Mumbai: Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray targeted Muslims in an aggressive if incoherent speech Sunday, saying the community should live within the framework of the country’s laws and not indulge in “activities that will affect their status”.
Addressing a rally at Azad Maidan in south Mumbai, Thackeray said the Muslim community should not indulge in any “natak (drama)” as the MNS “would take them on at their own game”.
“Why did the Muslims hold a morcha (a gathering) some time ago? What was the reason for this show of strength? What message did they intend to send across?” Thackeray said. “This morcha today is the answer to that morcha. Henceforth, it will be a stone for a stone and a sword for a sword.”
“No other country gives you (Muslims) so much freedom,” he added. “Don’t destroy what you have.”
The venue of the rally was a display of saffron, with Thackeray looking at pitching himself as the true heir to his uncle and Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, who was known as the ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ for his Hindutva push. His push in this direction seems to have strengthened since the Shiv Sena, currently led by his cousin Uddhav Thackeray, tied up with the Congress to form the state government.
MNS members travelled from across Maharashtra to attend the rally, with a large number of BJP activists present at Azad Maidan too, according to sources.
A muddled speech
Thackeray’s speech, however, lacked coherence and flitted between attacks on Indian Muslims and those from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
He elaborated on various aspects of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and said the country needed stringent laws to throw out illegal Muslim immigrants. According to him, there are about two crore Bangladeshi Muslims living in India.
“My country is not a dharamshala,” he said. “The Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants should be kicked out of this country. The central government should implement both these laws very stringently.”
At the same time, Thackeray questioned the Modi government, asking if laws such as the CAA were brought in to deflect attention from the dismal economic situation.
The MNS chief then went on to say that there have been “no attacks” on Indian Muslims. “These Muslims are part of our country, so there have been no attacks against them. The attacks have been against the illegal Muslim immigrants in this country,” he said, without elaborating on what these attacks were.
Making it clear that he was appropriating the Hindutva narrative, Thackeray slammed Hindus for “thinking of their religious roots only during riots”.
“Only after riots do Hindus wake up,” he said. “Then candlelight marches are held. Then they wait for other events to happen to hold candlelight marches again.”
Nothing new in MNS chief’s stand: Shiv Sena
Shiv Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande said there was nothing new in the MNS chief’s stand. “Let us see how long his new stand will last. Even if you change the colour of your flag, it will not change the ideology. The question is, what is the ideology of MNS?” she said in an interaction with the media.
BJP’s leader of the opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council, Pravin Darekar, also questioned Thackeray’s “stone for stone and sword for sword” statement and sought clarification. “If people hold peaceful demonstrations within the framework of the law what is wrong?” Darekar asked at a press interaction. “They have a right to express their views.”
Darekar, a former MNS leader, had defected to the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in 2019.