The controversy over the birthplace of the 19th-century saint Sai Baba has forced the government to issue a shutdown to curb protests.
MAHARASHTRA: The temple town of Shirdi which is located in the state of Maharashtra seemed rather normal even though a ‘bandh’ was enforced. The shrine of Shirdi Sai Baba was open for devotees however businesses and shops remain closed.
The locals of Shirdi are protesting against the Maharashtra government’s decision to develop Pathri town as Sai Baba’s birthplace. While residents of Shirdi claim there is no concrete proof of his origin, Pathri locals claim to have 29 pieces of documentary proof to show that Sai Baba was born in their town.
The issue of Sai Baba’s origins first came into focus in 2017, when President Ram Nath Kovind stated in October 2017 that Sai Baba was born in Pathri. The controversy was further exacerbated when Uddhav Thackeray, soon after taking over as CM, promised to designate funds of up to Rs 100 crore for the project at the town of Pathri, which he also described as the town where Sai Baba was born.
The announcement came one day after BJP MP Sujay Vikhe-Patil said the people of Shirdi might launch a “legal fight” over the issue to protest Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s announcement of a grant of Rs 100 crore for development of Pathri in Parbhani district, believed to be Sai Baba’s birthplace by a section of devotees.
“Why has the issue of Sai Baba’s birthplace come to the fore suddenly after the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government replaced the BJP-led regime in the state? No political leader can determine what was Sai Baba’s birthplace,” he had said on Friday.
Law and order must prevail
Home Minister Anil Deshmukh requested people to maintain law and order in Shirdi. “We are requesting people to protest peacefully and maintain law and order. We’ll listen to people in Pathri and Shirdi about their demands and try to resolve it amicably. We’ll call them for a meeting to Mumbai or ask our workers to visit them and hear them out,” he told reporters at an event in Dadar.
State transport buses from other locations were allowed to come to the town. Devotees who made pre-bookings at hotels were allowed to stay and taxi services from the airport to the temple were also unaffected, PTI quoted a district administration official as saying.
The ‘prasadalaya’ and the temple kitchen were also open to ensure devotees were not inconvenienced, officials of the temple trust and Ahmednagar district administration said.
Terming the bandh as “successful”, local BJP functionary Sachin Tambe Patil, who is former trustee of the Sai Baba temple, said, “Commercial establishments, shops, restaurants and local transport (autorickshaws and other private vehicles) are closed and a complete shutdown is being observed in the town as well as in 25 villages around Shirdi.”
Karmabhoomi Vs Janmabhoomi
NCP leader Durrani Abdullah Khan claimed on Thursday that there was enough evidence to prove that Sai Baba was born in Pathri.
“While Shirdi is Sai Baba’s ‘karmabhoomi’ (place of work) Pathri is ‘janmabhoomi’ (birthplace) and both places have their own importance,” he said.
Adding that this was the reason why Pathri deserved funds for development, Khan had also claimed that the people of Shirdi had no issues with the fund allocation, but were against Pathri gaining recognition that could rival Shirdi.
Shirdi, located in Ahmednagar district where Sai Baba, a 19th century spiritual leader, lived, attracts lakhs of devotees every year.
The controversy began after Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s announcement of a grant of Rs 100 crore for development of Pathri located in Parbhani district.
“Even the residents of Pathri had never raised this issue in the past,” Patil claimed, adding that Sai Baba never spoke about his birthplace. “We think `karmabhoomi’ is more important than ‘janmabhoomi’,” he added.
State PWD minister and Congress leader Ashok Chavan defended the government’s decision to provide funds to Pathri. Chief Minister Thackeray took a positive decision to develop the Sai Janmasthan temple in Pathri to provide facilities to devotees who visit the place, he said.”It will be improper to deprive them of facilities due to the controversy over the birthplace,” he had tweeted in Marathi.
One of the most popular religious destinations in the country, Sai Baba Temple in Shirdi witnesses thousands of devotees visiting the holy site every year.
To read related news on Sai Baba click here