Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday laid the Foundation for a Rs 3,600-crore grand memorial for Shivaji Maharaj off the Mumbai coast, an event that comes a few months ahead of the civic polls and amid tussle among parties to claim the legacy of the 17th century warrior king.
Modi, accompanied by select dignitaries, including Governor Vidyasagar Rao, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray, sailed in a hovercraft from Girgaum Chowpatty beach in south Mumbai to reach near the memorial site, some 1.5km off the coast.
The prime minister performed the 'jalpujan' at the designated spot, symbolically marking the start of construction of the magnificent memorial in the Arabian Sea, which, according to the state government, is going to be the tallest such structure in the world.
Shivaji's descendants Udayanraje Bhosale and Sambhaji Raje (both Parliamentarians) were also on board the hovercraft.
Before the event, Fadnavis handed over to Modi a 'kalash' (vase) containing river waters and soil collected from all districts in Maharashtra.
When the hovercraft reached the memorial site, Modi immersed the 'kalash' in the sea. The PM also inspected a float depicting Shivaji Maharaj's coronation.
During the ceremony, Modi was seen talking to Thackeray, whose party, despite being an ally, has been a bitter critic of many of the BJP-led NDA government's decisions, including demonetisation.
Earlier in the day, Sena alleged the BJP has "hijacked" the occasion to reap political benefit.
In October last year, Thackeray had 'boycotted' a foundation stone-laying ceremony for the Ambedkar memorial, apparently after he was denied a seat along side the PM on the dais.
The proposed memorial's main feature will be an imposing 192-metre-tall statue of a triumphant Maratha king riding a horse. The statue will be surrounded by an art museum, an amphitheatre, auditorium, exhibition gallery and other facilities.
In run up to the ceremony and Modi's visit, the BJP government launched an advertisement blitzkrieg.
Maharashtra's nodal agency for information dissemination, DGIPR, had instructed officials in districts to put hoardings and posters celebrating the event.
The government also released radio jingles, newspaper and television advertisements, and online commercials to promote the grand ceremony.
With elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) round the corner, the BJP in Maharashtra left no stone unturned to ensure Modi's official visit to Mumbai also boosts the party's chances in the crucial elections.
Shiv Sena is ruling the BMC for over two decades in alliance with BJP.
The event marking laying of foundation for the memorial is being seen as the BJP Government's 'vachanpurti' (fulfilment of Assembly poll promise).
The state government had ordered collection of water from all rivers across Maharashtra and soil from historic sites, which were brought to Mumbai in metal pots (kalash) on Friday.
This was then collected in a large pot, which Modi immersed at the 'jal pujan' site.
The 'jal pujan' 'muhurt' at the memorial site was at 2.59 pm. Three hovercraft were roped in to carry the PM and other dignitaries to the 16.5-hectare rock islet off the coast along Girgaum Chowpatty.
Major political parties, including BJP and Shiv Sena, are competing to claim the legacy of Chhatrapati Shivaji, a highly revered figure in Maharashtra and across the country.
The memorial project has been facing stiff opposition from fisherfolk and environmentalists, who have alleged it would affect marine life and ecology of the Arabian Sea.