Facing severe flak over his "burn autorickshaws of outsiders" remark, MNS chief Raj Thackeray today appeared to tone down his aggressive posturing and asked party activists to halt the agitation even as Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis assured auto drivers protection.
Thackeray's call to end the stir for the time being came against the backdrop of an autorickshaw being set ablaze on Char Bungalow Road in Andheri (West) by unidentified persons last night, a day after the MNS chief made an aggressive speech to mark his party's 10th anniversary.
MNS chief Raj Thackeray
"Since new autorickshaws have not come on roads yet and some anti-social elements are taking undue advantage of the situation, Raj Thackeray has said that until further orders, no action should be taken by party workers," MNS leader Shirish Sawant said in a statement issued here.
"These orders have to be followed strictly," he added. On his part, Fadnavis made light of Raj's threat, saying his government is duty-bound to protect all such auto drivers.
"Anyone meeting the stipulated conditions will get permits and it is the government's duty to protect those who get these permits," the CM told reporters at state legislature complex here.
Snubbing Raj for his allegation that Bajaj Auto was set to make a huge profit from the sale of auto-rickshaws to new permit-holders, the CM said his government doesn't work for a company (Bajaj) but for the common man.
Claiming that 70 per cent of new autorickshaw permits were given to non-Marathis, Raj had threatened on Wednesday that MNS workers would set on fire such autos if they are seen plying on roads.
Meanwhile, Shiv Sena, which aggressively postures itself as custodian of the Marathi cause, took a swipe at MNS without taking any names.
"We (the Sena) are the ones who douse fires," Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said while addressing a Mumbai Fire Brigade function in suburban Vikhroli.
MNS, which was routed in Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections, is desperately looking for a come back and Raj's statement is viewed in context of the elections to BMC elections due next year.
However, the issue has already gathered a political steam with Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Abu Asim Azmi today asking government to take stringent action in this regard.
While the Congress and NCP have already sought prosecution of Raj for his hate speech, the comments have also evoked a strong rebuttal from MLAs in Bihar with deputy CM and RJD leader Tejswi Yadav slamming the MNS chief. Mumbai Police are already analysing Raj's speech.
Shiv Sena leader and Transport Minister Diwakar Raote has also ridiculed the MNS chief's contention that a total of 70,000 autorickshaw permits are on offer.
"MNS chief's contention fits the adage--'ignorance is bliss'," he said, adding that 41,000 permits are on offer.
Recently, Minister of State for Home (Rural) Ram Shinde had said that government would take stern action against those taking law into their own hands.
Meanwhile, the Sena chief said, "Until and unless terrorist activities and relations with Pakistan do not improve, till then do not maintain any ties with Pakistan. Until and unless this unanimous demand is not echoed in the country till then these antics of Pakistan will not (stop)".
His comments came against the backdrop of the reported refusal by Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh to host the World Twenty20 group match against Pakistan in Dharamsala and subsequent relocation of the venue to Kolkata.