M A I N   N E W S

Sainiks torch buses, stall traffic
State-wide protests in Maharashtra over defacing of statue
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

A bus set on fire by agitated Shiv Sena activists in Mumbai
A bus set on fire by agitated Shiv Sena activists in Mumbai on Sunday. — PTI photo

Mumbai, July 9
Long given up as a spent force, the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra today returned to the streets with a bang after the bust of Meenatai, the late wife of party supremo Bal Thackeray, was found desecrated this morning at Shivaji Park in Central Mumbai.

In retaliation, Shiv Sena workers set buses afire and threatened to launch a programme against the minority Muslim community across the state.

A few hours after Shiv Sainiks hit the streets, minor skirmishes were reported between them and persons of the minority-community in Mumbai. However, teams of policemen quickly rushed to prevent the situation from worsening further.

Shiv Sena activists attacked the police outpost outside Shivaji Park to protest the ineffectiveness of the police in preventing the incident.

A police inspector Rajendra Thakur was injured when he sought to prevent group clashes at Andheri in North Mumbai.

Shiv Sena leaders like Bal Thackeray and Uddhav have been spoiling for a fight following last week’s clashes in Bhiwandi where two policemen were brutally murdered.

Mr Uddhav Thackeray was quick to link last week’s violence in Bhiwandi with the defiling of Meenatai’s bust today. “The law and order machinery has failed in Maharashtra whether in Bhiwandi or in Shivaji Park,” he said.

Shiv Sena and its alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party, were quick to link these incidents as part of a larger conspiracy against Hinduism. “Apart from Meenatai’s bust, idols of Lord Hanuman and Lord Ganesh were also damaged,” Mr Thackeray alleged.

However, the police said the idols located at a gymnasium in the Shivaji Park premises were only dislodged from their pedestals. There was no proof of vandalism on them.

However, the Shiv Sena has threatened to display these idols on the floor of the Maharashtra legislature when the Assembly meets again on Monday. BJP leader Gopinath Munde went on to say that the Assembly would not be able to function if the culprits were not apprehended by tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Shiv Sena leaders put up boards on street corners in their strongholds to mobilise activists.

After a few Volvo buses were torched in Mumbai, Nashik, Nanded and Vidarbha, activists were asked to enforce a bandh across the state. Though Mr Uddhav Thackeray called it a spontaneous reaction, the Sena’s ‘shaka pramukhs’ were co-ordinating with their headquarters to block highways and halt train services in Mumbai.

He even compared today’s incidents with the protests by the Muslims over the Prophet’s cartoons. “It’s a question of sentiments. It is akin to the protests over Prophet Mohammad’s cartoons,” he said.

By afternoon, the civic-run BEST pulled out its buses and suburban train services virtually reduced to a crawl. The Western and Eastern Express Highways and the arterial S.V. Road was blocked by Shiv Sena activists. The Mumbai-Pune and Mumbai-Nashik highways were also blockaded with the police struggling to restore traffic.

Operations at Mumbai’s domestic airport were also affected as the Shiv Sena-controlled trade union asked its activists to stay away from work to protest against the incident. However, senior AAI officials said no flights were affected by today’s incidents.

Police resorted to lathi-charge and bursting of tear gas shells in a bid to restore law and order.

Later, Director General of Police P.S. Pasricha told reporters that the whole of Maharashtra has been put on high alert. He added that two extra battalions of Mumbai police have been called in to control the situation in central Mumbai.

Meanwhile, sources said top police officers have spoken to senior Shiv Sena leaders in a bid to prevent matters from getting out of hand. “Senior Sena leaders have assured us that law and order will not get out of control,” Joint Commissioner of Mumbai police Arup Patnaik said.

Mumbai’s Police Commissioner A.N. Roy had a meeting with senior Shiv Sena leaders and warned them against inciting their followers.

Among the Shiv Sena leaders who were spoken to include former Chief Minister and Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi who threatened to hit the streets in the morning. “Meenatai, whom the Shiv Sainiks called Maasaheb, is like God to us. Our God has been insulted here. There will definitely be a reaction to this,” an agitated Joshi said. He, however, piped down later in the day and promised to cooperate with the police.

Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh later told reporters that the Central Government would rush para-military forces and the Rapid Action Force, if required. He, later, had an emergency meeting with senior police and Home Ministry officials.





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