Arch-political enemies Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Union minister Narayan Rane on Saturday shared the dais at the inauguration of an airport at Chipi in the Sindhudurg district, and took swipes at each other.
This was probably for the first time the two came together on stage after Rane parted ways with the Shiv Sena — now headed by Thackeray — on a bitter note sixteen years ago.
The occasion also had a backdrop of Rane’s arrest in August this year for a remark against the chief minister.
Rane, who hails from Sindhudurg, in his speech listed the work done by him since he was elected as MLA from this picturesque region of coastal Maharashtra for the first time in 1990.
He was given the charge of the district on the instructions of Shiv Sena founder (and Uddhav Thackeray’s father) late Bal Thackeray, and there were no proper roads, water or education facilities in the region then, he said.
After the Shiv Sena-BJP combine came to power in the state in 1995, he requested then chief minister Manohar Joshi to declare Sindhudurg as a “tourism district”, Rane claimed.
“After that the work for basic amenities like roads, power, education, water, and healthcare was carried out. The existing infrastructure is because of Narayan Rane. Nobody can match it,” he said.
“People know who works. Uddhav-ji, I learnt everything from Saheb (Bal Thackeray),” Rane added.
The BJP leader also said even today there is no water or electricity infrastructure near Chipi, nor is there a proper road to the airport.
In a barely veiled attack on the chief minister, Rane said the late Bal Thackeray disliked lying, and did not care for those who lie.
In his speech, chief minister Thackeray hit back, saying, “Balasaheb did not like lying. Hence, many times such people (who lied) were kicked out of the Shiv Sena. (Bal Thackeray would say) Even if the truth is bitter, please speak it.”
In another dig at Rane, he said, “As per my knowledge, the Sindhudurg fort was built by (Shivaji) Maharaj…otherwise someone might say `I built it’.”
He also said it must be pondered why it took so long for this airport to be built. “Some people said Konkan will be transformed into California, but why has it not happened yet,” Thackeray added.
Then he took a dig at Rane’s portfolio at the Centre, namely, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME).
“You (Rane) are a minister. So what if it is `micro and small’, it is still an important department and (we are sure) you will use it for the benefit of Maharashtra,” the CM said.
There should also be a heliport at Chipi which can be used for tourism, he said.
The chief minister also said he never mixed politics and work, and when Rane called him up for the grant of approval for a medical college in the Sindhudurg district, he immediately cleared the proposal.
Since his exit from the Sena in 2005, for which he blamed Uddhav Thackeray, Rane has often targeted the latter.
Soon after he was inducted into the Union cabinet, Rane was arrested by the Maharashtra police in August over his comments against Thackeray. He was granted bail by the court the same day.
Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said on this occasion that thanks to the new airport, the distance of 530 km between Mumbai and Chipi can now be covered in 50 minutes.
There are also plans to connect Chipi with Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata and other major cities and 20-25 flights to Chipi will be started in the next five years, he said.
Maharashtra now has 14 airports, Scindia noted.
Tourism minister Aaditya Thackeray, who also handles environment portfolio, said all efforts will be made to promote tourism in Konkan while conserving its ecology.
The Sindhudurg Airport, also known as Chipi Airport, is spread over 275 hectares. The length of its runway is 2,500 metres, and it can accommodate narrow-body aircraft like Airbus A-320 and Boeing B-737.
The airport terminal building has the capacity to handle 200 departing and 200 arriving passengers during peak hours.
Union minister Ramdas Athawale and Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar were also among those present on the occasion.