Police in Mumbai have arrested Raj Thackeray, a controversial right-wing leader, sparking widespread protests and stoking communal tensions in India's financial capital. In the wake of the arrest on Tuesday, security was tightened across Mumbai (Bombay). This is the second time in eight months that Mr. Thackeray has been detained for pushing an anti-immigrant agenda.
Thackeray, the chief of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), was taken into custody after members of his party attacked job candidates from North Indian states, reports ZeeNews, an Indian news group.
Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, reacting to Raj's arrest, said the police have arrested an individual who had taken the law into his own hands.
"There was no pressure from the Centre [national government] and we will now strictly follow the legal procedure," he said.
Deputy Chief Minister R. R. Patil said the state government by arresting Thackeray had shown that "he was not above the law".
Thackeray appeared in a Mumbai court on Tuesday to face charges. The city police, meanwhile, issued a gag order against the MNS chief, preventing him from addressing the press or the public or leading a public procession for the next two months, reports The Times of India, a national Indian newspaper.
Thackeray's party has previously been accused of attacking migrant workers from North India in Mumbai and he was briefly arrested in February of this year for inciting communal tensions. The MNS agitates for more jobs for locals in the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, and protests against the presence of migrants who arrive in search of work from northern states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, two of India's poorest states, reports Reuters.
Many shops and commercial establishments, especially those run or managed by non-Maharashtrians, chose not to open at all to avoid trouble....
While in some areas, buses, taxis and autorickshaws were set on fire, in others areas public transport just stayed off the roads causing great inconvenience to people....
The office of the state Congress spokesperson Sanjay Nirupam was also vandalised.
The Times of India reports that more than 150 MNS activists were also detained outside the Bandra Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Mumbai, where they had gathered to protest Thackeray's arrest.
According to ZeeNews, sporadic incidents of violence were also reported from across the state of Maharashtra.
MNS activists burnt a toll booth in Mulund while two buses were damaged in Bhiwandi. Violence was also reported from Nasik, Thane, Virle, Parle, Juhu, Jogeshwari and Pune.
According to reports, about 350 taxis have also been damaged in the violence that followed shortly after [Thackeray] was arrested.
In a text message to various media professionals, the MNS described Thackeray's arrest as a "shame," reports the Indian Express, an Indian daily.
"It is a shame on our government who do not utter anything favouring Marathi people... They are not prompt and keen enough for Maharashtrians," MNS said in a SMS sent to the media.
Meanwhile, in northern India, news of Thackeray's arrest has prompted celebrations. In the northern state of Bihar, for example, people distributed sweets and lit firecrackers in a public show against the MNS leader's anti-immigrant actions, reports The Times of India.
On Monday, the Lok Sabha, India's parliament, witnessed an outcry against Sunday's attacks by MNS activists, reports The Hindu, a leading Indian daily.
Several political parties called for the MNS to be banned and criticized the center and state government for failing to take prompt action.
Members of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party demanded a ban on the MNS and the Centre's intervention under Article 355 to ensure the safety of life and property of north Indians in Maharashtra....
Raising the matter, Devendra Prasad Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal said there was a sense of insecurity among the north Indians following these attacks, particularly because such incidents had been happening off and on. These fundamentalist groups were bent upon dividing the country on the basis of language and region, he said, adding that the State government had failed to prevent such attacks and sought the Centre's intervention in banning the organisation.
Thackeray is the nephew of Bal Thackeray, the founder of the right-wing Hindu Shiv Sena party. According to the BBC, the Shiv Sena has long advocated for the rights of ethnic Marathis – people who can trace their origins to the state of Maharashtra.
In December 2005, Raj Thackeray left the Shiv Sena, forming MNS in March 2006. Recently, the MNS has been more militant about championing its anti-immigrant agenda than the Shiv Sena. Thackeray has also resorted to other tactics to ensure the rights of ethnic Marathis, reports the BBC.
Recently Mr. Thackeray's party protested against Jet Airways, India's largest private airline, after it announced that it was laying off 1,900 employees to cut costs.
The airlines later reinstated their employees, though it was not clear whether Mr. Thackeray's protests had anything to do with the decision.
Mr. Thackeray also accused Jaya Bachchan, wife of Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan, of making comments which promoted Hindi over the local Marathi language and threatened to block the release of her husband's new film.
The row was resolved after Mr. Bachchan offered an apology on his wife's behalf.