Mumbai held to ransom after Raj Thackeray arrest (Roundup)

October 21st, 2008 - 8:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Raj ThackerayMumbai, Oct 21 (IANS) Maverick politician Raj Thackeray, chief of the regional Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), was arrested Tuesday for provoking hatred among communities as his supporters vented their anger by indulging in mindless violence and torching public transport to hold India’s financial capital to ransom. There was no curfew but it seemed like one with transport off the roads and large parts of the city of 16 million people being shut down following Thackeray’s early morning arrest in Ratnagiri, about 250 km away.

Office goers were told to return home and many commercial establishments, especially those run or managed by non-Maharashtrians, chose not to open at all.

The office of the state Congress spokesperson Sanjay Nirupam was also vandalised. All schools and colleges closed by 10 a.m. and by 2 p.m. most Mumbai streets were deserted as scared residents hid in their houses to avoid the wrath of the MNS.

As news of the arrest — two days after MNS workers Sunday attacked non Maharashtrians appearing for the railway board examination — spread so did the mayhem.

The toll by mid-afternoon — 38 public buses set on fire, at least 40 private vehicles damaged in stone throwing, 350 taxis and 60 autorickshaws damaged or burnt, nearly 90 percent of the total 105,000 autorickshaws and 66,000 taxis off the roads. And the result, massive inconvenience to Mumbaikars caught in the crossfire as police were forced to fire teargas shells and wield the stick to control the mobs.

There was violence in other parts of Maharashtra too. In Satara town, for instance, MNS workers set fire to a bus depot, while in Nagpur several state transport buses were attacked.

Describing the arrest as a cowardly act, MNS’ Nagpur unit chief Hemant Gadkari told IANS that about 100 young party workers grouped in four motorcycle squads fanned out to different parts of the city to register their protest.

The 40-year-old Thackeray — an amateur cartoonist known till less than a year ago essentially as Bal Thackeray’s nephew who split from the Shiv Sena to form the MNS — was charged with provoking hatred among communities as well rioting, assault and damage to property after his supporters Sunday added another chapter to their campaign against non-Maharashtrians, particularly Biharis.

He was brought to the Bandra courts here from Ratnagiri and secured bail within minutes in the case of the attack on north Indian candidates in Chetna College in Bandra. However, he was sent to 14 days judicial custody for the violence by his party’s activists in neighbouring Kalyan district.

The ripples were felt in Bihar too as candidates returned home after the assault. The fact that Pawan Mahto from Nalanda district, one of the hundreds of students from Bihar hoping for a job in railways, died after the attack fuelled the fires.

Pawan’s father Jagdish Mahto, who had come here to receive his son’s body, said: “The Mumbai police called and said he was killed in a stampede after MNS workers attacked north Indian students at the exam centre.”

Screaming that Pawan had been killed by the MNS, youths ransacked the railway station to protest the state government’s alleged failure to protect Biharis.

From the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to the Left, parties were unanimous in their condemnation.

Demanding the resignation of Congress’ Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, senior BJP leader V.K. Malhotra said: “What MNS is doing is absolutely wrong; the country is for everyone.”

Rashtriya Janata Dal chief and Railway Minister Lalu Prasad said: “More stringent action is required against people who carry out such actions in the name of regionalism.”

While Bahujan Samaj Party supremo and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati asked the Election Commission to ban the MNS, Communist Party of India leader D. Raja said the state government should not take a “soft approach” as Thackeray had threatened the integrity and unity of the country.

The issue led to the Lok Sabha being adjourned and Home Minister Shivraj Patil saying in the Rajya Sabha that three advisories had been issued to the state government. “Anyone from any part of the country can live and work anywhere. No one can stop them.”

This is the second time in eight months that Thackeray has been arrested for his tirade against north Indians, essentially job-seeking migrant workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Out to prove that he is better than his cousin Uddhav Thackeray and the Shiv Sena, where he cut his political teeth, Raj Thackeray is a man in a hurry to get known.

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