Communal tensions rise in Mumbai as Shiv Sainiks protest desecration of statue

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Communal tensions have risen in Mumbai as the Shiv Sena (which is widely perceived as a Hindutva party) protested against the vandalism of a staute of Meenatai at Shivaji Park. Meenatai was the wife of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray and a social worker. Shiv Sainiks blocked a main-road at Shivaji Park and forced many shops (especially in Sena dominated areas like Dadar and Navi Mumbai) to down their shutters. Reports say a bandh has also been enforced in Andheri. A tourist bus has been torched by the protesters and Sena leader and former Union Minister Manohar Joshi has threatened stringent action against those who hurled mud at Meenatai's statue.

Joshi said that Meenatai, whom the Shiv Sainiks reverently refer to as Maasaheb, was "like a God" to the party and that the insult to her would be invite a strong reaction. He also authorities should arrest the perpetrators of the incident whilst taking adequate measures to avoid the deterioration of the law and order situation in the city. Executive President of the Shiv Sena, and Meenatai's son, Uddhav Thackeray said, "It’s a question of sentiments, the Prophets cartoons sparked off a reaction in India, then if people react to this incident whom are you going to blame?" The activists also attacked a police station near the statue, accusing the police did not do enough to nab the culprits despite the station's proximity to the statue.

The Sainiks also shouted slogans against Samajwadi Party leader Abu Asim Azmi, who they claim incited a mob in the nearby town of Bhiwandi to violence against the police. Two policemen and five members of the minority community lost their lives when law-enforcement's authorities clashed. Muslims were protesting the construction of a police station allegedly on land belonging to a cemetery. The situation was brought under control after the intervention of the Rapid Action Force. DGP Maharashtra, P.S Pasricha said that police in the state were on high alert to prevent communal violence. Police in Mumbai fired tear-gas shells to disperse the crowd in Shivaji Park and two additional battalions have been summoned to control the situation in Dadar.