People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 35

September 02, 2012



Threat of Divisive Forces in Maharashtra


Mahendra Singh


THE violence that erupted during the rally staged in downtown Azad Maidan in South Mumbai, was the focus of attention in electronic media on August 11 afternoon and in print media on August 12. The rally was in response a call by Raza Academy, a Sunni Barelvi Muslim fundamentalist organisation, and about a dozen other Muslim organisations and NGOs to protest against the killing of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar. The permission for the rally was obtained by an organisation called Dinat-ul-Elam Foundation, set up about six months ago and led by a person who is linked to the Nationalist Congress Party.


Though the organisations reported an estimated participation of about 1,500; media reports said about 15,000 to 20,000 participated in the rally. An overwhelming majority were in the 18 to 30 age-group; school going children were also conspicuous. It started at about 1.00 p m. The space allotted for the rally could accommodate about 5,000 participants. The organisers claimed that the rally was organised to offer prayers for peace and seek blessings for the riot victims. The allotted space being inadequate, the participants spilled over on the road opposite the Azad Maidan. They had come from various parts of Mumbai including distant suburbs, Bhiwandi, Mumbra, etc. A large number could not enter the maidan and it is alleged that they were not allowed to enter the maidan by the policemen. A section of the rallyists who were outside the maidan, became violent after the rally was in progress for about two hours. They threw stones and chappals at the policemen, attacked the media persons, set on fire the outdoor broadcasting (OB) vans, damaged 12 and torched 3 police vans, extensively damaged 49 and partially burnt one public transport bus.


There were a number of moulavis and the additional commissioner of police, Krishna Prasad, on the dais and addressed the rally; some moulavis made provocative speeches. As soon as the violence broke out, Mumbai police commissioner, Arup Patnaik, rushed to the Azad Maidan, manoeuvred to climb the dais and persuaded the moulavis to appeal for peace and control the mob.


The violence lasted about one hour. The police resorted to lathicharge and firing to control and disperse the participants. In all, 53 persons were injured, of whom 45 were policemen; two persons died; 5 policewomen were molested; the rioters also damaged the monument of 1857 martyrs. The violence enraged all political parties, various other organisations, Muslim organisations, prominent personalities, while the organisers --- the Raza Academy --- sharply condemned it, tendered public apology, and demanded punishment to the culprits, i.e. the Hindutva organisations, BJP, SS and MNS, who exploited the situations to incite communal tension and disturb peace, though they failed.


MNS chief Raj Thackeray targeted the state home minister R R Patil and accused him of engaging in vote bank politics by appeasing the Muslims and migrants at the cost of law and order and of the security and safety of citizens and police force. BJP MLC Vinod Tavde, leader of opposition in Vidhan Parishad, venomously attacked the Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik for not dealing harshly with the rioters and demanded his suspension. He also targeted the home minister, R R Patil, and demanded his resignation. Next day a BJP delegation led by him and the state BJP chief Sudhir Munguntivar called on the chief minister Prithiviraj Chavan. Not to be left behind, Raj Thackeray also demanded   Arup Patnaik’s and Patil’s resignation.


The CPI(M)’s Mumbai Committee  condemned the violence and appealed to the people to maintain calm and not to fall prey to attempts of vested interests to disturb, peace and social harmony. This violence was exploited by vested interests to create fear among people of the north east region by misusing the social network sites, which led to their large scale exodus from various parts of the country.


The perpetrators of the violence had expected communal tension, but there was no tension even in localities from where large number of persons had participated in the rally. The BJP, Shiv Sena and MNS, however, continued their attempts to incite tension. On August 18, BJP organised a protest march from Vasudeo Balwant Phadke Chowk to Azad Maidan but it did not receive much response.


Raj Thackeray announced a protest march from Girgaon Chaupaty to Azad Maidan on August 21, the next day after the Eid. He made vigorous preparations to make a show of strength; repeatedly addressed the policemen claiming that he would not tolerate any assault on the march, and demanded R R Patil’s and Arup Patnaik’s resignations. The police gave him permission for the rally at Azad Maidan but refused permission for the march. Raj Thackeray talked to Prithviraj Chavan on phone and probably struck a deal with him. Defying the ban, Raj Thackeray led a march, with about 45,000 participants, from Girgaon Chaupaty to Azad Maidan; delivered a highly provocative speech at the rally, spitting venom against the Muslims alleging that the August 11 rioters were overwhelmingly Bangladeshis, plus those who had come from UP, Bihar and Jharkhand and settled in Maharashtra but have no stakes in Maharashtra, plus Pakistanis. He denied the charges that he was shifting towards the Hindutva platform, saying that he knew only one dharma, viz the Maharashtra dharma. He also attempted to incite hatred among dalits against Muslims by condemning dalit leaders like Mayavati, Ramdas Athawale, Prakash Ambedkar etc for keeping mum when Muslim protestors defaced the Buddha’s statue in Lucknow a few days ago. He again attacked Arup Patnaik and R R Patil, and said they should resign.


The Congress-NCP state government succumbed to Raj Thackeray’s threat; removed Arup Patnaik from the position of Mumbai’s police commissioner on August 23 and, to cover up the surrender, claimed that he had been promoted as the director      general of police, a decision that was pending for more than a month. A section of Congress leadership is displeased with this action which has boosted the morale of the BJP, MNS and SS. Muslim organisations and the Urdu press criticised the action.


Arup Patnaik’s removal has once again showed that the Congress lacks courage to take on the communal and chauvinist forces. At the back of this action is also the narrow political interest of the Congress --- of keeping itself in power somehow, even at the cost of national unity and secularism. Currently, there is intense bickering between the Congress and the NCP. To save himself, R  R Patil obliged Raj Thackeray by recommending Arup Patnaik’s removal. For the last one month or so, there is thaw in the MNS-SS relationship. The BJP is keen on getting the MNS on the BJP-SS-RPI bandwagon.


The participation of Muslim youth of age-group 18-30 and also of school students in the August 11 protest rally in overwhelmingly large numbers is an indicator of the deep sense of discrimination and injustice prevailing among them and the vulnerability of this section to fundamentalist propaganda. It has been revealed that the large scale incitement was conducted by fake video clippings of atrocities in Assam and Myanmar. This indicates the threat posed by misuse of social networks. The massive response received by the Raj Thackeray’s led march indicates immense capacity of the Hindutva communalists to mislead the masses on to the path of        communal and social hatred. The Mumbai episode is also a warning to the Left and democratic forces that they need to come forward to effectively expose these forces ideologically and politically, forge broadbased powerful mass movements against the anti-people policies of the UPA government and also of the state governments of the Congress as well as of the communal and chauvinist forces who are out to misdirect the mass discontent into divisive channels. The Left cannot afford to be complacent.