On R-Day, BJP-opposition face-off in Maharashtra

Mumbai: Uniting for a common cause, Maharashtra’s opposition parties took out silent marches for what they called “Save the Constitution” while the ruling BJP countered it by organising a ‘Tiranga Yatra’ here on Friday, to coincide with the 69th Republic Day celebrations across the state.

The opposition’s ‘Save Constitution’ rally, coming on the day independent India’s Constitution was adopted, was launched from the statue of its chief architect B.R. Ambedkar near Churchgate and terminated at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s statue near the Gateway of India in the afternoon, with around 5,000 people joining it.

Simultaneous silent ‘Save Constitution’ processions were held by opposition activists in all districts in the state.

The galaxy of opposition leaders at the silent march included Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra Congress President Ashok Chavan, Janata Dal-United breakaway faction’s leader Sharad Yadav, Communist Party of India-Marxist General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI General Secretary D. Raja, and rally convenor and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader Raju Shetti.

Also present were Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Tripathi, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti chief Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore, Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and activist-journalist Jatin Desai.

Senior Maharashtra leaders including Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil (Congress), Leader of Opposition in the Council Dhananjay Munde (NCP), Ajit Pawar, Manikrao Thakre, ex-BJP MP Nana Patole, Supriya Pawar, Jitendra Awhad, Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam and Sachin Sawant were also present.

Other prominent participants were former Union Ministers Prithviraj Chavan, Sushilkumar Shinde and Praful Patel, while senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani attended a pre-rally meeting this morning.

Later, Sharad Pawar said all “like-minded opposition parties” will meet in New Delhi to plan out a strategy to “save the Constitution” and take on the BJP in the coming elections.

Yechury said the fundamental rights of the people, as enshrined in the Constitution, are under ‘assault’ by the BJP and all opposition parties want to save the nation from “destruction” by the party ruling in Maharashtra and the Centre.

Ashok Chavan accused the government of veering towards ‘dictatorship’ by attempting to change the Constitution, a move that he said poses a grave threat to the country.

“It was a silent and symbolic procession to ‘Save the Constitution’. There were no banners, no speeches, no slogans of any kind,” Shetti said later.

In a counter to the opposition procession, the Maharashtra unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party took out a ‘Tiranga Yatra’ (Tricolour March) in Mumbai and all other districts of the state.

Top BJP leaders, including state unit President Raosaheb Patil-Danve, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Mumbai party chief Ashish Shelar and others visited the Ambedkar memorial Chaityabhoomi in Dadar and offered tributes.

Later, addressing a BJP rally at the Kamgar Maidan, Fadnavis attacked the opposition for their procession in south Mumbai.

“The Constitution is intact. What they held today was a ‘Save Party’ rally and not ‘Save Constitution’ rally,” Fadnavis said.

He said when they (Congress-NCP) were in power, they indulged in rampant corruption and didn’t remember the Constitution.

“The Constitution is our mother,” Fadnavis said amid applause at the ‘Tiranga Yatra’ in which several Ministers, parliamentarians and legislators participated.

Later this afternoon, it transpired that Mumbai Police was planning action against the opposition parties for organising the ‘Save Constitution’ march “without permission”.