal Thackeray as its editor, has given it a twist. What was used for rallies to demand and secure the linguistic state of Maharashtra between 1947 and 1960, where the formality of establishment of the Maharashtra as a state was conducted -- all secular purposes -- is being claimed because it is identified with Bal Thackeray.

It became famous, Saamana has asserted, because the Shiv Sena was established from there in 1966 by Bal Thackeray. No doubt in the Sena's history, the party has close links to the grounds but does that make it Sena's own?

"There are innumerable parks named after Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj across Mumbai and Maharashtra. But why has Shivaji Park gained such prominence in the entire country?" Because of Bal Thackeray, the editorial on Tuesday said. Since the park was renamed from Mahim Park to Shivaji Park in 1927 and Bal Thackeray too was born that year, "It was as if both came into being only for each other".

"If Shivaji's Bhawani sword had not been picked up" by Bal Thackeray for the cause of both Hindvi -- the word 'Hindutva' is avoided -- the status of the Marathi manoos would have been different. Bal Thackeray is sought to be commemorated by naming it after his party. Only Lokmanya Tilak and Bal Thackeray are the true torchbearers of Shivaji, the newspaper said.

Thus Thackeray is raised to the status of Shivaji and Tilak. Therefore, it would seem, renaming it after the party by obliterating the claims of the original title-holder, in a manner of speaking, Shivaji is natural. If that were really an acceptable argument, shouldn't the demand instead be that it be renamed after the man who is the party's totem?

'Shiv Sena Pramukh Mananiya Balasaheb Keshav Thackeray Maidan' comes easily to mind. After all that is where he was cremated and that is where a mausoleum, if not an entire memorial with several components, is sought to be protected by the Shiv Sainiks who vandalised municipal equipment in a municipal ward office because it could have been used to remove the cremation platform.

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