Mumbai, Oct 31,2014 (Agency)
The swearing-in of Devendra Fadnavis as the chief minister of the first BJP government of Maharashtra was a festive occasion in Mumbai. There were over two dozen boats in the Arabian Sea with giant lotuses on them, appearing to 'bloom' out of the water off the picturesque Marine Drive, which tourists were seen clicking away merrily on their mobile phones. And huge congratulatory hoardings and banners dotted most roads leading to the venue, Wankhede Stadium, besides other BJP strongholds in Mumbai, especially the constituencies of the ministers sworn-in today.
Wankhede Stadium, usually reserved for all kinds of cricket matches, or lavish private weddings, saw its first-ever political function with all the stands chock-full with BJP activists, around 3,000 VIPs led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and others.
Shiv Sena had planned a boycott of the swearing-in ceremony. But after a last-minute call from Amit Shah, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray as well as several senior party leaders and newly-elected legislators attended the ceremony. However, the crucial question remains: Will Sena support/join the BJP's minority government and when?
The decibel level of the crowds at Wankhede Stadium rivalled that at any exciting cricket match, surprising the people living in the vicinity. The gathering erupted in thunderous cheers and applause when Fadnavis came to take the oath, and later for Vinod Tawde and Pankaja Munde who joined as cabinet ministers, along with seven others.
This is only the fourth time - out of 27 swearing-in ceremonies since 1960, the state's formation - that the solemn function was held outside the stately Raj Bhavan. The first CM Y.B. Chavan was sworn in May 1, 1960, in the open complex outside Mantralaya. In 1995, Shiv Sena's Manohar Joshi was sworn-in at the sprawling Shivaji Park grounds. In November 2004, the late Vilasrao Deshmukh held a cabinet expansion at Azad Maidan.
As in cricket matches, there were huge TV screens inside and outside the stadium to enable people view the ceremonies, besides one gigantic screen on the backstage.
The huge 100-feet wide stage, with an image of Mantralaya in the background, was designed by renowned Bollywood art director Nitin Desai. An old BJP favourite, Desai had designed the huge stage set for Narendra Modi's first rally in Mumbai 10 years ago at Shivaji Park when he was the Gujarat CM.
The Congress and Nationalist Congress Party criticized the spending on the swearing-in ceremony. AICC Secretary Sanjay Nirupam said Maharashtra has elected a CM, not a king, so why this opulence. NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik also castigated the BJP for organizing "the most lavish oath-taking ceremony in the history of Maharashtra."
This was also the first time in Maharashtra that an oath-taking ceremony was attended by none other than the prime minister besides other top BJP leaders, union ministers, chief ministers of several states, a liberal dose of Bollywood glamour, business honchos, sportspersons and other celebs.
Security was tight in and around the stadium in view of the large number of VVIPs and VIPs present this evening. In fact, the ordinary BJP workers had started entering the stadium premises from noon onwards. Till the gates closed, there was a clamour for more passes from those activists left out.