Low tolerance of any criticism of govt rampant across Maharashtra
Mumbai: Akin to many other states, Maharashtra has also experienced low tolerance of criticism of the current ruling coalition led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, as a few incidents indicate.
In such cases, slamming the government is met with a strong reaction from the powers-that-be – by way of police cases, arrests, occasional assaults, long-winded litigation or more.
The Shinde government faced severe flak from the Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), right from the beginning with open jibes at the alleged ‘Khokha’ campaign that had given sleepless nights to many in the ruling dispensation.
Ruling Shiv Sena leaders were greeted with taunts of ’50 Khokha’ (a slang for Rs 50-crore) playing a role to bring down the erstwhile MVA regime of ex-CM Uddhav Thackeray, but it was all at the political level.
At the mass level, the slightest such references evoked furious responses from the ruling side, as a 29-year-old PhD student from Ahmednagar realised the hard way last year.
The doctoral student paid for the criticism – with an arrest and police custody – in his online posts on social media of CM Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis, which were termed as ‘objectionable’ by the law enforcers.
The accused was also found to be misusing the social media to abuse women, female journalists via a WiFi Virtual Private Network to hide his location, but the long-armed sleuths caught up with him.
He was studying at an agricultural university in Rahuri, Ahmednagar, and after locating his whereabouts through tech-intel, the police raided his premises, seized two mobiles, a laptop and detained suspected accomplices.
In April this year, an Ambedkarite rap singer, Raj Mungase of Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar (formerly Aurangabad) faced the ire of the government when he uploaded a new song taking potshots at the Shinde regime.
The rap number made references to the ’50 khokhas’ episode that riled the government which considered it as ‘defamation’, and Mungase was arrested by the local police, despite an outcry from the Opposition.
Through his musical number, he highlighted how the rebels who toppled the Thackeray alliance were lured by the lucre, taking the route from Mumbai to Surat to Guwahati to Goa and back to Mumbai, seeing the collapse of the MVA government in end-June 2022.
The song also mentioned some leaders as ‘thieves’ and dwelt on another touchy subject – the flight of industries from Maharashtra to Gujarat and elsewhere – that touched a raw nerve with the ruling alliance, though he didn’t take names.
The viral musical creation was shared by MVA leaders like Sushma Andhare, and Dr. Jitendra Awhad, who probably anticipated the consequences and made an advance appeal to the police not to arrest Mungase!
Not obliging anybody, based on a complaint by a woman leader of the Shinde camp, the police threw the law-book at Mungase.
That month, another rapper from Mumbai, Umesh Khade faced the music from the law enforcers for a song – ‘Janata Bhongali Keli’ (Stripped the People Nude) raising questions of the citizens and how the current government had failed them despite expectations.
Though he was not arrested, his family later claimed that he was subjected to police harassment for the song till the matter died down.
That same month, a woman activist of the MVA ally, Shiv Sena (UBT), Roshani Shinde was given a sound thrashing by some women workers of Shinde’s Shiv Sena in his hometown, Thane.
Her fault was criticising Shinde and Prime Minister Narendra Modi which the ruling party activists did not take kindly to and hammered her brutally, landing Roshani Shinde in hospital for several days.
The incident started another bitter war of words between the rival Sena factions, and top leaders including Thackeray went to meet Roshani Shinde in a hospital in Thane, and later in Mumbai. However, the ruling Shiv Sena faction steadfastly denied that they had assaulted her.
In August, a 40-year-old man from Mumbai, Kailas M. Kapdi earned the government’s wrath for allegedly posting abuses against CM Shinde on his social media handle between March-September this year.
Kapdi was traced to his home in Dadar and an FIR was lodged against him, and the police detained him for some time pending further investigation.
These are just a few recent examples of the high ‘intolerance’ levels that afflict modern-day politicians, particularly those from the ruling side, not only against political rivals, but even ordinary folks, with questions like ‘freedom of speech/expression’ virtually thrown into the bin.