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Maharashtra dharma is my only religion: Raj Thackeray

Last updated on: August 21, 2012 23:00 IST

Maharashtra dharma is my only religion: Raj Thackeray

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Prasanna D Zore in Mumbai

Two things were most notable when Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray spoke at the Azad Maidan rally on Tuesday: he clearly didn't want to hurt his Muslim support base in the state and wanted to create a new constituency amongst Maharashtra's police cadre, reports Prasanna D Zore.

On Tuesday, Raj Thackeray poured cold water on expectations that the green colour in the party flag he founded in 2006, after splitting from the Shiv Sena, was on the verge of fading out and being dominated by saffron. 

Thackeray was speaking in a politically correct tone in front of a massive rally -- the size could have been anywhere between 30,000 to 100,000 based on estimates by cops, media and MNS workers -- at Azad Maidan, called to protest the violence against Mumbai cops after a similar rally called by the Raza Academy on August 11 at the same venue in protest against anti-Muslim riots in Assam.

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Image: MNS chief Raj Thackeray reacts while addressing a mammoth rally at Mumbai's Azad Maidan on Tuesday
Photographs: Sahil Salve

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MNS attacks Cong, NCP, SP over Bangladeshi immigrants' issue

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Thackeray said it was the handiwork of the "Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants" who had set a foothold in the city "because of the vote bank politics of the Congress, NCP and the Samajwadi Party." 

In one simple stroke Thackeray made it clear to his supporters that he wants to carve out his own distinct identity.

Scotching speculation in some sections of the media that the MNS was trying to occupy the hardline Hindutva space left vacant by the absence of his ailing and aging uncle from active politics, he said, "Raj Thackeray understands only one religion. And that is Maharashtra dharma. He doesn't understand any other religion." 

In his attempt to keep Muslims within his support base, Thackeray in his 20-minute address was careful not to use the language and idioms that his uncle Bal Thackeray used in his heydays when the latter would subtly equate Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants with Muslims. 

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Image: 30,000 to 100,000 MNS supporters gathered at the Azad Maidan rally on Tuesday
Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com

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'These illegal immigrants have their secret dens in Maharashtra'

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To further buttress his point that he is not anti-Muslim, Thackeray in his trademark style flashed a green passport purportedly belonging to a Bangladeshi to impress upon his party cadre that the August 11 disturbance was the design of Bangladeshi immigrants.  

"Those who had come (in the protest rally called by the Raza Academy) had nothing to do with Maharashtra. They were all outsiders," he thundered. 

"After the events that day this Bangladeshi passport was found at this place. This is a single entry passport. That was just to enter India and while leaving (Azad Maidan on August 11 after rioting) it was dumped. These illegal immigrants (from Bangladesh) have their secret dens in the state," he alleged and flung the passport in front of him.

The passport was later carefully collected by one of his party official (One can only wonder how Raj Thackeray got it? Why didn't he reveal or read the name of the passport holder? Why couldn't the police find it and will he now hand over that passport to Mumbai cops?). 

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Image: An MNS supporter picks up a Bangladeshi passport flung by Raj Thackeray while addressing a gathering at Azad Maidan
Photographs: Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com

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'Our Marathi police constable brothers were beaten and sisters molested'

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Digging into the past, Thackeray -- echoing his uncle Bal Thackeray -- said the reactions to the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 in Mumbai was also led by illegal Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants.

"Why did we see the reaction to the demolition of Babri Masjid only in Mumbai? Then the reaction of what happened on August 11 in Mumbai had a reaction in Lucknow. This means that these people are coming here from there (Bangladesh)."

Coming to the second most important observation of Thackeray's address, he made every single effort to tell the cops that it was high time they raise their voice against the political shenanigans of their political masters. 

Trying to create a constituency amongst the state's police machinery Thackeray made use of every single opportunity to refer to the police in the state as "My Marathi brothers and sisters." 

"Our Marathi police constable brothers were beaten and sisters molested by the people in the mob (on August 11). Yet no orders (were issued by the home minister R R Patil)! They kept waiting but the orders didn't come. Forget orders to fire but no orders even to lathicharge the mob. And when one of the DCP arrested a rioter he was asked by police commissioner Arup Patnaik to release him. Why? Wouldn't it let your morale down?" he asked the cops on duty.

He warned his cadres never to raise hands or manhandle the police under any circumstances. "We will never cross the line and manhandle police officials," he said in his bid to remind the city police that they should not have tolerated the August 11 mob to beat them up.

He reminded the cops that when he went to address a rally in Aurangabad when his party MLA Harshavardhan Jadhav was roughed up by the police, he told the same thing to the legislator and people of that city: Never raise your hands on cops. 

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Image: Stringent security measures were put in place during MNS' protest march and rally in Mumbai on Tuesday
Photographs: Rajesh Karkera/Rediff.com

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'Why didn't people like R R Patil do anything for our cops?'

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Further trying to score brownie points with the city police and show Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil in poor light, Thackeray asked the cops why haven't the state government announced any compensation for the police injured during the scuffle on August 11.

"Abu Azmi offered Rs 1.5 lakh to one of those who died in the police firing but had nothing to offer to our injured policemen? Even the state government have not made any announcement to compensate the injured policemen and women. Do your duty and get beaten. Why didn't people like R R Patil do anything for our cops?"

He declared to the police force gathered at Azad Maidan that he had organised the huge meeting to raise their morale and offer solidarity to them.

Thackeray also cajoled the media persons and photojournalists by saying that he and his party also supported the media and photographers targeted by the rioters on August 11. 

All this talk of boosting the morale of the police, standing with them in solidarity when they were being manhandled by rioters paid huge dividends when Pramod Shantaram Tawde, a Mumbai cop attached with Byculla's wireless division, walked up the dais and offered a yellow rose to Thackeray in front of the full public and media spotlight, breaching his duty rules for which he might even lose his job.

While in the days to come a lot will be written about Tawde's gesture -- was it spontaneous or orchestrated? -- one thing is for sure: Tawde has set a precedent and one would be witness to more interesting glimpses of Maharashtra's politics in the run up to the 2014 assembly elections.


Image: Pramod Shantaram Tawde, a Mumbai Police constable presents a rose to Raj Thackeray during MNS' rally at Azad Maidan on Tuesday
Photographs: Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com

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