Mumbai's Freeway has 'many takers'

The naming of the Eastern Freeway, which connects the north-eastern suburbs to south Mumbai, has become a bone of contention, with political parties trying to score brownie points with Mumbaikars on the issue.

The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the breakaway Shiv Sena faction, on Saturday asked  Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to name the 16.8-km-long highway after the late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray. Interestingly, the inauguration of the freeway, which does not have any traffic signal, had been delayed because the state government was unable to get a VVIP from New Delhi to cut the ribbon.

Soon after the inauguration of the freeway on June 1, the ruling parties acceded to the demand made by Dalit political parties to name the freeway after Babasaheb Ambedkar.

However, the MNS demand has not only thrown spanner into the naming process and stoked a controversy, but has also got Dalit communities seething with anger.

The latest to join the controversial bandwagon is the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which has supported the demand of naming the highway after Ambedkar.

NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik on Sunday wrote to the chief minister stating that the MNS demand reeks and smacks of “political opportunism”. He further stated that Dalit communities were assured that Eastern Freeway would be named after the architect of the Indian Constitution.  “Suburbs in north-eastern Mumbai have a pre-dominant Dalit population.

It is important that the freeway be named after late Dr Ambedkar. Earlier too the MNS had tried to create controversy in the proposed conversion of the Indu Mills Compound in Central Mumbai into Ambedkar Memorial Museum by trying to put up a demand for constructing a memorial for  Bal Thackeray. And this time too the party is up to the mischief,” said Malik.

Urging the state government to take into account the sensibilities and sensitivity of the matter with regard to Dalit communities, Malik appealed to the chief minister to expedite the naming process of the freeway.

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