India has not always witnessed a picture of harmony when politics gets tangled with religion. Sai Baba temple at Shirdi in Maharashtra is right now is like a battleground due to Maharashtra politics. On January 9, 2020, Uddhav Bal Thackeray, Chief Minister of Maharashtra stated that Pathri in Parbhani is the birthplace of Sai Baba. He also added that Rs 100 crore would be funded for the development of infrastructure and facilities at “Sai Janmasthan” at Pathri which is nearly 273 km away from Shirdi in Ahmednagar district. This aroused a wave of people from Shirdi, and also many Sai Baba bhaktas were against his propositions.
Shirdi Sai Baba is worshipped as one of the greatest saints of India. He has both Hindu and Muslim devotees and is worshipped as God’s incarnation. Sai Baba first made his appearance in Shirdi during his youth and was there throughout his lifetime. It is believed that his birthplace is not marked in any scriptures nor has Sai Baba mentioned it anywhere. This is where political triggers are being pulled. Two years back, the Pathri temple trust had submitted a plan to develop Pathri as the birthplace of Sai Baba to Devendra Fadanavis led government. The then government had shelved this plan; Shiv Sena, which was also a partner in that government, decided to be silent. It is now that this plan is getting all the political attention.
According to some reports Kailsbapu Kote, a former trustee of SSST said that locals are unhappy as to the claiming of Pathri as the birthplace of Sai Baba. “His birthplace has not been mentioned anywhere, nor he has revealed it” he said. Devotees of Sai Baba and residents of Shirdi took out to the streets on January 19, 2020, Sunday morning where rallies were conducted. About 25 villages around temple town also took part in the rally. Sai Baba temple remained open throughout the day; the public transport vehicle was off the road along with shops and hotels were also closed throughout. They took to the streets singing bhajans and praising the life and miracles of Sai Baba.
The day-long bandh was called off by January 19, 2020 midnight. Leaders representing the residents said that the decision to call off the bandh was taken at a ‘grama sabha’ on January 19, 2020, evening as Uddhav Thackeray called a meeting on the following day to discuss this matter. They also stated that if the meeting does not produce a satisfactory result, a storm of protest will take place. Representatives from Pathri and Shirdi, BJP MLA Radhakrishna Vikha Patil, CEO of SSST, attended the meeting.
CM Uddhav Thackeray on January 20, 2020, decided to remove the remark of Pathri as the birthplace of Sai Baba, after objections from residents of Shirdi, which is believed to be the birthplace. Uddhav Thackeray said that he did not want controversy and asked if Shiridi residents and public representatives if they have any objection providing the fund to Pathri; to which they responded as– if the remark on birthplace was removed, they have no objections.
The political strings
Uddhav Thackeray’s statement of funding Rs 100 crore for the development of facilities in Pathiri created a political feud with BJP MP Sujay Vikha Patil who threatened to wage a legal battle over this issue. He also questioned as to why the controversy over Sai Baba’s birthplace is happening only after the new government has taken over.
Senior NCP leader Durrani Abdullah Khan was in support of Uddhav Thackeray’s remark. He stated that there is enough historical evidence to prove that Pathri is the birthplace of Sai Baba. He also added, “Pathri is Sai Baba’s ‘Janmabhoomi’ while Shirdi is his ‘Karmabhomi’. Both the places have equal significance for all the devotees.”
Shiv Sena’s MP Sadashiv Lokhande is in the side with the residents of Shirdi stating that Shirdi is Sai Baba’s roots. Civil Supplies Minister, Chhagan Bhujbal, however, takes a neutral stand and urges the people to remain calm and states that Sai Baba is omnipresent and cannot be confined to one place.
Is it all a game of history or game of politics? What do you think?