MNS chief ‘pitting Dalits against Muslims’

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray, who on Tuesday led a massive morcha here against the August 11 Azad Maidan riots, has attracted criticism that he is pitting Dalits against Muslims, apart from displaying Hindutva leanings.

In his diatribe against Pakistani and Bangladeshi migrants, Mr. Thackeray said the rioters defaced a statue of Gautam Buddha, referring to incidents in Uttar Pradesh. Where were the Dalit leaders, namely Mayawati, Ramdas Athawale, R.S. Gawai and Prakash Ambedkar, when these things happened, the MNS leader asked.

Reacting to this statement, Mr. Ambedkar, Bharatiya Bahujan Mahasangh leader, told reporters here on Wednesday, “He was trying to bring about a confrontation between the Buddhists and Muslims so that automatically the Buddhist mass moves towards Hindutva forces rather than the secular forces. I think Mr. Raj Thackeray has become a part of the [Hindutva] process.”

Mr. Ambedkar said his role and that of other leaders like him was to stop what the MNS chief was doing. “We will try to see that he does not go too far.” Had the police taken timely action against the Raza Academy, main organiser of the August 11 meeting, Mr. Thackeray’s rally would not have garnered so much support, Mr. Ambedkar said, demanding the resignation of Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil. “The demands of the Home Department are too much for Mr. Patil to handle.”

SP challenge

Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Asim Azmi, against whom Mr. Thackeray made allegations of provoking a riot and also used abusive language, also said the MNS leader “tried to start a fight between Dalits and Muslims.”

“Mr. Raj Thackeray was earlier against north Indians. Now he is moving towards the Hindutva agenda. He has grown up on the Shiv Sena agenda. He is showing his ‘Modi face’.”

Wielding a signed cheque for Rs. 2 crore, Mr. Azmi said, “I challenge him to find Bangladeshi and Pakistani voters in my constituency, Mankhurd Shivajinagar. If Mr. Thackeray finds them, I will give him this cheque and offer an apology. If he is not able to find, then he should leave politics. He is acting like a frog in the well. He is trying to garner votes by misleading the people.”

Mr. Azmi compared Mr. Thackeray’s act of displaying, what he claimed, was a Bangladeshi passport to the stir Congress leader Rahul Gandhi caused when he tore up a paper on a stage in Uttar Pradesh.

“Where did he [Mr. Thackeray] get that passport from? If it was a Bangladeshi passport, he should have registered a complaint and panchnama should have been done. It is a serious issue for the police to probe,” Mr. Azmi said.

The SP leader said Mr. Thackeray’s allegations that he instigated riots in Bhiwandi by making a provocative speech were “baseless.” On the other hand, it was the MNS chief who had broken the law by taking out a procession of thousands of people without permission, he said.

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