One dead in violence as Raj is arrested – and bailed


Mumbai : Sporadic violence broke out in India’s financial and entertainment capital and elsewhere in Maharashtra Wednesday leaving a bus driver dead after Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray was finally arrested on charges of inciting ethnic unrest.

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Thackeray was taken to a court in Mumbai and sent to judicial custody till Feb 25, immediately after which he applied for bail and got it, defusing tensions somewhat. He then headed out waving to his wildly cheering supporters.

As Thackeray, nephew of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, was taken earlier from his heavily barricaded home in a police van, MNS workers opposed to the presence of “north Indians” — an euphemism for migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — took to the streets in several parts of the sprawling state attacking vehicles and shops.

A bus belonging to the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) was set on fire after being heavily stoned near Nashik town, about 200 km from here, killing the driver instantly.

Authorities identified the dead man as Ambadas Dharrao, an ethnic Maharashtrian who was driving the bus on the Nashik-Mumbai highway. A police officer said a stone hit the back of his head and he died instantly. At least 15 others in the bus were also injured.

Thousands of police and paramilitary personnel had been deployed in Mumbai and key cities in Maharashtra, but determined MNS activists, espousing a ‘Maharashtra for Maharashtrians’ line that the Shiv Sena once strongly espoused, went on the aggression anyway.

In Nashik, about 70 percent of the shops closed down as trouble spread, police and residents said. Similar scenes were reported from parts of Mumbai.

Attacks on passing vehicles and stray incidents of vandalism directed against migrants were also reported from Pune, Raigad, Thane, Beed, Aurangabad and Akola towns.

Despite the unrest, Mumbai Joint Police Commissioner K.L. Prasad told IANS: “The situation is under control. The police are in full strength throughout the city. People should not panic and should not believe in rumours.”

Trouble was confined to parts of central Mumbai and the northern suburbs. Police officials said a truck was set on fire and a bus stoned at Borivali, a bakery was torched at Andheri and a showroom was attacked at Goregaon.

Among other places in Mumbai where localised trouble erupted included Dadar, Shivaji Park, Mahim, Byculla, Jogeshwari, Vikhroli, Malad and Dharavi, which houses Asia’s largest slum.

In most parts of Mumbai, people left their places of work and headed home as news of Thackeray’s arrest spread. “But there is no panic,” a resident said. “Yes, people are apprehensive, that is all.”

South Mumbai, which houses the bulk of the city’s financial institutions, appeared unaffected. Most trains and buses also plied normally.

Trouble had been brewing since Monday when Mumbai Police filed suo motu complaints invoking non-bailable sections of the Indian Penal Code against not only Thackeray but also Abu Asim Azmi of the Samajwadi Party.

Ever since, restive MNS workers had been roaming the streets, launching sporadic attacks against north Indians some of whom left the state fearing violence from a party that had stepped up its campaign against them.

While Thackeray was taken into custody from his residence at Shivaji Park, Dadar at central Mumbai, Azmi was arrested from his home at Colaba, south Mumbai. He also got bail soon after.

Both Thackeray and Azmi have been booked under non-bailable sections for promoting enmity among ethnic groups by using invectives and provocative language over the presence of north Indians in Mumbai.

Thackeray, clad in a white formal shirt below a blue sleeveless sweater, appealed to his party members and activists to maintain calm after his arrest.

While his state teetered on the brink of mayhem, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh spent most of his time in the last few days in his home district Latur preparing for his son’s wedding.

On Wednesday, he justified the arrest, saying the state had to act against Thackeray.

It all started Feb 3 when Thackeray hit out at migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar calling them “outsiders” in Mumbai. This provoked clashes with Samajwadi Party supporters led by Azmi.