Maharashtra Governor B S Koshyari and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray were on Tuesday locked in a bitter war of words after the former pushed for reopening of places of worship in the state closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and asked the Shiv Sena chief whether he has suddenly turned secular.
Thackeray responded to Koshyari's letter saying he will consider the request but asserted he does need the governor's certificate for my Hindutva" even as BJP workers held protests outside temples in various cities in the state demanding reopening of places of worship.
NCP president Sharad Pawar also waded into the row between the two constitutional functionaries, and wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing shock over the "intemperate language" used in the governor's missive to the chief minister.
The spat erupted after Koshyari wrote a letter to Thackeray about representations received by his office demanding reopening of places of religious worship, shut since March-end in view of the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdown.
In his letter on Monday, Koshyari told Thackeray it is "ironical that while on one hand the state government permitted opening of bars, restaurants and beaches, our gods and goddesses have been condemned to stay in the lockdown."
Responding to the letter, Thackeray on Tuesday wrote to the governor, saying the state government will consider his request to reopen these places.
The chief minister said a decision on reopening places of worship, a demand being vociferously made by the opposition BJP, will be taken after careful consideration of the COVID-19 situation in Maharashtra, which tops among states in the number of cases and deaths.
In his letter, whose tone and contents evoked criticism from ruling allies the Congress and the NCP as well, Koshyari had mentioned that he has received three representations from delegations demanding that places of religious worship be reopened.
In response, Thackeray pointed out the 'coincidence' that all the three letters Koshyari mentioned were from BJP office-bearers and supporters.
An RSS veteran, Koshyari had a long stint in the BJP before be entered the Raj Bhavan here in September 2019 when the national party was still ruling the western state.
While in the BJP, the 78-year-old had served in various capacities and was also the chief minister of Uttarakhand.
In the letter to the chief minister, whose party Shiv Sena is wedded to Hindutva, Koshyari asked, "Have you suddenly turned secular, the term you hated?"
Responding to this question, Thackeray wondered if to Koshyari, Hindutva meant merely reopening places of religious worship and if not opening them was to him being secular.
"Isn't secularism a key component of the Constitution, by which you swore while taking oath as the state governor?" Thackeray asked.
"I don't need your certificate for my Hindutva," Thackeray said, referring to Koshyari's letter.
"While considering the sentiments and beliefs of the people, it is also important to take care of their lives and it is wrong to impose and lift lockdown suddenly," the Sena chief wrote.
Koshyari said in the last three months, delegations of religious leaders, individuals, NGOs and political leaders had met him to demand reopening of places of religious worship.
The governor also reminded Thackeray that the Sena leader had been a strong votary of Hindutva and had "publicly espoused his devotion to Lord Ram" by visiting Ayodhya after taking over as the chief minister last year.
Talking to reporters, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut was critical of the governor's letter.
Koshyari should only see whether Maharashtra is being run as per the Constitution or not and there is an elected government in the state to look after rest of the things, Raut said.
The Rajya Sabha MP also harped on the Shiv Sena's commitment to Hindutva.
"Nobody should have a question in mind about whether one is Hindutvavadi or not. It only needs to be seen whether the government is being run as per the Constitution or not," he said, without naming Koshyari.
Raut said besides being the chief minister, Thackeray is president of the Shiv Sena and son of party founder the Bal Thackeray, who had "propagated Hindutva in the country".
"Hence, Uddhav Thackeray or us need not take lessons on Hindutva. Our Hindutva is firm and based on a strong foundation," he said.
Latching on to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's remark that the threat of COVID-19 still persists, Raut said in view of the health concern, it is Thackeray's responsibility to take care of people's safety, and the governor should have rather appreciated the chief minister for doing so diligently.
In his letter to Modi, Pawar said he was pained by the erosion of standards of conduct by the high Constitutional office of the Governor.
The former union minister referred to the huge crowds some temples in the state like that of Lord Vitthal in Pandharpur, Siddhivinayak in Mumbai, Sai Baba in Shirdi and others, witness on normal days.
In such places, it is almost impossible to maintain safe distance between people. Keeping this in view, the government of Maharashtra had decided to stagger the decision regarding opening up of places of worship, Pawar said.
Congress also disapproved of the comments in Koshyari's letter, saying they go against the constitutional principle of secularism.
Speaking to reporters, state Congress chief and Revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat said Koshyari is also the Governor of the BJP-ruled Goa where places of worship are still closed on account of coronavirus.
"What the Governor has said goes against the principle of secularism in the Constitution. We think this is not right. Does the President approve of the language used in the Governor's letter?" Thorat asked.
In Mumbai, BJP workers led by MLC Prasad Lad and Leader of Opposition in Legislative Council Praveen Darekar tried to enter the famous Siddhivinayak Temple. Lad, Darekar and others were detained by the police and later released.
In Thane, BJP workers, led by MLAs Niranjan Davkhare and Sanjay Kelkar, rang bells as part of the "ghanta naad" protest which was held in front of ancient Ghantali temple.
In Pune, BJP activists staged a demonstration outside the famous Tambadi Jogeshwari temple.
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)