Tension had been brewing between Maharashtra MPs of the Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party. Shiv Sena MPs believe they have been sidelined and treated shabbily at the Maharashta Sadan in New Delhi. Dhanya Rajendran reports
For more than 24 hours now, news channels across the country have been beaming visuals of Shiv Sena MP Rajan Vichare trying to force-feed an IRCTC canteen supervisor at the New Maharashta Sadan in Delhi. But that is only a small part of the actual story.
After the news of the incident spread, news channels acquired video clippings of the incident which were telecast on Wednesday. The issue even stalled Parliament as the supervisor in question is a Muslim who was observing his Ramzan fast. The IRCTC supervisor Arshad Zubair’s complaint to his seniors says, “Everybody in the panel also knew my name as Arshad as I was wearing the name tag. Even then they inserted chapatti in my mouth which caused my fast to break on the eve of Ramzan."
The Shiv Sena has claimed that they did not know the supervisor’s religion and that the entire issue was deliberately being given a communal angle.
So what really happened at the Maharashtra Sadan on July 17?
On that day, around 15 reporters from the print and visual media had gathered at the New Maharashtra Sadan, anticipating protests by the Shiv Sena. The News Minute spoke to three reporters who covered the Shiv Sena protest, and what they had to say is a lot more than what the visuals show.
For many days now, tension had been brewing between Maharashtra MPs of the Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party. Shiv Sena MPs believe they have been sidelined and treated shabbily at the Sadan. They were upset about many things. Their ire was against Satyapal Singh, former Mumbai police commissioner and BJP MP from Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh and Kirit Somaiya, chairman of the Sadan's Housing Committee.
On July 16, many reporters in Delhi covering the Shiv Sena and ‘Maharashtra’ beat were told that the Shiv Sena would be protesting the next day against certain issues at the New Maharashtra Sadan. But strangely, the protests were not about the IRCTC canteen at the Sadan.
“Shiv Sena sources told us that they would hold protests demanding to know why Satyapal Singh was given a ministerial suite in the Maharashtra Sadan. They were also against two or three other UP MPs being given suites,” said Ramraje Shinde, a senior correspondent with Mi Marathi.
Another reporter, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “The Shiv Sena MPs were very angry with the BJP, especially Somaiya who is the chairman of the housing committee. They told us over the phone that they are being treated shabbily, were allotted bad rooms and wanted to protest.”
On the day of the incident, reporters and camerapersons gathered at the Maharashtra Sadan at 10.30 am. As the Parliament was in session, most of the MPs reached only after around 12.30 pm, and then the protest started.
“They went to the media room in the Maharashtra Sadan and summoned Resident Commissioner Bipin Mallick. But Mallick had gone to the airport to receive the chief secretary of Maharashtra J S Saharia and this agitated the MPs even more,” said Ranjeet, a reporter with ANI.
The MPs then summoned Suhas, the manager of the Sadan. They questioned Suhas why Satyapal Singh was given a ministerial suite and asked him to show the register to ascertain how many non-Maharashtra MPs were staying at the Sadan. Suhas then brought the register and tried to explain that it was not in his power to decide who is given a room or suite.
Around 1.30 pm the agitated MPs decided to move to Mallick’s cabin. The canteen of the Sadan falls in between the media room and Mallick’s cabin, while passing the canteen a few MPs raised the issue of sub-standard food in the cabin and the group entered the canteen.
“They first inspected the food, which can be clearly seen in the visuals. A veg thali costs around Rs 150 in the sadan and many including journalists have complained in the past that the food is of bad quality. After checking the thali in the canteen one of the MPs said ‘let’s move to the kitchen’,” said Ranjeet.
The MPs shouted for the canteen-in-charge, Arshad Zubair, the canteen supervisor. Two MPs Krupal Thumane and Arvind Sawant then started questioning Arshad, asking him if the food was palatable. They asked him to eat the food and show, and while these two MPs were yelling at Arshad, another MP Rajan Vichare picked up a chapatti and tried to shove it in Arshad’s mouth.
“He said fast hai twice or thrice. Vichare could have stopped then, but I don’t know whether he heard Arshad the first time. When he repeated it, he should have stopped. But another MP then said leave him, after all he is just a servant, let’s go get the master,” said Ramraj Shinde.
As Vichare was bullying Arshad, others behind shouted ‘Maara yala’ (beat him up), which is when an MP asked why target Arshad, let’s go for his master.
“The MPs were very angry and Vichare would have done this to any canteen supervisor. Most of us did not know the guy’s name was Arshad. Vichare should have simply stopped when Arshad said he was fasting,” said another reporter.
The MPs then started shouting slogans against north Indians like ‘Bhaiyya Hatao, Maharashtra Sadan Bachao’, again mainly targeting Satyapal Singh.
The MP mob accompanied by supporters then marched to Mallick’s cabin. “The anger had reached a peak by then, but Mallick did not appear. In about 10 minutes, the MPs stormed out,” said Ramraj Shinde.
Two of the MPs took a pen and wrote their protests on the walls of the cabin. While the mob was moving out, someone pushed a black wall clock down and broke it.
Meanwhile Mallick, who was told well in advance about the protests, dropped the chief secretary at the sadan and did not bother to turn up in front of the MPs.
The MPs were appraised of this and they went to meet Saharia. Saharia gave them a patient hearing and even gave the reporters present there an interview claiming he will look into the complaints.
Mi Marathi telecast the visuals of the protests and altercation that day, but nothing was said about Arshad’s fast. “I personally believe that Mallick made Arshad write the complaint in such a way that the issue was diverted away from him. What the MPs did is definitely not good, but IRCTC and Sadan need to also explain about the shoddy job they were doing,” said Ramraj Shinde.
ANI, a news content provider to channels across the country and globe, did not send the visual through their server that day. “ANI duty editor saw the visual and decided in his wisdom that it was better not to send the visuals through our server. One or two local channels showing visuals is not the same as ANI sending it to many channels. The duty editor took the call that it could inflame passions and killed the story, the next day other news stories took over and the story lost relevance,” Smita Prakash, Editor of ANI told The News Minute.
Smita Prakash also adds that she believes it was better the story first appeared on print and then picked up by channels. “This is Ramzan period and many channels simultaneously beaming visuals at the same time can do no good. When the story appears on print, it has at least been dissected properly.”
The Maharashtra Sadan manager Suhas Mamdapurkar was shunted out on Wednesday and a new manager appointed. On July 21, Suhas was served a show-cause notice by the Additional Resident Commissioner Sameer Sahai asking him to explain why rooms were allotted to non-Maharashtra MPs. On June 22, Suhas submitted an application to Sameer Sahai requesting help to formulate his reply, and the very next day, he was shunted out.
So was this a Shiv Sena-BJP row that turned ugly, and the employees of IRCTC and Sadan just got caught in the crossfire? With the state going to polls in a few months, the row only reflects that all in not well in the BJP-Shiv Sena camp and this will resonate during the polls.
The Shiv Sena claims they did not know Arshad’s identity, and they had no intentions to hurt his religious sentiments. But thrusting a roti down anyone’s throat should be reason enough for the MPs to be ashamed of their conduct.
Courtesy: The NEWS Minute
Image: Video grab showing Shiv Sena's Thane MP Rajan Vichare force-feeding Arshad Photographs: Courtesy Mi Marathi