Before demonetisation, it was the issue of intolerance, which was used by the Opposition to attack the Centre. After actor Aamir Khan inadvertently said that his wife (Kiran Rao) was not feeling safe in the country, the Opposition parties had taken it up to attack the Narendra Modi government. Even writers, economists, artistes took up the issue.
Civic elections in 10 municipal corporations including Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad will be held in the next 30 days, however, political drama started unfolding in the first week of the new year.
On 2 January this year, around 2.30 am, members of the radical outfit Sambhaji Brigade entered Sambhaji Garden maintained by the Pune Municipal Corporation on Jangli Maharaj Road and pulled down the statue of noted Marathi playwright and poet Ram Ganesh Gadkari, and dumped it in the Mutha river. This incident went largely unnoticed with most of the Opposition parties choosing to keep mum on the issue. However, this is not the first time the Sambhaji Brigade was involved in an incident like this. In 2004, its workers vandalised the Bhandarkar Oriental Reserach Institute in Pune. The statue was set up on 23 January, 1962 and inaugurated by well-known writer and journalist Prahlad Keshav Atre.
The group, which has a strong presence in rural Maharashtra, took responsibility for the incident and alleged that the poet had always portrayed Sambhaji Maharaj in a bad light in his works. They alleged that Gadkari's play Raj-Sanyas is an insult to Sambhaji Raje. The group is also one of the organisers of the Maratha Kranti Morcha across Maharashtra.
Pradip Kanse, Harshvardhan Magdum, Swapnil Kale and Ganesh Karle were arrested and later released on bail for their alleged involvement in the incident. The Deccan Gymkhana police, who are investigating the case, have so far failed to ascertain the identity of the mastermind behind the incident.
Interestingly, Swabhimani Sanghtana, which is led by Congress MLA Nitesh Rane, claimed that two of the accused were their workers.
On one hand, Rane had tweeted that those who had removed the statue had nothing to do with the Sambhaji Brigade but were members of the Swabhimani Sanghtana, on the other hand, leaders of the Sambhaji brigade claimed two of the four youths were their workers.
संभाजी उद्यानातील नाटककार राम गणेश गडकरींचा पुतळा हटवण्यात संभाजी ब्रिगेडचा काहीही संबंध नाही..ज्या मर्द मराठ्यांनी केलं त्यांना सलाम!!
— nitesh rane (@NiteshNRane) January 3, 2017
In fact, in a fiery speech made last year, Rane had offered Rs 5 lakh to carry out the act. Recently, he even felicitated the four men accused for vandalising the statue in a ceremony held in Tulapur village, some 40 km from Pune. The programme was held on the eve of the 337th anniversary of Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj’s coronation, and Rane was the chief guest.
Rane is an MLA from Kankavali and the younger son of former chief minister Narayan Rane. He said, “If the BJP comes to power in the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), they would re-install the statue of Gadkari and also also that of Dadaji Kondadeo, the so-called guru of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, which was uprooted by the PMC from Lal Mahal.”
Rane told Firstpost: "I did nothing wrong in the felicitation ceremony. This was for a good cause, an attempt to teach a lesson to those involved in activities like defaming the great leaders of the Maratha community."
He may get implicated for provocation, however, Rane said, "It is the duty of the police to figure out the mastermind. I cannot make any conclusions. If it has taken place because of my speech then I have no regrets. My aim was to make people aware, if people took action because of my speech, then it is a welcome development."
But the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president and former chief minister Ashok Chavan told Firstpost that whatever Rane was his personal opinion and the party does not support the vandalisation of any statue.
Though the Shiv Sena wrote an editorial piece in Saamana on the incident, neither the Congress nor any other party publicly condemned Rane's speech and the incident.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who was in Pune last week, had said, "We do not tolerate such incidents. The four accused have been arrested and mastermind will soon be arrested."
It's been 17 days since the incident, the mastermind is still at large.
A few months back, Congress was crying hoarse about intolerance. The party, however, chose to remain silent on this issue. Is this incident not a case of intolerance?
Updated Date: Jan 19, 2017 18:40 PM