Mumbai : Under fire for attacks on non-Maharashtrians by his supporters, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray Friday softened his stand and said he was not opposed to religious celebrations like Chhat Puja as long as they were not politicised.
Addressing the media for the first time after his arrest last week and a spate of incidents against non-Maharashtrians in the city and the rest of Maharashtra, Thackeray said religious gatherings like Chhat Puja should not be reduced to “political tamashas”.
Chhat Puja is to be observed at different venues in Mumbai next Tuesday. However, a fortnight-long violent campaign against north Indians carried out by the MNS had raised a question mark over the celebrations.
Thackeray said Chhat Puja was not a festival of Maharashtra but of Bihar and Biharis living here were free to celebrate it in their own manner without reducing it to a “political tamasha”.
At the same time, the MNS chief reiterated that nothing would deter him from espousing the cause of Maharashtrians.
Responding to a query about demands for his arrest under the National Security Act (NSA), Thackeray, quoting a newspaper report, said during Railway Minister Lalu Prasad’s reign as Bihar chief minister, there were a total of 1,200 murders committed in the state, “but nobody demanded that action should be taken against him”.
He said there had been similar protests against north Indians in Assam, Manipur, Karnataka and Goa, but action has never been initiated against anybody.
“It is only when I speak for the cause of Marathis that there is a hue and cry everywhere and the matter goes up to the prime minister’s level,” Thackeray said.
He attributed this state of affairs to the “lack of unity” among the state’s political leaders on this issue, unlike leaders from north Indian states.
“I have no expectations from (Chief Minister) Vilasrao Deshmukh who is surviving on crumbs from Delhi. But sadly, even the 48 parliamentarians from Maharashtra do not espouse the cause of the state,” said Thackeray.
Thackeray has been roundly criticised for the violence against non-Maharashtrians. A youth from Bihar was killed nearly a fortnight ago when MNS activists disrupted a railway recruitment examination in Mumbai. Earlier this week, a labourer from Uttar Pradesh was lynched on a commuter train.
The violence has even led to the prime minister rapping Maharashtra’s Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government.
Even as Thackeray sent out a positive signal on Chhat Puja, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) imposed a ban on putting up political posters at Chhat Puja venues, especially at Juhu Beach, where the main function will be held.