The feud between the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and the Mumbai unit of the Congress over the hawker eviction issue took an ugly turn on Friday.
Raising the political temperature in the commercial capital, MNS workers allegedly vandalised the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee’s office near Azad Maidan around 10.30 am. The Congress, keen not to be seen as browbeaten, warned of giving the MNS “a befitting reply” if the chief minister did not ensure “prompt action” against the attackers.
Later in the evening, the Azad Maidan police arrested eight MNS partymen, including former MNS corporator Sandeep Deshpande, who has been booked for hatching a criminal conspiracy. Six others, who were involved in the attack, were also booked for other charges, including rioting and trespass.
Over the last few days, the MNS and the Mumbai Congress have been at loggerheads over the hawker eviction controversy, with both parties seeking to draw mileage over it. While Raj Thackeray’s party has been taking up violent campaigns for eviction of illegal hawkers, Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam has come out in the support of hawkers, attacking the MNS leadership over the issue.
In the run-up to Friday’s violence, leaders from both sides took sharp digs at one another and their workers even came face-to-face on a couple of occasions, but the police may not have anticipated Friday’s turn of events.
Understandably, it too came in for criticism following the violence. Nirupam, who was not in Mumbai at the time of the attack, said, “The MNS’s attack shows how poor the law and order situation in the city and the rest of the state is. The Azad Maidan police station is just 25 metres away, and yet there was an attack on our office in broad daylight.” Nirupam was in Surat for Congress’ Gujarat election campaign.
Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan did not miss the opportunity to target Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who heads the state’s home department, over the lapse. “It is due to the silence of the government that the MNS is being able to make attempts of ‘terrorising’ Mumbai in this manner. In the last few days, we have witnessed MNS workers take law and order in their hands in several parts of the city. But the police did not initiate concrete action against them, which would have only encouraged the violators,” Chavan said, adding, “Political differences are to be settled with ideological fights. The manner in which the MNS is taking law into their hands in condemnable.”
Former Union minister Gurudas Kamat said, “It is shocking to hear of the vandalism at the Congress office. It is really disturbing to see to what level certain people can go to. Even worse is to see to what extent they are being protected by those in power.”
While Fadnavis was unavailable for comment, the Mumbai Police issued an official statement, which indicated that the arrested MNS men could face a tough time behind bars. “Individuals or groups that undertake violent protests endangering the safety of life and the property of citizens should be ready to face the wrath of the law, and we shall be harsh while inflicting it.”
Incidentally, it was a tweet from Deshpande following the violence, which led the police to the MNS men. Within an hour of the incident, the MNS leader went on Twitter, accepting responsibility for the attack at the behest of his party. “The MNS has carried out a ‘surgical strike’ on Nirupam’s office. Tit for tat.”
South Mumbai MNS leader Arvind Gawde, who too was questioned by the police, denied any knowledge about the attacks.
Later during the day, the Congress staged demonstrations at some places and there were unconfirmed reports of Congress, MNS workers clashing in Malad. Outside the ransacked office, Mumbai Youth Congress volunteers, who had assembled in good numbers, burnt Raj Thackeray’s picture and sent him a “set of bangles” as a show of protest. Chiding Thackeray and his party, Nirupam said, “I can understand the frustration of the MNS, whose workers are being regularly beaten up. The MNS’s attack on our party office is an act of cowardice. Their workers vandalised the office when there wasn’t anyone present. The CM must ensure prompt action in the matter or a beffiting reply will be given for sure.”
While the MNS is desperate to revive itself after being wiped out in the Mumbai civic poll, the Congress is keen to thwart the BJP’s attempt at occupying even the Opposition space in the city. While the Shiv Sena controls the municipal corporation, the BJP is a partner in the ruling alliance. email@example.com