Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan on Monday described the attack on Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Azmi by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena members in the Assembly as a blot on democracy and an insult to the dignity of the House.
He said: “I severely condemn the manhandling, beating and fighting. The people of Maharashtra have given us a mandate and it has been the tradition of this House to work in a respectable manner, despite difference of opinion.”
Speaking to the media here, Mr. Chavan said, “This has never happened in the history of Maharashtra Assembly. It is not a question of Hindi or English or Abu Azmi. It is about the manner in which it was done. All parties except the MNS have condemned this incident.” The State government had decided to initiate a probe into the issue.
“If anyone takes law into his own hands, we will take stringent action. We will check the video footage. If there has been an instance of instigation [on either side], it will be probed. We will see if the incident attracts the provisions of law,” he said.
The MNS was against Mr. Azmi taking oath in Hindi instead of Marathi in the House.
Decrying the assault on Mr. Azmi and the unruly protests, Protem Speaker Ganpatrao Deshmukh said: “While such an incident has never happened in this House, as per my knowledge, it has never taken place in any House in this country.”
The Opposition took a tempered view of the situation mindful of the Shiv Sena’s support to the Marathi cause. Eknath Khadse, BJP leader in the House, said it was natural that one insisted on Marathi in Maharashtra, but work had to be as per the rule of law.
“If we don’t insist on Marathi in Maharashtra, where else are we going to ask for it? In Bihar or Bengal? However, we condemn the assault on a woman member,” said Subhash Desai, Sena’s group leader in the Assembly.
As soon as the news of attack on Mr. Azmi spread, his supporters went on the rampage in Bhiwandi. They burnt vehicles ad destroyed property. Home Minister R.R. Patil said six persons were arrested.
In other parts of Maharashtra, supporters of MNS president Raj Thackeray burnt the effigies of Mr. Azmi.
Speaking to the media later, MNS member Shishir Shinde and MNS Legislature Party leader Bala Nandgaonkar called the suspension of four MNS members by the House one-sided. They denied having assaulted Meenakshi Patil, a legislator, in the House. “We offered our apologies in Ms. Patil’s case, but they were overlooked by the House. It is against Maharashtra’s culture to disrespect women,” Mr. Nandgaonkar said.
He cited two incidents of a similar ruckus once when Bal Thackeray was arrested and when the former Shiv Sainik, Narayan Rane, clashed with NCP’s Padamsinh Patil.
He alleged it was Mr. Azmi who pushed Mr. Shinde when the latter showed him a banner. He accused Mr. Azmi of sending a letter of intent to take the oath in Hindi, with the express intention of insulting Marathi. “No one has given such a letter before,” he said.
When asked if there was no other way to put forth the Marathi issue, Mr. Nandgaonkar said he raised the question even before Mr. Azmi had come to take his oath. However, he was not allowed to speak as he had himself not taken the oath of office. “Our legislators are new and their passions got the best of them,” he remarked.
Mr. Shinde said: “In this golden jubilee year, [Mr.] Azmi has berated the Marathi language. Go ahead and suspend me; I will get elected again with a margin of one lakh.” To the media, he said, “Our sacrifice won’t go waste. We have been suspended for the cause of Marathi pride.” There is no decision on whether the rest of the MNS legislators would resign in protest. The leaders would be meeting their chief Mr. Raj Thackeray to discuss the future course of action.
Mr. Azmi was not the only one who took the oath in Hindi. Amir Amin Ali Patel (Congress), Chainsukh Sancheti (BJP) also took their oaths in Hindi. Baba Siddiqui (Congress) and Girish Mahajan (BJP) preferred English and Sanskrit respectively. However, they did not invite such a strong outburst as Mr. Azmi did.