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Maharashtra government let protesters run their course, to avoid worse

The BJP-led government says its strategy was to refrain from harsh action as use of force could have led to sustained tensions

mumbai Updated: Jan 04, 2018 16:30 IST
Mumbai,Maharashtra,mumbai protests
Protestors block the road at Saki Naka on Wednesday.(HT PHOTO)

Even as the protesters brought the city to a standstill on Wednesday, the state government did not end up looking too foolish by the end of the day, as it averted further flare-up of violence during the agitation.

After underestimating the Dalit protests a day earlier and missing ground intelligence on the Bhima-Koregaon bicentennial celebrations in Pune, the state got some things right albeit late as Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and other parts of Maharashtra shut down.

Despite the preparations by the police, the average Mumbaiite suffered, as all three lines of the suburban railway were halted post noon for three hours, and arterial roads were blocked since morning.

So was the government purposely lenient with the agitators?

The police cover in the city– on the roads as well as railway stations – was more than sufficient, but the orders to the men in uniform were to not push back unless agitations got too violent.

“We wanted the agitation to blow over. Even one firing leading to an injury would have escalated the agitation. Our government’s intention is very clear as the CM announced a judicial probe by a sitting high court judge in the Bhima Koregaon incident. This seems to be a game by the Opposition, especially the Nationalist Congress Party, as a follow up to the Maratha agitations,’’ said a BJP minister.

The state BJP’s senior leadership feels there is a systematic attempt to replicate the Gujarat model of discontent and caste mobilisation in Maharashtra ahead of the 2019 polls, and the current agitation is an attempt towards this. “Political bosses are of the opinion that there are vested interests involved in the entire development, as they want communal tension between communities to prevail,” said an official from the home department.

The official said that had the police handled the protest in their routine way from very beginning, it would have been very easy for them to contain it in minutes, but it would have led to sharp reactions from the other end.

“It was our strategy to maintain restraint from any harsh action against the protesters. One should understand the background in which the bandh was announced, use of little force could have triggered communal tension, which we were trying to avoid,” minister of state for home Deepak Kesarkar told HT.

Sources said that CM Devendra Fadnavis, who heads the home department, had held talks with Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar to ensure that the agitation remained peaceful and that it would be withdrawn by the day end. Home department sources claimed that Ambedkar had also given a list of potential mischief makers, who were picked up before the bandh on Wednesday morning. But, the surprise element on Wednesday was the spontaneous support by Dalits to the bandh in the city.

There is a reason for exercising caution. For the Fadnavis-led government, the new Dalit uprising in the state, a follow up to the Maratha protests, will be a challenge given that the two main instigators in Bhima Koregaon violence are well known Hindutva activists. While Milind Ekbote was a former BJP corporator and Sena’s candidate in the 2014 assembly polls, Sambhaji Bhide,is a rabble rouser and a follower of Maratha king Shivaji. In the run up to the 2014 polls, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had tried to woo Bhide, who has sway in western Maharashtra districts of Sangli, Satara. Ekbote has denied any connection to this violence.

First Published: Jan 04, 2018 16:30 IST