‘Should we hold rallies on roads?’
In Maharashtra, it is said that the ultimate test of political strength is whether you can fill up Shivaji Park for a rally. The 27.91-acre ground, the largest open space in South Central Mumbai, with a capacity of one lakh, has been at the centre of state politics. Three parties — the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) — were launched here.
Wednesday’s Bombay High Court interim order, directing that the state ban loudspeakers at the park, could end this long history of political meetings.
Politicians across party lines are unhappy and are likely to push the government to approach the Supreme Court if required. “The government will study the order and take a decision,” said Law and Judiciary Minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil
“I respect the order, but... grounds like Shivaji Park and Azad Maidan are central to people’s movements, rallies, protests — all important in a democracy,” said Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal. “Where should rallies be held then — on the roads?”
Congress spokesman Hussain Dalwai said it was likely that the civic body had not presented all the facts in court. “I don’t think a couple of meetings can disturb local residents to this extent. Is the park only for them or for all of Mumbai?” said Dalwai.
Mayor Shraddha Jadhav also said the civic body would request a rethink.
The Sena has been holding its annual Dassera rally at Shivaji Park for the past 45 years. Addressed by party chief Bal Thackeray, it has always had a monumental response. “Shivaji Park has been part of people’s movements for 45 years. Our rally is more a cultural event than a political one,” said Sena spokesman and MP Sanjay Raut.
MNS chief Raj Thackeray’s response was typical: “There are so many silence zones, it’s difficult to hold a political function anywhere... The court should tell us where to hold them.”
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vinod Tawde pointed out that, in a democracy, it was vital that grounds like Shivaji Park were kept open for rallies. “We will study the order and see what can be done. But, to bar political rallies — there won’t be more than five to seven a year — is unfair,” said Tawde.