As a fearful metropolis looked on, the Mumbai police were at long last given the green signal by a vacillating administration to arrest Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray. This is something that should have been done on the very first day his inflammatory rhetoric against migrant workers from UP and Bihar galvanised his supporters to go on the rampage, destroying public property and wreaking violence on hapless citizens. One of the main targets of the MNS’s wrath was a Samajwadi Party rally following which SP Mumbai chief Abu Azmi retaliated. Azmi has also been arrested by the police. It was only when the violence spread to Nasik and Pune that the state government thought it fit to move. In the interim, even as his supporters were busy creating mayhem in the city, Raj Thackeray went as far as to thank chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh for letting him walk free. Even now, it was only after the para-military forces were deployed and at least 1,800 preventive arrests made that Raj has been taken in.
We may be forgiven for thinking that such lethargy in the face of violence against certain communities can only have been motivated by political compulsions. The state government seemed more worried about whether arresting him would make a hero of Raj Thackeray than in doing its duty, namely ensuring that law and order is maintained. No doubt, his supporters will try to cast Raj Thackeray as an upholder of Marathi pride who was willing to sacrifice his liberty for the cause. But none of this can be a consideration for the city’s administrators who are constitutionally bound to act against any offender without fear or favour. It is also puzzling as to why, apart from a few wishy-washy statements, stronger condemnation of this ugly and divisive politics did not come from the top brass at the Centre. Surely, when the state government decided to fiddle while Mumbai tottered under the MNS’s onslaught, the home ministry at the Centre should have made its displeasure felt.
By cocking a snook at the state government, Raj Thackeray was clearly conveying the impression that leaders like him and their followers are above the law. This cannot be allowed to continue if we are to call ourselves a functioning democracy. The delay in arresting Raj Thackeray has caused incalculable harm to Mumbai, both economically and socially. The MNS’s shenanigans have conveyed the impression that Mumbai is willing to shed its cosmopolitan character and become a mofussil, parochial, hick town. Hopefully, the damage containment will begin now.