In the backdrop of the tide of ‘Mumbai for all’ statements, Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray said on Wednesday that these remarks exposed intentions to divide Maharashtra, and came down heavily on Chief Minister Ashok Chavan for defending All-India Congress Committee general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
In response to the controversy over Shah Rukh Khan’s statement against the exclusion of Pakistani cricketers in IPL matches, Mr. Thackeray hinted at an intensification of protests against the release of the actor’s movie ‘My Name is Khan.’ He did not specify what his party had in mind.
Sena workers have reportedly written to theatre owners not to screen Mr. Khan’s film. Mr. Thackeray said if it were true, “He was proud of the Sainiks.” He suggested showing Mr. Khan the Marathi movie ‘Me Shivaji Raje Bhosale Boltoy.’
Mr. Thackeray said the actor should have spoken keeping in mind the current status of Indo-Pakistan relations.
Referring to Mr. Chavan’s statement defending Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Thackeray said, “I feel ashamed of the Chief Minister. Why can’t he speak up for Mumbai and Maharashtra? All the other Chief Ministers stand for their respective States. But he even did a U-turn on giving taxi licences to Marathi speakers.”
Mr. Thackeray told a packed press conference here that there was conspiracy to break Maharashtra to pieces. “What exactly has happened after the Vidhan Sabha elections that everyone’s started asking for statehood for Vidarbha? And everyone is overflowing with emotion stating that Mumbai is for everyone? Has any north-Indians left the city? There are more north Indians leaving their own States than Mumbai. So, the meaning then is clearly that in the last two days the anti-Maharashtra sentiment has come to the fore. The intention is to destabilise Maharashtra, divide it by taking away Mumbai and Vidarbha,” Mr. Thackeray said.
Also criticising Union Home Minister’s statement about giving protection to Pakistani players, Mr. Thackeray said, “Is he India’s Home Minister or Pakistan’s? [He should] go to Pakistan and protect them.”
The Sena executive president sounded the bugle for a Sena agitation. He said if the war of words did not ease, the Sena would not dither on taking to the streets and launching an agitation. He said a spontaneous agitation is already under way.
Mr. Thackeray remained non-committal on the future of the Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance. The two parties stand opposed on the burning issues of Vidarbha and ‘Mumbai for Marathis.’
He said his party would be firm in its opposition to a separate Vidarbha. “Whoever wants to come with us can come. We won’t let anyone divide Maharashtra. If anyone thinks the Sena has become weak, he is mistaken.” If these things did not stop, the Sena would take to the streets and do andolan, he said.
If there are elections in Bihar, Mr. Gandhi should speak about the work his party has done there. But he couldn’t because Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been doing his job. So it’s his misplaced anger, Mr. Thackeray said.
Meanwhile, at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Chavan’s colleagues took him to task for going back on the issue of permits to taxi drivers and on the issue of Mumbai for all. At a Cabinet meeting in January, it was decided that taxi permits be issued only to those who knew to read, write and speak Marathi. However, a day later, bowing to flak from the North, Mr. Chavan went back on this decision, and said that permits would be given to those who knew “local languages” which could be “Hindi, Marathi or Gujarati.”
Mr. Chavan said the government’s decision was based on the Maharashtra Motor Vehicles Rules 1989, which stipulates domicile and knowledge of local language for taxi drivers.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Ministers from the Congress and the NCP demanded to know why the Chief Minister backtracked on his statement. The Congress ally was perturbed that statements like Mumbai for all would affect the party’s vote bank and alienate Marathi people from the party. Even Pradesh Congress Committee president Manikrao Thakre at a press conference later in reply to a question said these provisions were already there in law and there was no need for the Chief Minister to dwell on him. It was an unnecessary controversy, he pointed out.