In a shocking incident, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) members slapped state Samajwadi Party chief Abu Asim Azmi inside the assembly when he began taking his oath in Hindi, leading to the suspension of four MNS legislators who led the attack for four years.
As Azmi started speaking in Hindi in defiance of MNS supremo Raj Thackeray's appeal to legislators to take oath only in Marathi, a group of first-timer MNS legislators pounced on him, setting off fireworks in political circles nationally.
MNS member Ramesh Banjle first uprooted the microphone and threw it away.
Others from MNS surrounded Azmi, pushing and punching him. MNS legislator Ram Kadam slapped Azmi and hit on the chest and shoulders.
Shocked legislators and ministers from other parties, including Rajendra Darda of Congress and Nationalist Congress Party's Ajit Pawar, tried to protect Azmi but they too were pushed around.
Even after Azmi managed to escape the attackers, other slogan-shouting MNS members displayed cloth banners they had smuggled into the house and also damaged the fittings on legislators' desks.
It was the first incident of its kind in the history of the Maharashtra assembly. Protem Speaker Ganpatrao Deshmukh quickly adjourned the house for over half hour, bringing some sanity in the 288-member legislature.
The attack drew condemnation all over India. Even the Shiv Sena, the original spearhead of the Marathi cause, denounced the MNS, an offshoot of the Sena.
When the house reassmbled, it suspended four MNS legislators -- all first timers -- for four years. They were also barred from entering Mumbai and Nagpur whenever the assembly meets in the two cities. The four are Vasant Gite, Shishir Shinde, Kadam and Banjle.
A ruffled Azmi, earlier the Samajwadi Party MP from Mumbai, demanded the arrest of MNS chief Raj Thackeray.
"I have not done anything wrong by taking oath as MLA (member of legislative assembly) in Hindi, it is our national language," he said. "I have respected my national language."
Azmi said he was not well-versed in Marathi. "In fact one of my three party colleagues took the oath in Marathi, I took it in Hindi, so what was the need for creating such a ruckus?"
Azmi pointed out that the MNS did not object when a Congress legislator, Baba Siddiqui, took the oath in English.
Siddiqui defended his decision to take the oath in English, pointing out that Raj Thackeray's sons studied in English-medium schools.
Chief Minister Ashok Chavan was among those who witnessed the ugly scenes. He and his Congress party flayed the attack on Azmi.
Kadam, who slapped Azmi, claimed that the Samajwadi Party leader insulted Maharashtrians by taking the oath in Hindi. He said his party had requested Azmi "with folded hands" to take the oath in Marathi. "We are not scared by any action the house may initiate against us," he thundered.
MNS spokesman Shirish Parker argued that Hindi was not the national language. Later however, MNS group leader Bala Nandgaonkar apologized to the members for insulting the dignity of the house.
The trouble in the house sparked off violence on the streets as Samajwadi Party supporters stoned state-run buses in Bhiwandi town of Thane district, Azmi's constituency.
In Mumbai's Jogeshwari suburb, an effigy of Raj Thackeray was torched and slogans raised against him and his party. MNS workers in turn gathered near the railway station and shouted slogans against Azmi.
The development came as Maharashtra celebrates the golden jubilee year of its formation.
Samajwadi Party president and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav praised Azmi. "I am proud Azmi did not get cowed down by an intimidating Thackeray," he said in Lucknow.
In Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his predecessor Lalu Prasad, otherwise sworn enemies, condemned the MNS. Nitish Kumar said: "It is shocking how an elected legislator was attacked in the assembly for taking his oath in Hindi. The attack should be condemned by one and all."