Mumbai: Maharashtra’s state secretariat, Mantralaya, is usually one of the busiest hubs of political activity and police security in Mumbai. However, the action Thursday shifted to the Mahatma Gandhi statue close to Mantralaya, and later in the day, to Dadar railway station in the heart of the city.
It was a day of protests and counter-protests where members of the ruling coalition as well as the opposition took to the streets, pointing fingers at each other for “misusing power”.
Members of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), comprising the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and Congress, protested against the arrest of minister Nawab Malik by the Enforcement Directorate, alleging it was at the BJP’s behest to settle political scores.
The ED arrested Malik Wednesday in connection with a money laundering probe into the alleged hawala network of the underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and his aides.
The opposition BJP, meanwhile, protested against the MVA for allegedly shielding Malik and not sacking him from the state cabinet.
‘Gandhian’ protests that turned raucous
Early in the morning, the Mahatma Gandhi statue next to the state secretariat received a thorough cleaning. Two daises were also placed near it, while security personnel looked on.
At about 10am, MVA heavyweights started trickling in, with Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, Food Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, and MP Supriya Sule, all NCP leaders, being among the first to arrive.
“We don’t want to fight with anybody. We have come here to serve people. But if somebody is going to attack your home, you have no choice but to fight back,” Sule told reporters.
Describing the MVA protesters as “peace-loving people” who wanted only “development” rather than getting into “non-productive” scraps, she proceeded to lash out at the BJP. “They have nothing to do hence they are going into filthy politics,” said Sule, the daughter of NCP chief Sharad Pawar.
As the day went on, the protest gathering saw the presence of cabinet members such as the NCP’s Dilip Walse Patil and Rajesh Tope, Congress’ Balasaheb Thorat and Ashok Chavan, and Shiv Sena’s Subhash Desai.
“We are protesting in the Gandhian way as this is the only way to tell BJP,” Congress cabinet minister Aslam Sheikh told ThePrint.
However, the crowd soon swelled to nearly 500, according to police estimates, and workers from all three parties were soon raising loud and not very Gandhian slogans against the BJP-ruled Union government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
High theatrics were also in evidence.
One political worker, for instance, tied ropes around himself and wore a placard saying, “Mera Bebas Bharat (My Helpless India)”. Four other workers held up different ends of the ropes and brandished placards bearing the names of central agencies — the Enforcement Directorate (ED), Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and Income Tax (I-T) — to ostensibly represent how Indians are tied down by government probes.
Others milled around the Gandhi statue and held placards saying, “We support Nawab Malik” and “Maharashtra will never bow down to Delhi”.
While top Shiv Sena leaders such as Aaditya Thackeray, Eknath Shinde, Anil Parab, and Sanjay Raut were absent, party MLC Manisha Kayande told ThePrint that they “wholeheartedly” supported Nawab Malik but could not attend the protest as they were campaigning in Uttar Pradesh.
BJP protest: List of ‘dirty dozen’, not much of a crowd
A few hours after the MVA’s protest wrapped up, at about 4 pm, fresh action bubbled up in Dadar, where leaders of the Maharashtra BJP held their own protest.
BJP Maharashtra president Chandrakant Patil led the rally along with former MP Kirit Somaiya and MLC Prasad Lad. With only about 50 people turning up, some holding placards calling Nawab Malik an “anti-national”, this protest was not nearly as eye-grabbing as the MVA’s show of strength.
Nevertheless, Somaiya, who has been making constant allegations of graft and illegalities against MVA leaders, released a list called ‘The Dirty Dozen’ with his usual bombast.
This list included the names of Malik and NCP’s Anil Deshmukh, who is also behind bars in an ED investigation for alleged money laundering, as well as other leaders who Somaiya has accused of wrongdoings in the past, such as Sanjay Raut, Anil Parab, Anandrao Adsul, Bhavna Gawli, and Pratap Sarnaik.
“Let [Chief Minister] Uddhav Thackeray pick a chit from among the 12 names and decide who will go to prison first,” Somaiya told the small crowd of BJP workers. “My wife has just given me one suggestion that I should not include Rashmi Thackeray’s [the CM’s spouse] name because it will lead to a fight between husband and wife.”
Somaiya also quipped that once the 12 people he named ended up in jail, they could “conveniently organise a cabinet meeting at Arthur Road prison”.
The protest wrapped up within 30 minutes.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)