In a show-of-strength rally organised to protest the violence at Azad Maidan on August 11, Maharashtra Navnir-man Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray on Tuesday played his Marathi manoos card and trained his guns on "outsider Bangladeshi Muslims" migrating into the city.
Responding to Thackeray’s call, thousands of party workers defied the police, which had refused permission for the rally, and walked from Girgaum Chowpatty to Azad Maidan, throwing traffic in south Mum-bai out of gear.
While MNS legislator Nitin Sardesai claimed that one lakh people turned up, more conservative estimates pegged it at 50,000 to 60,000; the police refused to disclose any figure.
Though the state had warned Thackeray of action if he held an unauthorised rally, the police registered a case only against MNS office-bearer Shirish Sawant; Thackeray was not made a respondent in the case.
"It is the outsiders, the migrant Muslims from Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar, who caused the riots and battered the Maharashtrian policemen mercilessly. Even women constables were not spared. This cannot be tolerated," he raged, hijacking the Shiv Sena's line.
The MNS chief insisted that he was not turning towards "Hindutva", as is being speculated in political circles. "Anyone who attacks the policemen, irrespective of his caste or religion, will not be tolerated. I believe in Maharashtra dharma," he said, though the rally did have a subtle Hindutva tone.
Expressing solidarity with the police force, Thackeray said the protest was to express anger at the incident and boost the morale of the policemen, who had been battered by hooligans.
"The rioters came prepared with swords and choppers and still nothing was done to prevent them… If [RR] Patil and [Arup] Patnaik have an iota of shame, they will resign immediately," he said.
Theatrically, he pulled out a passport and waved it to the crowd, claiming that it was from Bangladesh and found at the venue after the violence.
Political experts said Thackeray’s move was aimed at sending out the message that he was capable of occupying the Shiv Sena’s space. The show of strength was organised in the backdrop of his emotional reunion with uncle Bal Thackeray and cousin Uddhav, both of whom were hospitalised recently.