Man slaps Pawar, NCP hits Mumbai

Even as the NCP reeled from the assault on its leader by Harvinder Singh, the common man took the blows that followed -- traffic and public transport were disrupted by angry protesters, who also forcibly shut shops

It took one tight slap in Delhi to bring the city of Mumbai to a standstill. After Sharad Pawar -- Union Agriculture Minister and chief of the Nationalist Congress Party -- was assaulted by an irate young Sikh yesterday, outraged party workers took to the streets, demonstrating their fury at several crucial junctions.

Borivali (east)



Cheek-y response:  Reacting to the assault on their venerated party
chief, outraged NCP workers vented their ire across the city, bringing the
city to a standstill.

Pics/ Pradeep Dhivar, Bipin Kokate and Nayan Sahane

Traffic in areas dotting the city -- Mulund, Bhandup, Borivli, Thane, Dahisar, Goregaon, Worli and Saat Rasta - was blocked, crippling the city and disrupting lives and livelihood.

Angst-ridden protesters didn't spare commerce in the city either, with NCP workers forcibly shutting shops, outlets and markets.

Things began to fall apart by 5 pm, as protestors began swelling in numbers on the streets. Vehicular traffic on the Eastern and Western express highways was affected severely, with traffic snarls at every signal. Bhandup, Mulund, Borivli, Sion-Priyadarshini and Byculla were particularly affected.

At 5:30 pm, NCP workers staged a protest outside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivli. A 150-member strong battalion shouted slogans showing their solidarity for Pawar. Cries of 'Sharad Pawar Aage Badho, Tumhare Saath Hai', and Hum Singh ka Nished Karte Hai', could be heard ringing in the air.

Kasturba Marg police reached the spot and booked the protesters under Sections 37 and 135 of the Bombay Police Act. They were later released on bail.

Commuters affected
Andheri resident Dilip Shinde said, "It is unfortunate that a man decided to slap NCP President Sharad Pawar, but that gives no right to party workers to take to the streets and disrupt our lives. BEST buses were halted, auto rickshaw drivers were browbeaten to go off the roads. I saw some NCP party workers trying to block traffic on the Western express Highway."

Jogeshwari resident Khalid Shaikh said, "The state government should make sure that workers of its coalition partner, the NCP, don't cause such grave inconvenience to the common man. The Home Department should book violent protesters under stringent laws, and send out the message that such anarchy will not be tolerated in the state of Maharashtra."

Pratheek Kunder, professional whose work was hampered by the mayhem yesterday, said, "These political party workers have no other work. Slapping a leader is not acceptable in a democratic set up; neither is causing disturbance to public peace tolerable.  This is not how people in a democracy should react. This kind of unruly behaviour causes unnecessary panic and stress among the common people."

Traffic cops were speedily dispatched to tackle raasta-rokos, but serpentine lines of halted traffic were still the order of the day.

Brijesh Singh, additional Commissioner of Police (traffic) said, "We will respond to any emergency situation by making additional deployments and taking other measures as required."

Trains left in lurch
Trains on the Western Railway network were disrupted as well, as motormen waged a strike in protest of the assault. Protest activity wreaked havoc with train schedules at Kurla and Masjid stations, while a Dombivli-bound local train was stuck for seven minutes.

"There was a protest at Masjid station for 5 minutes at 4.45 pm. But the two incidents didn't cause much disruption," said a Central Railway spokesperson.

Autos, taxis off
Fearing a backlash from infuriated NCP workers, auto and taxi drivers took their vehicles off their roads. In the eastern part of the city, drivers refused to ply, especially for long distances, fearing that they would be at the receiving end of mob fury. "Usually these drivers prefer to withdraw their vehicles from the roads during protests, as they don't want them to be damaged," said an RTO official.

APMC shut down
To show their solidarity for Pawar, members of Mathadi Union of the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) market pulled their shutters down after 3 pm. Narendra Patil, general secretary of the union, said, "We have kept the market closed to express our disapproval for the attack. We did not allow any merchants to make any transactions in the market today. We are yet to decide if the market will be kept closed tomorrow."
If the market remains closed today, fruit and vegetable traders could incur heavy losses, as their fare is perishable.

(Inputs from: Shashank Rao, Ranjeet Jadhav, Saurabh Karkutwar, Nivedita Dargalkar, Faisal Tandel and Vishaka Sonawane)

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