Raj Thackeray booked for provocative speech at Aurangabad rally
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray was booked on Tuesday for his provocative speech at a rally in Aurangabad on May 1
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray was booked on Tuesday for his provocative speech at a rally in Aurangabad on May 1. He had threatened to start an agitation in the form of chanting Hanuman Chalisa in front of mosques on May 4 if the loudspeakers, used for azan, were not removed from the religious structures by Tuesday.
After scanning Raj’s speech with the help of a local cyber cell, an FIR was registered against the MNS chief, party leaders, and the organisers of the rally at City Chowk police station, Aurangabad. They have been charged with sections 116 (abetment of offence punishable with imprisonment if offence be not committed), 117 (abetting commission of offence by the public or by more than 10 persons), and 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) of the Indian Penal Code and provisions of the Maharashtra Police Act.
The home department and the police, too, cracked down on MNS workers with many either being warned, detained, or expelled for a specific period to prohibit them from the demonstration. According to home department officials, preventive action has been initiated against more than 15,000 political workers, mostly from MNS, while over 13,000, including the MNS chief, have been served with prohibitory notices under section 149 (preventing cognisable offences) of CrPC.
The decision to book Raj for his speech was taken after due deliberation between chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, home minister Dilip Walse Patil, and senior police officers. In fact, the home department swung into action immediately after Raj’s April 2 and 12 rallies where he announced the Hanuman Chalisa agitation.
Permission to the rally was given by the local police with 16 conditions, including restricting the crowd to 15,000, and asking Raj to refrain from using offensive slogans, and religious, casteist, and regional references. The FIR points to violations of these conditions.
During his speech, Raj appealed to the police to stop the mosques from broadcasting through the loudspeakers. “I urge the police to stop them if they plan to broadcast during my speech. If they [Muslims] cannot understand the simple language then let’s decide this matter once and for all.”
While reiterating his May 3 ultimatum, he had said, “If you continue to create nuisance with your loudspeakers, then we will also broadcast Hanuman Chalisa at double the volume in front of the mosques. I urge Hindus in the state and the country to come out and play Hanuman Chalisa outside mosques if they do not stop [using the loudspeakers].”
A senior NCP leader, requesting anonymity, said, “The leadership has no doubt that Raj has been playing the Hindutva card to grab political space with the support from Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]. The provocative language with the intention of creating communal tension was anticipated and the plan for action was chalked out even before the rally. The issue was discussed in the CM’s meeting with Sharad Pawar last week and it was decided to stop Raj from playing religious politics.”
Ajit Pawar and Walse Patil had on Monday already hinted at strict action against Raj. Walse Patil, in a meeting with the CM on Tuesday, discussed the report submitted by the Aurangabad police commissioner.
The report stated that towards the end of his speech, the MNS chief used instigating and provocative language against Muslims. The report also talked about the legal provisions for action. After a discussion with senior police officers, the government directed the Aurangabad police to book Raj and the organisers of the rally.
MNS spokesperson Sandeep Deshpande called the action politically motivated. “Why are restrictions like crowd limit only imposed on Rajsaheb while the CM is given a free hand to get as many people as he wants for his rally?”
He accused the police department of acting under pressure. “Rajsaheb is only asking for implementing the orders of the supreme court with regards to the use of loudspeakers and instead of taking action, he is being targeted,” Deshpande said, adding, “If they continue to harass us, then we will take to the streets. It does not bother us as we have been agitating for the last 16 years.”
During the meeting with the home minister, senior police officers also said that there could be an attempt to create tension with the help of people from outside the state. “The police have been directed to keep a close watch on such potential miscreants and take strict action against them without waiting for order from superiors. The bandobast at the entry points and areas with a history of communal tension has been increased,” an official from the home department said.
The state government also considered the possibility of reaction from MNS supporters and people in case of strict action against Raj.
According to another home department official, who did not want to be named, said, “The Maharashtra police are capable of handling such situations. The potential miscreants have been identified, and the police have specific information related to the areas that can be troublesome. Party workers do understand the repercussions of the cases against them. The response to Raj’s diktat given at his April 2 rally at Shivaji Park to chant Hanuman Chalisa was lukewarm.”
Minister of state for home Shambhuraj Desai said, “We will not spare anybody who tries to create law-and-order problems. I believe the action against Raj by the Aurangabad police was taken after checking video footage of the rally and after they were convinced of the violation of the terms and conditions set for it. If party workers reacted violently to it, they would have to face the consequences.”
State minister and NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal said, “The police have been taking action as per law. Union minister Narayan Rane, Amravati MP Navneet Rana and her MLA husband Ravi Rana have faced similar action. We know what the court said while hearing the bail pleas of Ranas. In Raj’s case, I do not know if he will be arrested, but the law will take its course.”
Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut saw a conspiracy. “This is an attempt to destabilise the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government and people are brought from outside to create trouble in the state.”
Raut called the action against Raj normal. “Even we have been booked, either because of our articles or some quotes. It does not matter how big the man is but when he delivers a provocative speech, the government will act against him. This is the government of Uddhav Thackeray.”
BJP called the state government action against MNS a political vendetta.
Party leader Ashish Shelar said, “MNS will react to the action, but it is unfortunate that the leaders who announced to chant Hanuman Chalisa face sedition charges or are externed or issued prohibitory notices. There is no action against those who ask for permission to offer namaz at Shivaji Park. We, in fact, suspect that the state government itself wants to create law-and-order problems for political reasons.”
However, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen MP from Aurangabad Imtiyaz Jaleel accused the government of giving kid glove treatment to Raj.
“These are all bailable offences. They should have ideally booked him under stringent sections. It is said CM Thackeray had the Rana couple booked for sedition when all they wanted was to recite Hanuman Chalisa outside his residence, while Raj, being his brother, is let off lightly despite inciting people on communal grounds,” Jaleel said.
Political analyst Prakash Akolkar said the action by the MVA government was obvious. “Raj has conspicuously targeted Sharad Pawar by raising questions over his secular image and creating doubts over his faith in Hinduism. Secondly, the state government cannot afford any communal tension in the state as it could destabilise the government. Had the MVA failed to take any action against Raj and his party, a wrong political message would have been sent. It would have also raised doubts over its ability to maintain law and order.”
Meanwhile, director general of police Rajnish Seth said the Maharashtra police force is well prepared and ready to deal with any kind of law-and-order situation.
Commenting on Raj Thackeray’s speech, he said lawful action will be taken against him at the local level.
Seth was speaking to reporters at the state police headquarters shortly after the home minister met senior police officials and took review of the security arrangements to maintain law and order across Maharashtra.