Mumbai, March 1: Raj Thackeray seems to have found a political mentor in Marx — Groucho, the Hollywood comedian, that is.
A fiery protest by his party workers here on Wednesday was today labelled by police as mere theatre with props: the cadres had apparently bought a second-hand car themselves and torched it before unsuspecting TV cameras.
Groucho had famously described politics as “the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies”.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) workers had been demonstrating across the state after Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) activists stoned Raj’s convoy in Ahmednagar earlier this week.
On Wednesday, police sources said, four MNS cadres bought a white Maruti 800 from a second-hand car dealer in suburban Kurla for Rs 35,000 and then called up news channels.
When the cameras arrived, they saw rampaging MNS protesters burning the car on LBS Marg in Kurla. After the pictures were telecast, more protests followed around the state.
Mumbai police have lodged an FIR against the four party workers: Mustaki Ahmad Ali Shaikh, Abdul Hussain Shaikh, Asif Ali Murtuja Shaikh and Shanhan Asif Ali Turki. Sources claimed the four spilled the beans before interrogators.
“They are ordinary people engaged in sundry jobs. We don’t know yet where the money (for the car) came from. We are questioning them,” a police spokesperson said.
NCP spokesperson and former minister Nawab Malik had earlier claimed that not only were the MNS protests a sham, “even the attack on Raj Thackeray was orchestrated”.
MNS sources allege that the NCP had targeted Raj for his criticism of Ajit Pawar at a rally in Solapur.
Raj had blamed Ajit for the severe drought in parts of the state, accusing him of failing to check water scarcity despite huge expenditures on irrigation projects. Ajit headed the state’s water resources ministry between 1999 and 2009.
While an NCP lobby led by Ajit’s uncle and party boss Sharad Pawar has dissociated itself from the attack on Raj and asked cadres not to get “provoked”, Ajit has maintained a studied silence.
Over the past week, Mumbai’s political circles have been abuzz with speculation that the Raj-Ajit face-off was a scripted one.
A senior NCP leader today told The Telegraph that at a recent party meeting, Ajit had remarked: “If the media focus is on the MNS, the (Shiv) Sena will keep languishing on the sidelines and this will help our party. We have to find a strategy to keep the MNS in the focus.”
Raj and Ajit, estranged nephews of two of Maharashtra’s biggest mass leaders — Bal Thackeray and Sharad Pawar — see themselves and not their uncles’ offspring as the icons’ true political heirs.
“The two are working together,” is the refrain in Shiv Sena circles and also among NCP leaders close to Sharad Pawar.
Police sources said that under Sharad Pawar’s instructions — state home minister R.R. Patil is from his party — the force was trying to get to the bottom of the “orchestrated political violence by the MNS and a section of the NCP”.
Some MNS leaders who had termed the burning of the car “a spontaneous act” refused to respond to this newspaper’s queries today.