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BJP beats Uddhav govt with law & order stick again, for stopping Kirit Somaiya’s Kolhapur visit

Former BJP MP Kirit Somaiya has accused Maharashtra minister Hassan Mushrif of graft, and was going to Kolhapur to register a complaint when police stopped him.

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Mumbai: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) once again attacked the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government, a coalition of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress, on the law and order front Monday. This time, the reason is that former BJP MP Kirit Somaiya was prevented from visiting Kolhapur.

Somaiya had made graft allegations against state cabinet minister Hassan Mushrif, claiming he owned benami properties and businesses in the name of his family members in Kolhapur, and had announced his intention to go to the city for a site visit. Mushrif, a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA from Kagal in Kolhapur, has dismissed the allegations and said he plans to file a Rs 100 crore defamation suit against Somaiya.

On Monday morning, the Kolhapur district police detained Somaiya at the Karad railway station and took him to the Circuit House there. Addressing a press conference from Karad, Somaiya said, “Thackeray government has created history today. Instead of taking action against those indulging in scams, they have taken action against those exposing scams. I said I wanted to register a complaint at Kolhapur Kagal police station. I informed this to the police and the district administration, but I was not only stopped from lodging the complaint, I was also prohibited from entering the district.”

However, speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, state Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil, an NCP leader, said the district administration felt Somaiya’s visit could create tension on the ground between the two parties (BJP and NCP). “The district administration informed the state home department about the situation and it was thought that some prohibitory action needs to be taken. The district administration drafted such orders and the police informed Somaiya,” Walse Patil said.

“When Somaiya insisted on going despite the notice, the police, according to the rules, stopped Somaiya at the border of Kolhapur. He was neither arrested nor detained. The police just informed him and he was taken to the resthouse. After his press conference, he was allowed to return to Mumbai,” the home minister said.

The Shiv Sena, however, distanced itself from the controversy, with its Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut telling reporters: “I spoke to the CM and he clearly said the CM’s office doesn’t have anything to do with the entire action (against Somaiya). The state home department thought there might be issues of law and order from both sides and that’s why this action was taken. The CM doesn’t get involved in such trivial matters.”

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‘Fight legal battles with law, not Kolhapuri chappals’

Somaiya has been known to file Right to Information requests, hold press conferences and flash the documents in public to make graft allegations against members of opposing parties, and then file complaints with central agencies. Since last year, he has also targeted Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his wife Rashmi Thackeray in this manner.

While Somaiya is seen as a lone warrior most of the time, after Monday’s incident, the entire BJP state rank and file has rallied behind the leader.

The BJP, which has often attacked the MVA government on law and order issues, slammed the state government over the incident, saying it was perhaps the first time that a person who wanted to highlight corruption was having to face police action.

Speaking to reporters, opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis said: “This is probably the first time in independent India that one person says I am going to file a police complaint against corruption, and the police hold him back. We have never seen something like this in India, especially in Maharashtra. Whatever is happening is scary, but the BJP will not stop. We will continue our fight against corruption.”

BJP state president Chandrakant Patil said in a press conference: “Fight a legal battle with law. Don’t fight it with a Kolhapuri chappal. It is easy to show a Kolhapuri chappal, not so easy to face the Enforcement Directorate.”

BJP MLA Ashish Shelar, speaking to reporters, questioned if there was a genuine fear of people taking law into their own hands if Somaiya visited, why did the district administration not take action against them instead? “What is Somaiya doing? He is going to Kolhapur to lodge a complaint. Complainants are held and goons are allowed to roam freely in the state,” he said.

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BJP’s attacks on home department

Since the formation of the MVA government, the one department that the BJP has targeted the most is the home department, which is held by the NCP, but over which the chief minister’s office traditionally wields considerable influence.

One of the first instances of the BJP questioning law and order in the state was in the Palghar lynching incident in April 2020, when three persons, including two seers, were lynched by a mob. The party also targeted the state’s law and order machinery over the probe into actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, which was eventually transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The BJP also slammed the MVA government over the alleged targeting of Republic TV Editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami by registering multiple cases against him or his network, including an investigation into the alleged fudging of Television Rating Points, and arresting him for his alleged role in the suicide of Anvay Naik, an interior designer.

The BJP’s constant attacks on the state home department have also led to the resignation of two MVA ministers — the Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Rathod and NCP’s Anil Deshmukh. Rathod, who held the forest portfolio, became the first MVA minister to resign in February this year after allegations of his links to the death of a TikTok star and a public gathering violating Covid restrictions.

Deshmukh’s resignation as state home minister in April this year came after one of the biggest controversies related to the MVA government. This involved former Mumbai Police chief Param Bir Singh making extortion allegations against Deshmukh, and policeman Sachin Waze (now dismissed) being arrested for allegedly planting explosives outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani’s home. Fadnavis had accessed confidential call data records to take on the MVA government in the legislative assembly.

The MVA has also faced the BJP’s ire for registering several cases against those criticising the CM, state minister Aaditya Thackeray and the MVA government on social media, as well as the recent arrest of Union Minister Narayan Rane for his remarks about slapping the CM.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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