Mumbai: On Saturday, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) workers threw blank ink and eggs at Marathi actor Ketaki Chitale outside the Kalamboli Police station while she was being taken away by the police for an allegedly derogatory post against NCP president Sharad Pawar. Two days later, women workers of the NCP were seen throwing their sandals and slippers at Chitale’s photo.
Chitale was arrested for sharing a poem purportedly written by an advocate, referring to an “80-year-old Pawar”, calling him a “mosquito” and describing him as someone who “hates Brahmins” and for whom “hell is waiting”.
Incidents such as throwing ink, egging, hurling chappals, and resorting to fisticuffs have not been unheard of in Maharashtra’s political landscape. But they have mostly been associated with the Shiv Sena — like the 2015 ink attack on Sudheendra Kulkarni of the Observer Research Foundation, or last month, when footwear were flung at BJP leader Kirit Somaiya’s car.
However, over the last few days, it is the Shiv Sena’s ally, the NCP, that is making news for such aggressive protests against social media criticism of party chief Pawar. At the forefront are the party’s women workers.
Speaking to ThePrint, political commentator Hemant Desai said the NCP, which by and large is not known to have an aggressive image, turns up its belligerence every time Pawar faces any kind of extreme criticism.
“The party is constituted around Sharad Pawar’s larger-than-life image, his projection of a ‘raiyatecha raja (people’s leader)’. So, if there’s anything said against Pawar, the party goes on the offensive just like the Shiv Sainiks have been known to do for Bal Thackeray,” Desai added.
Take, for instance, the time that NCP members burnt effigies of Anna Hazare in 2011 over the social activist’s comment after an angry man slapped Pawar, then the Union agriculture minister, in Delhi. Hazare had mockingly asked if the NCP president was slapped only once.
In 2019, NCP workers staged protests in front of the ED office in Mumbai after the investigating agency named Pawar in a money laundering case in connection with an alleged scam at the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank.
On its part, the NCP says personal attacks on “father figure” Pawar are wont to upset party members.
‘Pawarsaheb our father figure’
A day before Chitale’s arrest, NCP workers lodged police complaints against a student, Nitin Bhamre, for an allegedly offensive tweet against Pawar, which the party saw as a death threat. Bhamre’s tweet had referred to Pawar as the “Gandhi of Baramati” and said the time has come for “Baramati to prepare a Nathuram Godse”. He was arrested for his comment Saturday.
The following day, BJP spokesperson Vinayak Ambekar lodged a police complaint claiming that some NCP workers had slapped him for what they claimed was a derogatory post about Pawar. BJP’s Maharashtra president Chandrakant Patil shared a purported video of the incident on Twitter.
The Indian Express quoted Ambekar as saying later that he had posted a poem on Facebook and had deleted the last two lines when he realised they were “unwarranted”.
“I had posted a poem on my Facebook page. I had not named anyone,” Ambekar was quoted as saying. “But yes, I agree I should not have written the last two lines in the poem. I also got a call from our leaders Girish Bapat and Jagdish Mullick.
“They said they had got a call from the NCP’s Ankush Kakade objecting to my post. I immediately deleted the two lines at the request of my leaders. But I also realised that the two lines were unwarranted. I then posted an apology on the Facebook post.”
Asked about the NCP’s reaction to Chitale, party leader Mahesh Tapse told ThePrint that her post was a personal attack on Sharad Pawar.
“Pawarsaheb is not just our leader. For us, he’s the head of our family,” Tapse said. “And if someone says something derogatory about the head of our family, it’s natural that party workers will get upset. That’s why women workers of the party are more upset — because it is like an insult to their father. You are free to criticise the government and its policies, but what Chitale said was especially derogatory on a personal front.”
Tapse said party workers acted emotionally, but also condemned the attack on Ambekar.
“But similarly, when a BJP member slapped a leader of our party, I didn’t see any senior leader of that party saying anything about it,” he added.
The incident Tapse was referring to was from Monday, when some workers of the NCP women’s wing got into a fracas with BJP leaders at a Pune auditorium where Union minister Smriti Irani was attending a book release event.
Towards the very end of the event, some NCP workers entered the auditorium demanding that they should be allowed to give Irani a memorandum on rising fuel prices, sparking an argument with BJP workers. The NCP claimed that male workers of the BJP attacked workers from the NCP women’s wing and also hit a party leader.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)