Papering over their differences and launching a combined offensive on the state government, the Shiv Sena-BJP-RPI alliance as well as the Left on Thursday threatened a Mumbai bandh on August 1 over the issue of providing free homes to mill workers. The government, on its part, plans to act tough and quash any such move.
The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which supported the morcha, though, is unwilling to back the bandh. “The opposition showed its strength by bringing out a morcha. Now, we should make the government move on the issue. This can be done in the legislature as well as the budget session. It is pointless to bring the city to a halt and put Mumbaikars to hardship,” said MNS MLA Nitin Sardesai.
The morcha generated considerable interest in Mumbai as both Sena CEO Uddhav Thackeray and his estranged cousin, MNS chief Raj Thackeray, were slated to join the trek from Byculla to Azad Maidan where the morcha culminated into a public meeting.
However Raj, his MNS activists in tow, briefly joined in and left without addressing the meeting. “I am not here for speeches or photo-ops. I am here to extend my whole-hearted support to mill workers who are fighting for their legitimate demand,” the MNS chief told mediapersons.
Addressing mill workers at Azad Maidan, Uddhav Thackeray said the state government should come up with a concrete package to provide free homes to mill hands over the next three days, failing which the opposition will go ahead with a bandh call on August 1 — the 91st death anniversary of Lokmanya Tilak. Lokmanya had a large following among Mumbai’s mill workers in pre-Independence India.
Earlier, thousands of mill workers marched through the arterial Byculla-J J Hospital-Mohammad Ali Road stretch in a show of strength. The scene was straight out of 1960s when Mumbai was seen as the centre of labour movement. Several mill workers came from Konkan or western Maharashtra where they migrated after the 1982 textile strike petered off and mills began to shut. The morcha brought the fractious textile unions of Mumbai on a common platform.
“Chawls in central Mumbai have been replaced by malls. The state government should provide us with a roof over our heads,” said Anusuya Pednekar, wife of a mill hand from Lower Parel.
Later, addressing the conclave, Uddhav Thackeray told mill workers that they will not get their houses by organizing indefinite fasts or morchas.
Thackeray, Athavale, Vinod Tawde of the BJP and Datta Iswalkar of the Girni Kamgar Sangharsha Samiti recalled the role of the textile workers in the Samyukta Maharashtra agitation of 1950s, which led to the creation of a separate linguistic state for Marathis.
Noted actor Nana Patekar spoke at the meeting and urged the Maharashtra government to provide homes to the dispossessed mill workers. “I have grown up in the BDD chawls. I am one of you, even if I may be earning a few pennies more than you,” Patekar said.
By reviving the legend of ‘Girangaon’, the once prosperous, fabled textile hub of Mumbai, and sinking their party differences, the Sena-BJP-MNS-RPI-Left parties plan to project a united opposition front ahead of the 2012 BMC elections. The Samyukta Maharashtra narrative also speaks of a grand opposition alliance against the then undivided Congress, say political observers. However, much depends on MNS, which is unwilling to let the Sena set the agenda for the opposition.