Hawkers paid back Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) workers in their own coin by beating them up on Saturday. Around 15 party workers, led by local divisional chief Sushant Malavade, had gone to the Malad Railway station to check for encroachment, when they were attacked by around 100 hawkers with rods and sticks when they tried to evacuate them, said police.
“They were lying in wait; the attack was premeditated,” an MNS functionary said. He charged that the retaliation had taken place after Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam held a public meeting at Malad with the hawkers on Saturday.
“The clash took place around 3.15 pm and four MNS workers were injured,” said a police officer. “While one of them suffered a fracture on the head, three others sustained minor injuries and were admitted at Janvi Hospital in Malad (W). At least four attackers have been detained and we are in the process of registering a case of rioting in the matter.”
Since October 15, the Raj Thackeray-led party has been evacuating and attacking hawkers from outside suburban railway stations as a part of drive against illegal vendors after last month’s stampede at Elphinstone Road railway station that claimed 23 lives.
This is the first time that the MNS, which has attacked migrants, hawkers and job seekers from northern states in the past, has been at the receiving end of such public ire.
In response, MNS leaders said the party would intensify it’s campaign against illegal hawking around railway stations.
MNS leaders such as Nitin Sardesai, Sandeep Deshpande and Nayan Kadam rushed to the police station and hospital, where Malavade – who was injured – has been admitted. “Later, around 300 of us went back to Malad station and attacked the remaining hawkers and drove them away,” an MNS leader said. Thackeray is likely to visit Malavade today.
Nirupam, reacting to the attack, said, “We have conducted rallies to support hawkers and MNS party workers should stop assaulting them. Hawkers retaliated in self-defence, which is their right. The Chief Minister should look into the issue and give justice to North Indians who are suffering due to MNS. The police should ensure that there is peace in the region.”
MNS activists have attacked hawkers from outside Thane, Kalyan, Vasai, Nallasopara and Wadala railway stations after the Railway administration did not heed Thackeray’s “ultimatum” to evict encroachers.
After the stampede at the Elphinstone Road Railway station on September 29 which killed 23 people, Thackeray had organised a morcha to the Western Railway headquarters at Churchgate and given the Railways a 15-day deadline to remove hawkers from stations, foot-over-bridges and railway premises. He said this would make stations safer and easier to access for commuters.
In 2008, Raj had begun his anti-migrant, anti-outsider campaign by targeting hawkers from Northern states and his party workers had also assaulted students from other states visiting Mumbai for a Railways recruitment examination. Raj alleged that the influx of outsiders deprived local Maharashtrian youth of employment opportunities and that the Railway recruitment process was biased in favour of candidates from north India.
However, MNS leaders said they were demanding action against hawkers regardless of whether they were Maharashtrians or non-Maharashtrians.
Meanwhile, Malad police said that it has detained some hawkers and MNS workers while heavy police presence has been deployed outside railway stations in the city.
Deepak Deoraj, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) and spokesperson for Mumbai Police, said, “We are in the process of registering the FIR and will book both parties for rioting and assault.”