Strongly condemning the arrests of MP Navneet and her MLA husband Ravi Rana and the assault on Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Kirit Somaiya, Leader of the Opposition Devendra Fadnavis on Monday said his party had boycotted the all–party meet over the loudspeaker issue as the Uddhav Thackeray–led tripartite Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government was attempting to crush the Opposition by misusing the police machinery to lodge false cases.
At a press conference at the party office in Mumbai, Mr. Fadnavis said there was no longer any space for debate left under the ‘intolerant’ coalition of the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress.
“While Home Minister [Dilip Walse–Patil] had invited us for the all–party meet, given the incidents in Mumbai and Maharashtra over the last few days, we decided to boycott it… I don’t think there is any room left for talks for someone choosing to behave in a Hitlerian manner. In that event, instead of debating them, it is better to fight them. And as we have become thus disposed, we decided to skip the meet,” said the former Chief Minister, remarking that a “black history” was being written by the Thackeray government.
Condemning the assault on Mr. Somaiya, Mr. Fadnavis said it was pointless attending a meet when BJP workers were being assaulted with murderous intent by goons right under the nose, and with the connivance, of the State police.
“Everything is being done on orders of the CM. If he himself is absent, what is the point of going to such a meeting? Is the meeting merely time pass,” he said.
Mr. Fadnavis alleged that Chief Minister Udhav Thackeray and Mr. Walse–Patil had “parcelled out” territories for harassing BJP leaders.
“Kirit Somaiya was attacked [after meeting the jailed Rana couple] right in front of the police, yet he had to struggle in lodging an FIR. This, despite the fact that he is entitled to “Z security” protection. It appears that the MVA has allocated territories wherein to trouble the Opposition…the Chief Minister will do this in Mumbai city while the Home Minister will harass the Opposition in other parts of the State,” he said, warning that the BJP would not sit tight but give a befitting reply.
Lambasting the Thackeray government over the Ranas’ arrests, he said: “The Rana couple had just said they want to recite the Hanuman Chalisa. They didn’t say they would protest in front of the [Chief Minister’s] house. Where should the Hanuman Chalisa be read then? In Pakistan?”
Asking the Thackeray government whether reciting the Hanuman Chalisa was tantamount to being an “anti-national”, Mr. Fadnavis said if this was the case, then everyone in the BJP would recite the Hanuman Chalisa.
“Navneet Rana was slapped with a sedition charge…so, if reciting Hanuman Chalisa is sedition, then everyone among us is willing to commit it everyday. The way the MVA government is behaving is putting Maharashtra to shame,” he said.
The Rana couple, who were sent to a 14–day judicial custody till May 6 by a Bandra court, had been arrested by the Mumbai police on April 23 in a high–voltage drama following their provocation to play the Hanuman Chalisa in front of Mr. Thackeray’s private residence ‘Matoshree’ in Bandra.
Censuring the government over Ms. Rana’s alleged ‘mistreatment’ in jail, Mr. Fadnavis said the Amravati MP, through her lawyer, had complained to the Lok Sabha Speaker that she was allegedly denied drinking water and access to a washroom while comments were made on her caste.
“Ms. Rana’s mistreatment in jail is shameful. She wasn’t given water nor allowed to use the washroom. She was made to understand that she is from the Dalit community. The situation is such that one cannot call Maharashtra ‘progressive’ anymore,” alleged Mr. Fadnavis.
He further hit out in the manner in which the Shiv Sainiks had gloated after the Rana couple’s arrest, stating that they were celebrating as if they had “won a great victory”.
Stating that the BJP’s stance on the loudspeakers was clear, Mr. Fadnavis said guidelines issued by the Supreme Court must be followed by all communities.
“Earlier, during Navratra, the Hindu community used to sing all–night bhajans or hold programmes throughout the night during Ganesha festivities. But, once the SC prohibited the use of loudspeakers after 10 p.m., we did not complain…If the Hindu community is following SC norms, then all other communities in the country must also abide by them,” Mr. Fadnavis said.
The loudspeaker controversy was triggered earlier this month by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, who warned Muslim community leaders to take off loudspeakers from mosques used for playing the Azaan (prayer) else they would be met with loudspeakers playing the Hanuman Chalisa five times a day.
The MVA leadership has accused the MNS of being the BJP’s ‘b–team’ in deliberately attempting to heighten social tensions and independents like the Rana couple of being the BJP’s ‘shield’ in carrying out their intentions to destabilise the MVA.