An acrimonious exchange has erupted between Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari over the reopening of places of worship, shut since the coronavirus lockdown in March. After the Governor, in a sarcasm-filled letter, questioned whether he had “turned secular”, Uddhav Thackeray shot back that he did not need a Hindutva certificate from anyone, and also alluded to the Kangana Ranaut controversy.
On Monday, the Governor wrote to Uddhav Thackeray “requesting him to announce forthwith” the reopening of places of worship with Covid precautions.
“You have been a strong votary of Hindutva. You had publicly espoused your devotion for Lord Rama by visiting Ayodhya after taking charge as Chief Minister. You had visited the Vitthal Rukmini Mandir in Pandharpur and performed the puja on Ashadhi Ekadashi,” Mr Koshyari wrote.
“I wonder if you are receiving any divine premonition to keep postponing the reopening of places of worship time and again or have you turned ‘secular’ yourselves, a term you hated?”
He also reminded the Chief Minister that other cities had reopened such places in June and there had been no reports of a surge in Covid-19 cases. The Governor also called it “ironical” that bars, restaurants and beaches were allowed to open and “our Gods and Goddesses have been condemned to stay in the lockdown”.
The Chief Minister retorted that his Hindutva did not require a certificate from the governor or anyone and that he would take a decision after careful consideration. “You said I am getting divine premonitions? Maybe you get them but I am not so big,” he wrote back in Marathi.
Referring to actor Kangana Ranaut without naming her, Mr Thackeray added that “inviting people who call Mumbai PoK with smiles does not fall into my definition of Hindutva”.
Last month, the Chief Minister and his Shiv Sena were furious after Kangana Ranaut, claiming she felt unsafe over the Sushant Singh Rajput death and the way it was handled by the city’s police and administration, compared Mumbai to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. In the middle of her bitter confrontation with the Maharashtra government, Mr Koshyari met with the actor, leaving the Sena even more rattled.
Mr Thackeray reminded the Governor that the reopening of temples or delaying it “is not a question of secularism” and questioned whether Mr Koshyari had forgotten his own constitutional oath. “Have you forgotten that you also swore by the constitution that also has the word ‘secular’. Are you rejecting it?…Is reopening temples not secular and keeping them closed secular?”
The Chief Minister also said just like “suddenly imposing lockdown” was wrong, lifting it suddenly was wrong.
Mr Koshyari had written about representations from delegations demanding that places of worship be reopened. Mr Thackeray pointed out that all three letters referred to were from BJP office-bearers and supporters.
This is the second opposition-ruled state where a politically-active Governor has taken on the Chief Minister. In Bengal, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar has been a relentless critic of Mamata Banerjee’s government and he has made it clear on social media.
While political leaders like Raj Thackeray, Assauddin Owaisi and Prakash Ambedkar, apart from the BJP, have argued in favour of reopening places of worship, Mr Koshyari’s letter on a day that the BJP organised protests has amplified the argument that the Governor’s office is pushing the BJP’s agenda. The Maharashtra government says crowd control at religious places is a major concern. Sources in the government say conditional reopening is being considered for the next set of relaxations expected in early November, ahead of Diwali.