Mumbai: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday laid the Foundation for a Rs 3,600-crore grand memorial for Shivaji Maharaj off the city coast, an event that comes a few months ahead of the civic polls and amid tussle among parties to claim the legacy of the 17th century warrior king.
Modi, accompanied by select dignitaries, including Governor Vidyasagar Rao, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray, sailed in a hovercraft from Girgaum Chowpatty beach in south Mumbai to reach near the memorial site, some 1.5km off the coast.
The PM performed the 'jalpujan' at the designated spot, symbolically marking the start of construction of the magnificent memorial in the Arabian Sea, which, according to the state government, is going to be the tallest such structure in the world.
Shivaji's descendants Udayanraje Bhosale and Sambhaji Raje (both Parliamentarians) were also on board the hovercraft.
Before the event, Fadnavis handed over to Modi a 'kalash' (vase) containing river waters and soil collected from all districts in Maharashtra.
When the hovercraft reached the memorial site, Modi immersed the 'kalash' in the sea. The PM also inspected a float depicting Shivaji Maharaj's coronation.
During the ceremony, Modi was seen talking to Thackeray, whose party, despite being an ally, has been a bitter critic of many of the BJP-led NDA Government's decisions, including demonetisation.
Earlier in the day, Modi inaugurated the newly-built campus of the National Institute of Securities Management in neighbouring Raigad district, where he defended note ban policy, saying that demonetisation is only short term pain for long term gain, adding that the present regime would not shy away from taking difficult decisions that are in the interest of the country.
The Prime Minister's visit assumes political significance as the high-stake elections to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) are just a few months away.
The main feature of the Shivaji memorial, slated to cost Rs 3,600 crore, will be a 192-metre-tall statue of the iconic Maratha king. The site is a rocky outcrop, roughly 1.5 km from the Raj Bhavan shore.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis recently said the 'Shiv Smarak' will not only be the tallest memorial in the country, but in the entire world. He had thanked Modi for "making it possible."
Later, Modi will address a public function at the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) ground insuburban Bandra, after laying foundation stone for two Metro rail projects, Elevated Rail Corridors Project and Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL).
Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, whose party is an ally of ruling BJP, is expected to share the dais with Modi at the MMRDA event.
The PM will then leave for Pune, where he will lay the foundation stone of the Pune Metro Rail project at the Agriculture College ground there. NCP leader Sharad Pawar will share the stage with Modi at this event.
The memorial project has been facing stiff opposition from fisherfolk and environmentalists, who have alleged that it would affect marine life and ecology of the Arabian Sea.
For the MMRDA event, the government has sent out invitation to over 3,000 VVIPs and dignitaries, including members of the royal family and Shivaji historians.
Ever since it came to power in Maharashtra in October 2014, BJP has been quietly trying to usurp the near-monopoly that bickering ally Shiv Sena has held over the 17th century Maratha king for the last many years.
Ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly election in 2014, BJP had used the name of Chhatrapati Shivaji for electoral gains, with a famous tagline seeking to evoke Shivaji's blessings.
The government and BJP are trying to make the memorial event a success with hoardings at important places of all districts and also through campaigns in print, TV and social media.
An official said those who would accompany Modi in the hovercraft to the 'jalpujan and bhumipujan' venue off Mumbai coast, will include Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, Chief Minister Fadnavis, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, NCP's Satara MP Udayanraje Bhosale and BJP's Rajya Sabha MP from Kolhapur Sambhaji Raje Bhosle.