Defying the Mumbai police, which refused him permission for a rally from Girgaum Chowpatty to Azad Maidan, MNS chief Raj Thackeray on Tuesday led his supporters' march against the August 11 violence during a demonstration against alleged atrocities on Muslims in Assam and Myanmar.
Addressing his supporters at Azad Maidan, Raj took on the Maharashtra government and claimed it had ignored information on mischief mongers. Slamming the state government for inaction even after the violence in Mumbai, the MNS chief demanded the resignation of Maharashtra's home minister.
Denied permission to hold a road march from Girgaum Chowpatty to Azad Maidan, Thackeray flexed his political muscles and mustered thousands of supporters on the beach at Marine Drive amid heavy police bandobust to protest last fortnight's violence that claimed two lives but insisted it was not aimed at grabbing pro-Hindutva space.
Thackeray blamed outsiders for the August 11 violence and said Maharashtrians were not responsible for it. "Attackers came from UP, Jharkhand and Bihar. I fear we will continue to suffer due to people from outside," he told the public meeting at Azad Maidan, harping on his pet pro-Marathi theme.
"I am standing here to express solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the police force and the media and to demand immediate resignation of Home Minister R R Patil and police commissioner Arup Patnaik," he said, launching a blistering attack on the two for failing to control the situation after violence erupted during a demonstration to protest alleged persecution of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar.
Though Mumbai police had granted MNS permission for the meeting at Azad Maidan, he was not given a go ahead for the road march apprehending breach of peace. "They (Patil and Patnaik) have played with the morale of the police. Our policemen kept waiting for instructions to control violence. When a DCP got hold of a rioter, an abusive Patnaik told him to let off the offender," Thackeray said.
"I am on the streets for my Marathi brothers and sisters who suffered in the attack. Today's morcha is for the policemen, for the media and others who suffered," he said, adding, "If they (home minister and police chief) have little shame, they should quit now."
Though Thackeray's show of strength is being seen by many as an attempt to claim a slice of the Hindutva political pie hitherto controlled by the Shiv Sena and the BJP, the MNS chief said, "I am not veering towards Hindutva. Maharashtra dharma is my only dharma."
Referring to illegal migrants in the city, he waved a purportedly Bangladeshi passport at the crowd saying, "This is a single entry passport. It means once you come in, you need not go back."
He then dramatically flung the travel document into the crowd.
Attacking the state government, Thackeray demanded to know why it had not paid any compensation to the policemen injured in the August 11 attack in which two protesters were killed and 52 others injured, including 44 policemen besides those from the media.
"How do we expect them (policemen) to stand up and fight when such a thing happens next time," he said.
He also targeted Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Azmi for allegedly giving an assistance of Rs 1.5 lakh to the families of protesters killed during the incident.
"Abu Azmi is giving compensation to the rioters. Has he ever cared to inquire about the policemen injured in the brutal attacks," he said.
Thackeray also wondered why there is trouble in Maharashtra when there are riots elsewhere and vice versa. "When Babri Masjid was demolished, there were communal riots in Maharashtra. Days after the riots at Azad Maidan, there was trouble in Lucknow. What is the link?" he said.
Slamming the police authorities for denying him permission for the march, he said Raza Academy, the organisers of the August 11 protest, was allowed to hold the protest at Azad Maidan despite their "poor track record".
"In 2006, during a protest by Raza Academy in Bhiwandi, two policemen were killed and their bodies thrown into burning buses. Still they get permission for a public protest."
The police, however, did not make any attempt to detain either Thackeray or his supporters when they assembled in thousands at the Chowpatty for the march.
MNS supporters carrying the party's blue, saffron and green flags with its election symbol train engine embossed in the middle, gathered at Girgaum Chowpatty before Thackeray joined them in a 'symbolic' march after a brief stopover at Siddhivinayak temple.
Thackeray stepped out of his Toyota Land Cruiser briefly to speak to his supporters at the Chowpatty before quickly making his way out of the crowd in his vehicle.
A sea of people had gathered at Girgaum Chowaptty, the starting point of the march, by noon. The MNS chief arrived by around 1.30 pm and the rally began by 2.10 pm.
As the rally began, thousands of MNS supporters began shouting slogans. Many of them spilled over to middle of the road at Marine Drive creating a traffic nightmare.
He has demanded ouster of state's Home Minister R R Patil and Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik.
His supporters beating drums and carrying flags scurried after the leader, who is said to be seeking to capture the Hindutva space hitherto occupied by the Shiv Sena.
Thackeray has called the rally to protest the violence on August 11 and alleged failure of the state administration and Mumbai police to control it. He has demanded ouster of state's Home Minister R R Patil and Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik.
Two demonstrators were killed and 52 others, including 44 policemen and media persons, injured when a protest against alleged persecution of Muslims in Assam had turned violent.
The MNS chief had earlier said that his party workers would go ahead with the march as scheduled and would resort to his party's signature style of protest if they were deterred, which in turn could lead to a law and order problem.