Speaking to the media in Shirdi on Sunday, Maharashtra Food and Civil Supplies Minister Chhagan Bhujbal appealed to the protesters to take back their shutdown call. Assuring that Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray would listen to both sides, Bhujbal contended that the shutdown had negatively impacted the devotees. He observed that the current dispute went against the essence of Sai Baba’s teachings.
It is believed that Sai Baba never entertained any question on his caste, religion, and birthplace. Moreover, he would say that he belonged to all castes and religions. According to Bhujbal, a bandh was not a solution to any problem.
Chhagan Bhujbal remarked, “I had come for the darshan. There is a bandh in Shirdi. Because there is a bandh in Shirdi, there is also a bandh in Pathri. I do not think there will be a solution by observing a bandh. Honourable Chief Minister has called a meeting tomorrow. In the meeting, he will listen to both sides. And then, he will comment on the issue. None of us are historians to take a firm position on this. Sai Baba himself would say that you should not ask me about caste, religion, birthplace and so forth. Sai Baba’s message was that I belong to all castes and religions.”
He added, “There are thousands of Sai Baba temples not only in Mumbai and Maharashtra but also US, Europe, and Japan. They have created a Shirdi-like atmosphere. Even then, most of the people come to Shirdi. There are nearly 10,000 fewer people than expected. Many hotel bookings have been cancelled. I don’t think it is correct to continue this shutdown. I appeal to both sides to take back their shutdown calls. Even Sai Baba will not like such a dispute.”
The Sai Baba temple at Shirdi is one of the most popular destinations in the country, with lakhs of devotees thronging it every year. There has been a longstanding dispute over his birthplace. The situation turned for the worse when Thackeray announced a grant of Rs.100 crore for the purpose of developing Pathri. Reportedly, the residents of Shirdi have the apprehension that the temple will lose its importance if Pathri is proven as the birthplace of Saibaba.