Mumbai: A self-styled representative of north Indians in Mumbai was arrested in the small hours of Wednesday for allegedly playing a role in inciting Tuesday’s gathering of hundreds of migrants at Bandra in violation of Covid-19 social-distancing norms.
Vinay Dubey, a native of Uttar Pradesh, serves as president of an organisation called the Uttar Bharatiya Mahapanchayat. He is accused of passing on false information and asking migrant labourers and daily-wagers from north India to gather at Bandra (West) in suburban Mumbai to demand passage back home.
He has been remanded in police custody until 21 April.
Since the nationwide lockdown has seen inter- as well as intra-state travel grind to a near-complete halt, many migrants have been stranded away from home, with state governments around the country arranging food and shelter for them.
Over 1,000 migrants gathered at Bandra Tuesday afternoon around 3 pm, hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the national lockdown until 3 May, with many demanding that they be sent home.
Given that Covid-19 is an extremely infectious disease, the gathering Tuesday was seen as constituting a major transmission hazard.
Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said in a tweet, “I have ordered an investigation into the rumour that claimed trains will take migrants back home. Those found guilty of sparking such rumours will be dealt with severely.”
Police in Mumbai have also arrested a local TV news reporter for allegedly misleading migrants with claims that special trains will be arranged (no date specified), but the Marathi journalist, Rahul Kulkarni, has defended himself by sharing the railways note that served as the basis of his report.
A resident of Navi Mumbai
Dubey claims to be a champion for the cause of north Indian migrants living in Mumbai but is not “too popular” among them.
His social media profile reveals him to be a critic of PM Narendra Modi, the BJP and the RSS. According to sources close to him, he also visited Shaheen Bagh in Delhi as well as Mumbai Baug to express solidarity with protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
He is believed to be a resident of Airoli in Navi Mumbai.
After the first phase of the national lockdown kicked in 25 March, and thousands of migrants found themselves stranded in Mumbai, Dubey started the “Chalo Ghar Ki Aur (Let’s Go Home)” campaign to get them home.
The Mumbai Police FIR against Dubey, which can be accessed on the website, invokes a Facebook post where he called on north Indian migrant labourers to assemble at the Lokmanya Train Terminus (LTT) in Kurla and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus in south Mumbai on 18 April if train services don’t resume by then. This post, which made no mention of Bandra (approx. over 10 km away from both locations), was subsequently shared by over 15,000 people.
The FIR states Dubey had threatened to hold a protest on behalf of migrant labourers on 18 April at Kurla, and had been promoting the same through social media.
He has been booked under Section 188 (disobedience to duly promulgated order by a government servant) of IPC and also under the Epidemic Act.
Meanwhile, amid reports that the gathering might have been the result of a turf war between two local leaders, NCP chief Sharad Pawar made an FB Live appeal Wednesday against the communalisation of the event.
Becoming a public personality
Dubey is originally from Bhadohi district (close to Varanasi) in Uttar Pradesh and has been in news before.
He first came under public glare when he invited Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray — whose party was once known to lead violent protests against north Indian labourers — to address the community at a programme he organised in December 2018.
Although Thackeray attended the programme, MNS sources said it wasn’t without hesitation. “About four days prior to this programme, Raj saheb learnt that Dubey was not someone to be associated with. Since saheb could not cancel the programme as it would send a wrong signal to the people, he attended the programme,” said an MNS source.
Since Thackeray was attending an event organised by a north Indian platform, his speech received much media coverage across the country, which in turn bolstered Dubey’s profile. In 2019, Dubey contested the Maharashtra assembly elections as an independent from the Kalyan East constituency, but lost to the Shiv Sena.
Earlier this month, Dubey made a donation of Rs 25,000, on behalf of his father, an autorickshaw driver, to the CM’s Relief Fund for the fight against Covid-19. In a subsequent tweet, Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said the sum constituted Jatashankar Dubey’s life’s savings.