Mumbai: The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra Monday put the onus of resolving the mosque-loudspeaker issue on the Modi government, following an all-party meeting meant to find a solution to the controversy. Opposition BJP boycotted the meeting, called by the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA.
Ever since the Shiv Sena’s alliance with the BJP ended in 2019, the former has pointed to the Centre every time the issue of loudspeakers at religious places has come up. At Monday’s meeting, the Shiv Sena’s MVA allies — the Congress and the NCP — toed the same line.
Addressing the media, Maharashtra Home Minister Dilip Walse-Patil said the Centre should come up with a policy on loudspeakers, which the state would then follow.
“It is the government’s responsibility to maintain law & order. Police will take action if somebody violates it. If the Centre makes a national-level rule over loudspeakers, issues won’t come up in states. It was decided that an all-party delegation will meet the Centre and discuss this,” Walse-Patil said.
The meeting came amid a raging controversy in the state over the loudspeaker issue, which started with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray’s Gudi Padwa address earlier this month.
Raj Thackeray said if the practice of loudspeakers at mosques doesn’t end, speakers would blare the Hanuman Chalisa outside the Islamic places of worship. A few days later, at a rally in Thane, Thackeray gave the state government an ultimatum to remove loudspeakers from mosques by 3 May.
Over the weekend, an MP-MLA couple from Amravati — Navneet and Ravi Rana — were arrested over their proclamation that they would play the Hanuman Chalisa outside CM Uddhav Thackeray’s residence at Matoshree.
Their announcement led to protests by the Shiv Sena and the couple has since been booked for allegedly creating animosity between communities, and “sedition”, among other charges, earning the state government criticism from the BJP.
The BJP said it boycotted the meeting because “the law and order in the state is all over the place”.
“We received an invitation from Maharashtra Home Minister Dilip Walse-Patil for an all-party meeting today but we didn’t go in view of what happened in the last few days,” said Devendra Fadnavis, Leader of the Opposition. at a press conference. “If someone has taken the role of Hitler, it is better to fight instead of communicate,” he added.
The meeting was skipped by CM Uddhav Thackeray and chaired by Walse-Patil and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar. Those in attendance included the Shiv Sena’s Aaditya Thackeray and Eknath Shinde, and the Congress’ Ashok Chavan and Aslam Sheikh. Representatives from the AIMIM, SP, and AAP attended as well.
Raj Thackeray was absent, but sent MNS representatives.
MNS leader Sandeep Deshpande told ThePrint that they are firm on their stand and Monday’s meeting did not achieve anything concrete.
“We had asked them to not allow (mosques) permission to play loudspeakers for all 365 days. That was not accepted. And instead they just said we will ask Centre to make guidelines, which is passing the buck,” he said.
What happened at the meeting
Walse-Patil said the state government cannot remove loudspeakers over mosques as the rules in this regard “are very clear”.
In 2005, he said, the Supreme Court passed an order issuing certain guidelines, based on which, between 2015 and 17, the Maharashtra government released a government resolution.
The Supreme Court, in July 2005, banned the use of loudspeakers and music systems between 10 pm and 6 am (except in the cases of public emergencies) at public places, citing the serious effects of noise pollution on health of people.
Consequently, the minister said, loudspeakers can be played between 6 am and 10 pm.
The minister said the meeting involved “discussions over playing azaan on loudspeakers”.
“But if any decision is taken over one community, it will impact other communities too. Prayers, bhajans are also played publicly in other parts of the state. So, if a decision has to be taken, there should be one similar rule for all communities,” he added.
Reacting to the BJP’s absence at the meeting, Congress spokesperson Atul Londhe said the BJP has “shown its real face by boycotting a meeting… aimed at maintaining law and order in the state”. “Now it is clear that the BJP wants to disrupt harmony in the state and create riots,” he added.
Speaking to reporters in Pune, NCP chief Sharad Pawar made light of BJP leaders’ comments regarding the “need” for President’s rule in the state.
“The threat of the imposition of the President’s rule is always made, but it has no outcome. If poll situation arises, then the recent Kolhapur byelection result (where the MVA won) has shown the way. Power comes and goes and there is no need to be anxious,” he said. “Some people are anxious and I don’t blame them.”
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)