Mumbai: Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray said Sunday that he cancelled his visit to Ayodhya because he was afraid his party workers would be arrested in Uttar Pradesh.
Thackeray was addressing a rally in Pune days after his much-hyped trip to Ayodhya on 5 June was cancelled.
“Had there been any untoward incident during the visit,” he told the crowd, “they (UP government) would have arrested my workers in criminal cases and would have kept them in jails for number of days and then there would be no one here in the state ahead of the local body elections.”
“I didn’t want to walk into this trap,” he told the crowd.
Thackeray’s remarks are significant given that they come a month after ostensibly looked like he was trying to cozy up to the Bharatiya Janata Party, especially Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in the middle of a loudspeaker row that gripped both Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.
What triggered this latest change of heart was a remark from Uttar Pradesh’s Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament Brijbhushan Sharan Singh. Singh had demanded that Thackeray, who has been known in the past for his belligerent anti-migrant stand, must apologise for targeting migrants from Uttar Pradesh.
“Why should I apologise now? Where were these people for the last 14-15 years,” Thackeray asked at the rally.
Thackeray’s failed Ayodhya trip
Lately, Thackeray has been vocally taking up the Hindutva cause: in his public speech on Gudi Padwa (2 April), Raj demanded loudspeakers should be removed from mosques by 3 May. At the end of that deadline, he urged his workers to play the ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ whenever they heard ‘azaan’ being played on loudspeakers.
It was also in April that he first announced his trip to Ayodhya on 5 June.
Ahead of the visit however, Singh began soliciting support from top priests, seers and members of the civil society in Uttar Pradesh to stop the MNS chief from entering the temple town, even circulating posters urging the public to join a rally against him.
On 20 May, Thackeray announced he had called off his visit. The announcement, made in a tweet, said Thackeray would give his reasons for cancelling the trip at the Sunday rally.
It did, however, cite a scheduled surgical procedure for his leg on 1 June as one of the reasons for cancelling the visit.
At Sunday’s rally, Thackeray — formerly a strident critic of the BJP who appeared to have briefly mellowed his stance against the party — once again took to criticising it. He drew parallels between himself and Alpesh Thakor, a Congress-turned-BJP leader from Gujarat.
“In Gujarat, Alpesh Thakor threatened and attacked 15,000 migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh,” he said. “Where were these people then?”
He was referring to the 2018 attacks on migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar after a migrant was accused of raping a 14-month-old baby in Gujarat’s Sabarkantha district on September 28.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)