Thousands march seeking free housing; Thackeray cousins share common cause, not dais
Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray on Thursday called for a Mumbai bandh on August 1 on the issue of free housing for mill workers.
Mr. Thackeray, who took to the streets with thousands of workers for a morcha, said his party would ensure a complete shutdown if the Maharashtra government failed to meet their demands.
“Bandh means bandh,” he declared at a rally marking the culmination of the morcha.
Asserting their right to mill lands, workers affiliated to nine different organisations marched a six-kilometre stretch from the Jijamata Udyan in Byculla to the Azad Maidan. Workers — now in their advanced years — and their children arrived from villages in Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara and Sindhudurg districts.
No jobs, post-1982
“When the company shut, we shut. I went back to my village and turned to farming. Is there any money in that? I barely get a harvest of 10 quintals. There were no jobs for us after the strike of 1982. Now our children are into farming too,” said 75-year-old Tanaji Balu Khamkar from Sonawdi village in Satara district, who had worked in China Mill.
Many like him arrived on Wednesday night to participate in the protest. Despite hand and leg fractures, Ramchandra Mahadeo (71) came from the far-flung suburb of Diva in Thane. “Mills started closing between 2000 and 2007. I used to work at Prakash Cotton Mill, but resigned in 2000. Difficult conditions were created so that we had to leave,” he said.
A notable highlight of the march was the coming together of the warring Thackeray cousins, Uddhav and Raj, leader of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, under one cause.
While Mr. Uddhav Thackeray walked along with his supporters, Mr. Raj Thackeray and his party workers followed about half-a-kilometre away. Other political parties also lent their support, giving the impression of a flag parade.
The Sena's allies — the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Republican Party of India — registered their presence.
Batting for unity, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray said: “Today, you see saffron, blue and red flags. The government thinks that if different flags are coming together, it will only result in squabbles. But they are wrong. The Sena will be with the mill workers for generations. All the Ministers have got houses, whereas the mill worker is homeless.”
He said the workers had played an important role in the fight to retain Mumbai in Maharashtra. ”
Although they shared the cause, the Thackeray cousins did not share the dais at the rally . Stopping short of reaching this venue, Mr. Raj Thackeray concluded his march at the nearby Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
He also said that his party would not be backing the Sena's bandh. The government is not in favour of providing free housing, say mill workers.
Vehicles were diverted leading to traffic snarls in south Mumbai.