In a volte-face, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray put on hold his agitation against migrant autorickshaw drivers on Friday, less than 48 hours after he made his remarks. Thackeray has issued a statement, asking the cadre not to attack any autorickshaws till he issues fresh instructions.
This came even as chief minister Devendra Fadnavis rubbished Thackeray’s allegations of corruption in issuing permits, saying the government had not bent any rules. “People are constantly looking to make their own space in politics and so make such statements. It is our responsibility to protect the auto drivers and we will definitely do so,” Fadnavis said.
Fadnavis said working knowledge of the local language is mandatory for auto permits across the country. “The law has been in place for 40 years and there is nothing wrong in compulsion...Every citizen living for more than 15 years in the state is entitled to a permit and one with a valid domicile cannot be denied the right just by calling him an outsider,” he said.
Some party leaders hinted that Thackeray had jumped the gun. “We realised later the new autos, which have been granted to migrants by flouting the rules, are yet to hit the streets. So instead of misusing the agitation and vandalising the existing autos, we decided to put the agitation on hold,” said a party leader.
Thackeray, through the statement, asked his cadre not to take the law in their hands by indulging in violence. Many find this ironic, considering Thackeray himself had, on Wednesday, asked the cadre to find new autorickshaws in the city and burn them down. He had alleged the permits to drive these vehicles were being given to migrants, in violation of norms.
Insiders said Thackeray’s move may have been a result of the lack of enthusiasm shown by the cadre. For instance, the first time he announced a violent agitation on the issue of irregularities in toll tax contracts, toll plazas across the state were attacked within hours. This time, only one autorickshaw was set on fire in 36 hours, but the MNS was scared of taking credit.
Thackeray’s stand and his call for violence against migrant autorickshaw drivers also got him flak on the social media, with many demanding action against him.
Another section of the party felt that Thackeray, by issuing such a threat, wanted to build momentum around the party’s campaign, which he plans to kick off on April 8, when the party is organising a rally at Shivaji Park.
A senior leader, close to Thackeray, said it was a mix of reasons that could have probably led to this decision. “The criticism this time was from all quarters, from the media to society in general, social media, etc. Also, a large part of the cadre and workers were not happy with such a diktat. It may have pushed him to call off the agitation,” the leader said.