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Rally ban before Modi comes calling

Mumbai, July 16: The state government has banned all political rallies in Maharashtra for the next 30 days but would not confirm if the decision was taken with Narendra Modi’s impending Mumbai visit in mind.

The Gujarat chief minister, known to make strong statements on communal issues, is scheduled to address a BJP anti-terrorism meeting here tomorrow.

The rally ban reportedly came after a meeting between chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and police commissioner Anami Roy on Friday, one day after the state BJP announced Modi’s participation in the anti-terrorism meeting.

“The ban is aimed at all political parties, not the BJP or Shiv Sena in particular. Even the Congress, NCP and Samajwadi party, or for that matter any other party, will not be allowed to hold public rallies,” Roy said. “We don’t want any provocative statements against any community that may inflame passions and lead to a communal flashpoint.”

The BJP says the ban will not affect the meeting. “The meeting will be held at the Shanmukhananda Hall in Matunga. That certainly can’t be called a public rally,” said state BJP spokesman Vinod Tawde.

He, however, wouldn’t say if the decision to hold the meeting indoors was taken following the ban on public rallies.

“We are going ahead with the rally and Modi will address it,” senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde confirmed.

An undercurrent of communal tension is already running through the city amid allegations of police harassment of Muslims after the blasts. Samajwadi Party leader Abu Asim Azmi has raised the temperature by demanding a ban on Modi’s entry and has promised to gherao him with his supporters on Monday.

Modi, widely accused of allowing the 2002 Gujarat riots to happen, has been indirectly linked to the Mumbai blasts with the probe throwing up the name of the underground Gujarat Revenge Group.

The BJP and the state government, however, are trying to debunk the revenge theory.

A slew of SMS-es from the BJP’s publicity wing is doing the rounds saying the planting of the bombs in first-class compartments didn’t necessarily mean the terrorists had targeted the well-to-do Gujarati community, which suffered the highest casualties.

While Modi addresses the Mumbai meeting, party president Rajnath Singh will address a similar but low-profile programme in Nagpur.

“There is certainly a feeling in the Maharashtra unit of the party that there is a need for promoting the Hindutva ideology now,” a state BJP leader said. “There is a feeling in the party even at the national level that Modi should have a much bigger role in national politics in the days to come.”

“Modi’s Mumbai visit was decided before the June 11 blasts,” Tawde explained. “He was to be here anyway to promote investments in Gujarat. But being a national leader, it is only natural that after such a huge terrorist attack, he will put forth his views on it during the meeting.”

A. Ashtaputra, spokesman for the chief minister’s office, said: “There is a tremendous effort by everyone in this city ' from the common citizen to religious and social groups to the authorities ' to keep communal tension at bay. The chief minister hopes Modi will not make any provocative statements.”

Crime bill consent

Modi has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to secure the President’s consent at the earliest for the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Bill pending with the Centre for more than two years, a senior official said today. He wrote the letter after the Mumbai blasts, Gujarat home secretary K.C. Kapoor said.

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