And as the Diwali festival coming to end, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and its Supremo Raj Thackeray are at their old and time-proven game once again – their own trick of ‘Khatyal…Khatt’. On the last day of Diwali, on Saturday morning, the MNS workers in Thane, next big city of the State, on the outskirts of the Mumbai Metropolis, woke up to live up to their own reputation and reached the Thane Railway Station to clear the platforms and roads approaching the station from the road-side hawkers.
As a couple of hawkers doing business on the pavements and on platforms were ransacked beaten up by a dozen ‘active’ volunteers armed with sticks, the area was cleared up in no time. By the time, TV cameras of local and national channels emerged on the spot and the news spread all over.
Raj Thackeray and his men, thus, the Round One as they preempted the Shiv Sena from taking any credit for fighting for providing road pavements and railway platforms free from the nuisance of unauthorised hawkers.
Raj’s ‘Show of Strength’
After the Elphinsone Road Railway foot-over-bridge stampede tragedy that took lives of 23 innocent people, Raj had led a huge morcha of his followers to Western Railway Headquarters at Churchgate. The size of the morcha taken out with a notice of just a couple of days, was unexpectedly huge than the expectations of media and his opponents. He held discussion with General Managers of Western and Central Railways and their officers. While addressing the gathering later, Raj had made his plan public that had the Railways authorities fail to free the platforms from unauthorised hawkers within the next 15 days, his men would do the job and it would be solely the responsibility of the authorities to face the music. The 15-day notice period ended on Friday and thus the ‘action’ began on Saturday.
Raj has his own style of functioning that is unlike many other leaders and organisations. He does not believe in continuing with legitimate ways and methods of agitation beyond a point. Like his uncle, the Shiv Sena founder, Balasaheb Thackeray, Raj does not mind taking law in his own hand.
This is not the first time, when Raj tried to resolve issues of public concern by organising violent agitations, those often went out of hand. However, Raj does not mind that type of scenario. He has gone on record more than once in public that if the government and the authorities do not act in time, the purpose is lost. Thus, there is no point in waiting for the government to act. ‘If you don’t shape in, ship out’, he threatens.
Here also he has acted in his own style. There is no room for argument that the presence of illegal hawkers on platforms and roadside pavements often create undue hurdles in the movement of vehicular traffic and pedestrians. There has been hue and cry about their nuisance.
There have been unfortunate occasions when people are killed or injured during rush hours due to congestion on the roads, thanks to the adamant hawkers who do not budge a bit even after people’s protests or police action. Municipal vehicles and railway police do act time and again and pick up the goods of the hawkers and clear the area. However, the general observation is that the hawkers return to their spots in no time. This happens not without their nexus with local politicians and authorities. The hawkers organisations are strong and they do not mind bribing the local political forces and authorities. In this situation, the general belief in the public is that they work hand in glove and in this situation, there is no point in keeping fighting against them.
Hawkers’ organisations argue that the Constitution of India has provided a fundamental right to all Indians to earn their living-hood. Since hawking on the road-side or on railway platforms is their instrument to earn their bread and butter that can’t be snatched or negated by any force or authorities. Often the courts of law have adjudged in favour of hawkers on Constitution point. In this situation, citizens’ sympathy and support is likely to be in favour of Raj’s actions. This is because people do believe that it is difficult if not impossible to get solace from the judiciary.
Thus, they believe, this action that is apparently ‘unlawful’ is acceptable. Had Raj launched this agitation at Dadar or any other Railway station in Mumbai, the Shiv Sena would have immediately started similar action at Thane, the bastion of all powerful Eknath Shinde, the stang Sena leader from that area, would have put up a bigger show and thus removed winds from MNS sail. Raj intelligently preempted such an eventuality. Now no one else but the MNS and Raj themselves can stake claim on this action.
Having said this, there are two riders in the matter. The recent history records of the MNS and Raj show that no agitation initiated by them have been taken to their logical end.
Raj, with a great fanfare had launched agitation against road toll of the Government. Hundreds of MNS followers gathered near various toll plazas in the state, ransacked some of them, beat up the personnel and gathered big headlines.
What next? Nothing. He initiated agitation for shop bill-boards in Marathi language. English language bill boards were damaged and removed forcefully. Nothing changed but the agitation quelled. He gave a call to agitate against some English medium schools. Everything remains unabated.
The question that citizens and his own followers ask now is, Will Raj take the agitation against unlawful agitation to its logical end and free the city Railway stations and pavement from encroachment of hawkers? The answer to this question lies only with Raj.
The author is a poltical analyst and a Member of Parliament.