Anti-toll protest: Our planning went wrong, say senior MNS leaders

Feb 13, 2014, 07:41 IST | Varun Singh

Party officials lament they couldn’t muster enough strength to replicate the intensity of protests they had staged in the past

The state-wide rasta roko called by the MNS was a damp squib yesterday, with only a few hours of protesting seen. While vehicles passed through most tollbooths smoothly, highways, too, were not blocked, as party president Raj Thackeray had claimed they would be. Even after Thackeray was arrested, the city didn’t erupt, as the MNS had hoped it would.

Except for a few incidents, the anti-toll agitation was largely a failure. There was smooth movement of traffic in the city. Pic/Sameer Markande
Except for a few incidents, the anti-toll agitation was largely a failure. There was smooth movement of traffic in the city. Pic/Sameer Markande

In some pockets, workers tried shutting shops; even they gave up soon. Yet, at some places traffic jams were seen. Tyres were burnt, windows, windshields were smashed. But largely, the protests didn’t pan out as party leaders wanted them to; party men attribute a lack of planning, preparation and purpose to this failure.

No manpower
If senior leaders are to be believed, a message was sent out to the party cadre to ‘recreate the drama’ of the 2008 protests in Bandra and Kalyan — Thackeray was arrested then, and senior leaders wanted workers to react with the same force as then. However, party workers realised they barely had any support base, since police had already detained many workers.

“We lacked men, our planning went wrong somewhere. We shouldn’t have come out in full force in the morning itself and let all our volunteers be detained. When we got the messages in the afternoon, asking us to up the ante in the protests, we realised we lacked manpower,” said a leader.

Who’s the enemy?
The second problem was fundamental. Whom would the party workers attack? Thackeray had already said the protest wasn’t against the government. He had also declared that the public wouldn’t be affected. So, when the party chief was detained by the police in Chembur’s RCF area, workers didn’t know whom to target.

“Our agenda was not to affect the public. So, we couldn’t target private vehicles. Nor could we force people to shut shops or block interior roads. Hence, we couldn’t implement the orders from the higher-ups. We simply didn’t know whom we were protesting against,” added another official.

The party’s spokespersons representing it on news channels, too, seemed bewildered. There was no line they were told to stick to, no viewpoint to make. “On Tuesday, Rajsaheb had said at his press conference that he had spoken to someone in the government for 40 minutes, who had asked him to meet and resolve the matter.

Rajsaheb spoke in a manner that showed he wasn’t ready for talks. However, after his release, he declared he would meet the chief minister and discuss the issue. This confused us. We didn’t know what to say next,” confessed a party official.

Officially, however, party leaders claim the protest was a success. Akhilesh Chaubey, vice-president of the legal cell of the MNS, told MiD DAY, “Rasta rokos are not for the whole day. Our protest was a success and our leader has agreed to meet the CM because he was told that the CM has a plan to solve the toll menace.”

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