| (From left) Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, President
APJ Abdul Kalam with Central leaders after Kalam unveiled a statue of Shivaji in Parliament. (PTI)
New Delhi, April 28: Great Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj today joined the icons embellishing Parliament complex.
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam unveiled an equestrian statute mounted on a galloping horse at a glittering ceremony with an overwhelming Maratha flavour. Shiv Sena, which usurped the legacy of Shivaji, was conspicuous by its colourful presence.
Other than the President, leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi and Congress leaders Shivraj Patil, Maharashtra chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Left MPs and some allies were present on the occasion. Almost all the participants, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, donned saffron pagri.
Reams of saffron cloth were specially brought from Aurangabad and five “specialists”, led by Narayan Singh Holaye from Samajinagar, wrapped the starched five-metre kesari cloth. As soon as the Prime Minister arrived at the venue, he was made to sit on a chair near the podium and Holaye tied the turban on a smiling Vajpayee.
Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah too sported a turban and so did Union minister for parliamentary affairs Sushma Swaraj.
The 18-feet bronze statue sculpted by eminent sculptor Ram Sutar — flanked by Baba Saheb Ambedkar on the right and Motilal Nehru on the left — has been placed right outside gate No. 3, overlooking the office of Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi, who was earlier the Sena’s chief minister and Union minister.
Sena’s working president and son of Bal Thackeray, Uddhav, had flown to Delhi along with his wife to attend the function. Some Left parliamentarians who attended the function complained that the Sena was trying to hijack it.
Shivaji (1630-1680 AD), a backward caste warrior, had not only fought the British but also the Muslim rulers and, hence, they said, the Sena was making a politically correct statement by its overwhelming presence. This is the first time a “regional” leader’s statue has been installed, they pointed out.
Unlike in the unveiling of a portrait of RSS ideologue Veer Savarkar in the Central hall last December, which was marred by a controversy and boycott by Opposition leaders, installation of Shivaji’s statue was a quiet and solemn affair with members representing the entire political spectrum attending the function. Senior left leaders were, however, conspicuous by their absence though their young MPs sat through the function.
Others who participated in the ceremony included Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and several Union ministers and senior Congress leaders.
After the ceremony, another horse-mounted equestrian statue of Mahatma Basavershwara, a saint and icon of the Lingayat community of Karnataka, was unveiled by the President outside gate No. 9. The same audience and VVIPs, including Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna, graced the occasion.
With the unveiling of the two icons today, the number of statues in Parliament complex has gone up to 23, besides three busts of Chandragupta Maurya, Arvindo Ghosh and Gopal Krishna Gokhale and scores of portraits.
Earlier in the day, the Sena, which has ambitions of becoming a national party, said it would contest the Assembly elections in all the four states due in October this year. Uddhav Thackeray addressed leaders of its Delhi unit and told them to take up national as well as local issues.
If the Sena failed to forge an electoral alliance with the BJP, it would go it alone, he told the gathering.