It is time to ask who gave Raj Thackeray the chance to fulminate against Biharis in Mumbai.
Answer: The Bihar Police.
Everyone is now pouncing on the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s founder-chief for being parochial, divisive and anti-Bihari among other things, and other politicians have swung into action painting Raj Thackeray an anti-national. But because Indian politics is not substantive and confined to statements, he is easy meat.
The Bihar police objected to Abdul Quadir being nabbed from Sitamarhi in Bihar, even as he was trying to flee to Nepal, after he got wise to the fact that he was caught on camera while vandalising a memorial near CST and Azad Maidan on 11 August. He had no alibis.
However, the top brass of Bihar Police wrote with uncharacteristic speed to Mumbai Police Commissioner that the arrest was illegal, and if such actions were to persist, then legal action would ensue. It was fair enough to demand that proper procedures be followed. But Nitish Kumar may perhaps want to have a quiet word with his police chief for adding to the insecurity of the Biharis in Mumbai by threatening legal action.
Where the Bihar Police erred was in picking up the wrong case to illustrate illegalities in the process of arrests and transporting a suspect or a criminal. By picking this particular case, Bihar has given the distinct impression that it was protecting Abdul Quadir. If his arrest was indeed illegal, then they could have asked for his return.
Fortunately, they did not do so. Had it reached that stage, the situation would have worsened. Biharis would perhaps have been targeted by the MNS cadre and all hell might have broken loose in Mumbai. But this does not mean that the illegalities in the case have to be countenanced.
Normally, when a police of a particular state go to pick up a wanted person after a chase or a tip-off, the procedure is to inform the local police, and then bring the person in. Should the travel time exceed 24 hours, then a local magistrate has to be approached for a transit remand, till the person is produced before a magistrate of the place the case is registered.
But as with everything else, the upholders of law do not follow the law. They follow their own ready and rough methods, like third degree torture, to get their results. They normally go after the man, even take the local police’s help, nab and bring him over, all unofficially. Local magistrates do not even ask if the man was picked up within the previous 24 hours and whether a transit remand was secured.
No government, much less Bihar, even under Nitish Kumar, acts with such lightning speed in faulting another when both are known to be creative in their work – detentions without arrests, false cases, corruption et al. Governments are loath show speed for whatever their reasons and inertia being a characteristic, the haste is a giveaway.
If Bihar, or for that matter any other state government, had ever responded likewise to several thousands of arrests of similar kind where a raiding party from another state comes in and picks up a person, then we don’t know about it. It is unlikely that such objections are routine and the Bihar letter was leaked out.
In this extant case, the entire spectrum of politicians walked into Raj Thackeray’s trap. He had only said that if Bihar police were to present hurdles – the 'if’ was a big one – then he would term every Bihari an intruder in Mumbai and have them hounded out. There was a lot of rhetoric in that, just like every politician spouts.
But Raj, his cousin Uddhav and uncle, Bal Thackeray seem to be taken quite seriously at face value, while others are seen as masters of the world of rhetoric and playing to the gallery. And while other politicians find it difficult to whip their cadres into action, for the Thackerays it is their strength.
The stupidity of sending the ill-timed letter on this subject has triggered a full-throated war that has allowed Raj Thackeray to return to his old platform of targetting migrants to Mumbai. But not only has he renewed his campaign, he has had his estranged cousin and uncle rush in to his support as well. Their pet theme is back in vogue.
Raj Thackeray raising the ante by threatening to dub every Bihari an intruder and pack them off to their home state is reprehensible. It smacks of the same attitude which his uncle displayed in 1995-96 when he threatened his own party-led government that if it did not send back Bangladeshi immigrants, his cadre would ferret them out.
Having said that, one point where Raj Thackeray did score was his view about the distortion by the media where breaking news of no, or only transient, substance is incessantly flashed across news television channels. Hindi news channels have the ability to play up an issue, especially because their audience is the Hindi heartland.
As soon as the ‘breaking news’ mode pushed up the ante by the minute, the Bihar Chief Minister had to get into the act, reassuring former state residents that he would not tolerate Thackeray's statements. As expected it was pure grandstanding, for television, much like most political statements are. He played to the Hindi gallery and Thackeray to his.
However, Manish Tewari, Congress’s motor-mouth spokesperson, uncharacteristically put the finger on the nub this time. These things gain prominence, he said, “because you (television news channels) keep them in headlines”. That is as sound an interpretation as it can get. Tewari did not speak a word about distortions.
Earlier, when Thackeray spoke about migrants and their pride in their states of origin being more given more importance than the pride in being a Marathi manoos, it was twisted out of shape by television news channels. Unfortunately his rebuttal of the mischievous newscasts in the televised press conference from Pune, did not bring the issue to the correct perspective.