Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray met Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan at his residence to discuss toll collection issue across the state . Maharshtra CM assured Raj Thackeray of bringing in a new toll policy.
The MNS chief was on Wednesday detained before being released during his party's uncharacteristically peaceful 'Rasta Roko' agitation against toll collection across Maharashtra.
The protest against toll collection in the state came to an abrupt end immediately after the MNS chief was released after a brief detention. The short-lived four-hour agitation raises questions about a noora kushti (fixed wrestling bout) between Raj and the ruling Congress-NCP coalition in the state.
The Shiv Sena and the BJP allege that the MNS is being used by the Congress-NCP government to split anti-incumbency votes just as it did in 2009 when the saffron alliance lost in nine Lok Sabha constituencies because of a vote split. The Sena-BJP alliance called Raj's agitation a “flop show” with scant “public participation”. A senior BJP leader alleged that the state government, which is working on a revised toll policy, could announce some sops to help the MNS score brownie points.
Within 24 hours of rejecting CM Prithviraj Chavan's overtures for talks on the issue of transparency in toll collection, the MNS began its “peaceful agitation”. Though the rasta roko was scheduled to being at 9am, MNS workers got into the act in the wee hours of Wednesday, deflating tyres of heavy vehicles on highways like the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, which led to traffic snarls. In Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur, Nashik and Konkan, highways were jammed. Some workers even offloaded dumpers with sand on highways. Activists also forced shops and establishment to shut down shutters in some places.
Raj and his wife Sharmila left from their Shivaji Park residence around 10am for Vashi where the MNS chief was going to lead the protest. However, additional commissioner of police Pravin Salunkhe intercepted his convoy at Chunabhatti on the Eastern Express Highway half-an-hour later and told MNS legislators Nitin Sardesai and Bala Nandgaonkar accompanying Raj that they could not proceed further due to a possible law and order problem. Nandgaonkar charged that the police was trying to crush the agitation.
The MNS chief then alighted from his silver Mercedes and boarded the police van, which was taken to the RCF police station, despite attempts by party workers to stop it. Raj, Sardesai and Nandgaonkar were detained in the senior inspector's cabin under sections 68 and 69 of the Bombay Police Act.
Sharmila and thousands of MNS workers sat on a dharna outside the police station demanding Raj's release. MLA Pravin Darekar and Shalini Thackeray continued with the protest at Dahisar toll naka while MLA Mangesh Sangle agitated in Vikhroli.
Around 12.45pm, Raj was released after which he announced that the MNS had temporarily suspended the agitation. “I am calling on my colleagues in the MNS to take precautions that there is no violence anywhere,” said Raj, striking a conciliatory tone as against his earlier bombast when he had called a senior cabinet minister a “dacoit”.
After his release, Raj said he got a call from the CM inviting him for a discussion on Thursday morning. “We conducted the rasta roko as promised. Our motive was not to inconvenience people, our motive was bringing this issue to the notice of the government and that has been done,” the MNS chief said. Raj had rejected government overtures on Tuesday evening as previous talks were unfruitful. “Give a time-bound programme like the toll issue will be resolved in 30 days... just discussions have no meaning,” Raj had said. Chavan rejected the possibility of holding talks with pre-conditions.
A senior police officer said Raj was taken to the RCF police station because it was in an isolated location which would have helped contain law and order problems, if any, as well as traffic snarls. It also has a huge compound which can accommodate several people.