When constable Pramod Tawde handed a yellow rose to Raj Thackeray at Azad Maidan, he symbolised the angst of the ordinary Mumbaikar. Raj Thackarey with some deft political moves captured the imagination of a city when he held a mega rally on August 21, 2012 in Mumbai. Though many reports suggest that he had garnered the crowds by imposing a fiat on his party leaders, the general sense on that day was of anticipation and a show of strength against the ruling political dispensation for having given up on the city for the sake of the hoodlums.
Even if the crowds were in multitudes Raj Thackarey’s speech was devoid of any fire and brimstone that he is known for. He assiduously kept to the script of the day talking about how the lumpen elements should be brought to justice for attacking the police. When women constabulary was attacked at Azad Maidan during the Raza Academy rally a week ago senior police officers were left on the sidelines to be mute spectators because of police chief Arup Patnaik had given orders not to take action against the culprits, according to Raj Thackeray.
Interestingly, Raj Thackeray’s rally was illegal as the police permission for it was not forthcoming, which also adduced him to bring up the issue during his speech saying that, “for Raza Academy with its dubious past record the police chief had no problem in giving permission. But for holding a protest rally against the violence we have so much of problems”.
Raj’s political manoeuvering also gains significance as many had criticised his silence during 26/11. But even if Raj Thackeray’s mega rally set a cat among the pigeons, the political fallout and its impact on the political fortunes may not be easy to gauge. Raj Thackeray’s popularity has been waning and the last few local body elections have revealed that. even in Mumbai it was becoming increasingly difficult to get votes on the basis of ‘Marathi manoos’ poll plank alone.
BJP-Shiv Sena in the last Mumbai municipal elections proved that they were smooth operators. They may not indulge themselves in a song and dance and political one-upmanship but are astute in bringing succour to people. Also, ‘Marathi manoos’ is a good starting point in political career, but to build a larger base especially in rural Maharashtra where ‘locals-versus-outsiders’ is a non-issue, Raj Thackeray might have to enlarge the canvas sooner than later, and he might already be doing it by holding this mega rally which had nothing to do with his usual ‘Marathi manoos’ rhetoric.
Also, the fact that Mumbai police have been forced by the state government to look the other way when rioters go berserk is not new. After the Mumbai riots on November 30, 2006 when five coaches of Deccan Queen were burnt down by Dalit protestors, newspapers carried headline stories of how the police turned a nelson’s eye as rioters vandalised middle class colonies and took away TV sets and other household goods.
Though the political leaders have to take the blame for the Raza Academy fiasco, it is unfair to blame the police for its actions, or the lack of it, as the orders are followed top-down. But for the 40,000 MNS workers who gathered to listen to their leader at Azad Maidan these political niceties are inconsequential. Just as constable Pramod Tawde when asked about the disciplinary action against him for handing a rose to Raj Thackeray at the rally, said, “I don’t care”.