Devendra Fadnavis cancels visit to Pandharpur temple over proposed Maratha community stir

Explaining the reason for calling off his visit, Fadnavis said he feared for the lives of nearly 10 lakh people expected to be at the temple town in Solapur district tomorrow on the occasion of 'Ashadhi Ekadashi'.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Sunday said he has cancelled his visit to a temple in Pandharpur town for a key religious event tomorrow in view of the proposed protest seeking reservation for the Maratha community in government jobs. Explaining the reason for calling off his visit, Fadnavis said he feared for the lives of nearly 10 lakh people expected to be at the temple town in Solapur district tomorrow on the occasion of ‘Ashadhi Ekadashi’.He said if throwing stones at him can get the reservation for the Maratha community, he was ready for it and that he took the decision of not to offer prayers at the temple to avoid any law and order problem. As part of a long-standing tradition, the chief minister every year offers prayers at the temple dedicated to Lord Vitthal and Rukmini in Pandharpur, located around 400 km from here, on the occasion of ‘Ashadhi Ekadashi’.

The auspicious day of performing puja is decided as per the lunar calendar and this year it falls on July 23. Some Maratha community leaders have threatened to disrupt the religious event if their demands, including reservation in government jobs and education, are not accepted by the government. Fadnavis said such things were very disappointing.

“Police have intercepted some messages, like ‘will release snakes among devotees’, ‘could create a situation that would lead to stampede’, among others. Such kind of plans are being worked out and it is highly disappointing,” he told reporters here. A pro-quota leader of the community had announced a couple of days ago in Pandharpur that if Fadnavis visits the temple town on July 23, “they will hold a massive protest there and disrupt the puja”. Fadnavis said such a move was a shame for a “progressive” state like Maharashtra.

“The puja is beyond any politics. But some 10 lakh people are there. Efforts are being made by some organisations and people that could create a life-threatening situation in Pandharpur,” the chief minister said. He said only the court can take a decision on the issue of grant of reservation to the Maratha community.

“Some (pro-reservation) organisations are aware of it; still they are instigating the community. If throwing stones at me can get the reservation for the Maratha community, then I am ready for it,” he said. “Nobody can stop me from performing the puja. I have Z-plus level police protection. I can do it under police protection, but then I fear that lives of devotees could be in danger and hence I have cancelled my visit,” he said.

The chief minister said for the last three years he was performing the puja at the Pandharpur temple, as per the tradition. “But some organisations opposed me, which is a wrong thing,” Fadnavis said. “As a server of Lord Vitthal, the state chief minister performs the puja at the temple. Only five-six times this tradition was not followed,” Fadnavis said, without elaborating. He said he would be performing the puja of Lord Vitthal at his house.

“Those who hold devotees to ransom cannot be called followers of late Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj,” he said, pointing at organisations which claim to draw inspiration from the 17th century Maratha warrior king. Meanwhile, the Congress attacked Fadnavis over his not attending the Ekadashi prayers while the BJP’s bickering ally, Shiv Sena, supported the chief minister’s move. State Congress unit chief Ashok Chavan said that the chief minister had to cancel his trip to Pandharpur as the people were “tired” of the “false promises” and the “cheating”.

“The people of the state are tired with false promises and cheating. That is why the CM of Maharashtra had to cancel the puja of Lord Vitthal,” he said. Chavan added that the Lord should “bless Fadnavis so that he could complete the promises made to the people of the state”. Congress’s state spokesperson Sachin Sawant said he was “saddened” by the break in tradition and put the “embarrassment” down to the “consistent cheating” (of the people by the government).

However, the Shiv Sena supported Fadnavis with its MLC Neelam Gorhe stating that he had acted “responsibly”. “Against the backdrop of opposition from Maratha community leaders, the Maharashtra chief minister cancelled his Pandharpur visit. The decision has invited different types of reactions but by taking such a decision, he has acted responsibly,” the Sena leader said. Fadnavis clarified that the puja will be performed by a devotee couple picked from the lakhs who have walked down to Pandharpur.

Along with them, Solapur district guardian minister and other state cabinet ministers would be present tomorrow. Fadnavis will pray to Lord Vitthal at the chief minister’s official residence, Varsha, here. The Maratha community leaders had earlier taken out several rallies in various districts to highlight their demands. Last year, a huge rally was organised in this regard in Mumbai.

Despite assurances from Fadnavis to fulfil the demands, nothing concrete has been done till now, the community leaders have claimed. Ekadashi marks the culmination of a pilgrimage, called ‘waari’, that devotees undertake from across the state on foot to reach the temple town in western Maharashtra.

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