Maharahtra’s warring Thackeray cousins made common cause on Thursday,throwing their weight behind Mumbais former mill workers demanding homes in the megapolis. They joined their rallies,albeit separately,disappointing some of their supporters who had hoped this will be the beginning of a rapprochement.
Thousands of former mill workers marched from Byculla to Azad Maidan,asking the government to take a decision to provide homes for those among them who lost jobs as the mills began shutting down in the early 1980s.
Addressing a rally organised jointly by the Shiv Sena,BJP,RPI and mill workers unions at Azad Maidan,Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray warned of a Mumbai bandh if the government failed to take a decision regarding the demands of mill workers by August 1. If the government doesnt wake up by August 1,the day Lokmanya Tilak launched a war cry for swadeshi,Mumbai will be bandh on that day, said Uddhav. He reminded the mill workers of their strength and warned the government that these very people had once disrupted the rally at Girgaum Chowpatty for their demands.
Uddhav shared the dais with BJP MLC Vinod Tawde,RPI leader Ramdas Athawale and leaders of the nine mill workers unions.
Meanwhile,the MNS chief walked with the millworkers till CST station and returned,avoiding his cousin on the stage. I will not make a speech; this march is for the rights of Marathi people and I do not want to politicise the event, said Raj. He did not support the call for a bandh as the legislature session was under way and this would put pressure on the Assembly. He said there was no need to hold Mumbaikars hostage through a shutdown.
Azad Maidan was teeming with mill workers,some of whom had come from across the state with the hope that their demands will be met. The government should give us houses in Mumbai,our children have been rendered jobless despite the assurance that they will be hired by the companies in the industry they start in place of the mills, said Anant Mirgal (54),who worked in Standard Mill at Prabhadevi. Mirgal who had worked in the mill for eight years when it shut in November 1981 travelled over 350 km from his home in Ratnagiri district to participate in the rally.
Workers like Shivaji Waghmare (60) and Jaywant Kamble (65),who worked with the Swadeshi Mill for over 30 years,sought salary arrears and jobs.
After Raj left,his party workers,who had marched upto the CST station,joined the rally at Azad Maidan. Mill workers union leader Kishore Deshpande said these houses were their right and they will fight for it. He urged mill workers to join the call for the bandh.
Actor Nana Patekar,who has lived in BDD chawl which is full of mill workers,joined the agitation and vouched support for the protest. I have lived there and I think your demands are right. I may have moved out and gained much,but my origins are in Worli and I am well aware of that, he said. Patekar hoped the Congress government will take a decision soon so there would be no need for a bandh in Mumbai.