Locals of world-famous Shirdi town have called for an indefinite shutdown starting today, demanding an urgent meeting with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray over the state government’s decision to allot Rs 100 crore for the development of Pathri village.
CM Thackeray had stoked a major controversy after announcing a Rs 100 crore package for Pathri, claiming that it was the birthplace of the world-renowned saint. The decision to allot funds didn’t go down well with residents of Shirdi, who say that Sai Baba never mentioned his birthplace in historical scriptures.
While the temple will remain open on Sunday and usual ceremonies will be performed, angry hotel and business owners in Shirdi will keep their establishments shut for an indefinite period.
"The temple will open as usual, all 'pujas' and ceremonies will be performed, devotees will be free to take 'darshan' of Saibaba, the 'prasadalaya' will be offered and pilgrims' accommodation facilities, etc, will continue as normal," the Shri Saibaba Sansthan Trust (SSST) Shirdi CEO Deepak Muglikar told IANS.
About two dozen villages around Shirdi are expected to join the bandh, which may be extended till the government considers their demands, according to one of the organisers.
Thackeray's innocuous act of sanctioning Rs 100 crore to develop Pathri has created a political row with the Bharatiya Janata Party MP Sujay Vikhe-Patil threatening to wage a legal battle over the issue.
"There was no such dispute until now. Why has the claim that Pathri is Saibaba's birthplace come up only after the new government has taken over? The people of Shirdi may resort to legal action," warned Sujay Vikhe-Patil, in whose constituency Shirdi town is located.
On the other hand, senior NCP leader Durrani Abdullah Khan has dismissed the shutdown call saying "there is enough historical evidence" to prove that Saibaba birthplace was Pathri.
"Pathri is Saibaba's 'janmabhoomi' while Shirdi is his 'karmabhoomi.' Both the places have equal significance for all his devotees," Khan said.
He said the people of Shirdi are not concerned about the funds granted by the government, but only object to the reference of Pathri as Saibaba's place of birth.
"Some locals apprehend that if Pathri becomes popular and developed, then the flow of devotees to Shirdi could fall and affect the local economy," Khan told media in his hometown Pathri on Friday.
(with inputs from Diwakar Dilip Mane)