Mumbai: The same Azad Maidan that bore a deserted look during an agitation by Team Anna a month ago was on Tuesday packed to capacity. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray was on stage, spreading his political net wider. Despite restrictions imposed, cops say 63,000 had gathered – 43,000 inside the ground and 20,000 in the vicinity. Raj supporters claimed the number was close to a lakh.
His speech was short, barely lasting 20 minutes. Raj lashed out at state home minister RR Patil and city police chief Arup Patnaik, asking for their resignations. He also flayed Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Azmi and RPI (A) chief Ramdas Athawale. He blamed the 'north Indian migrants' to the city as the cause behind the recent tension. But, he made no mention of CM Prithviraj Chavan or the Congress party. He also did not utter a single word about other hot topics such as the recent blasts in Pune and the public anger over government failure to prevent such incidents.
Sources say by doing this, the MNS chief has managed to remain on good terms with the CM. On the other hand with Raj criticising the home department led by NCP's Patil, Congress can successfully direct the public outrage towards its coalition partner. By choosing not to target a particular community and rather putting the blame for the violence on migrants from UP, Bihar and Bangladesh, Raj has tried to reach out to new constituencies.
Most importantly, Raj has won hearts of the entire police force, which has a few lakh personnel. Also, his condemnation of the hostility against the media at Azad Maidan has not gone unnoticed. By launching a sharp attack against RPI (A) on the issue of desecration of Buddha statues in Uttar Pradesh, Raj has won hearts among the younger generation of dalits, which is dissatisfied with its present leadership. At the same time, he has tried to protect his core Marathi vote bank.
Won't quit: Patil
"Raj Thackeray's demand for my resignation was a political one, which I will not accept. The rally was also politically motivated ignoring the fact that his party men led by MLA Harshwardhan Jadhav beat up police personnel at Aurangabad last year," said Home Minister RR Patil.