Leading a rally against the August 11 Azad Maidan riots, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray on Tuesday blamed “outsiders” from North India for the assault on the police in the city and the State.
He reiterated the demand for the resignation of Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil and Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik for their “inaction” over the riots.
“If they have even an iota of shame, they should resign,” he said at a public meeting at the Azad Maidan.
Harking back to his anti-north Indian rhetoric, he said: “Those who came at the Azad Maidan were from outside. They had no connection with Maharashtra. They all come to Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Maharashtra has become their adda [hub].” Defying the police, who refused permission for the rally, thousands of supporters heeded Mr. Thackeray’s call for a morcha from Mumbai’s Girgaum Chowpatty to Azad Maidan.
An estimated 10,000-15,000 supporters thronged the Chowpatty and marched towards Azad Maidan, raising slogans. The MNS chief arrived at Girgaum after offering prayers at the Siddhivinayak temple.
Frenzied party workers mobbed his car when his motorcade arrived at the Chowpatty around 2.15 p.m. Mr. Thackeray then led the morcha to Azad Maidan.
He lashed out at the State for refusing him permission to stage a protest march. “We told them our protest was peaceful and yet they denied us permission. But they allowed the Raza Academy to hold a demonstration. The same organisation held a morcha in Bhiwandi where Samajwadi Party leader Abu Asim Azmi delivered a provocative speech.”
The Raza Academy was the chief organiser of the August 11 demonstration at Azad Maidan.
Mr. Thackeray criticised the city police chief for “demoralising” the force. “When the police took action against the perpetrators of the riots, they were abused by the Commissioner. This won’t be tolerated in Maharashtra. The State has still not announced any compensation for the injured.”
Invoking the Marathi sentiment, he said “anyone who eyes the State with wrong intentions, Maharashtra would show its strength.”
Mr. Thackeray said statues of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar were being desecrated in Uttar Pradesh. “Where are Mayawati, Ramdas Athawale, Prakash Ambedkar?”
Reacting to suggestions in the media that he could be moving towards Hindutva ideology, he said, “Just because the Azad Maidan demonstration was organised by Muslims and I am protesting it, they have [labelled] me.”
“Those who attack the police should be tackled on the spot. Raj Thackeray understands Maharashtra dharma. No one should mess with it,” he said.
The huge attendance was a show of strength by the MNS whose supporters poured in from all over Maharashtra.
They carried posters asking, ‘Where the police are not safe, what about the common people?’ ‘Where women police are abused, what about common women?’
They also raised the slogan “RR Patil chase jao [go away].”
Absul Nasir, MNS supporter from Mumbai’s Muslim-dominated Bhendi bazaar area, told The Hindu, “The Raza Academy erred in mobilising Muslims in such a way during Ramzan. They should compensate for the losses incurred. Mr. Thackeray’s rally has nothing to do with Hindu-Muslim sentiments.”