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Mira Road: BJP Leader Gave Communal Speech – in the Police Commissioner's Office

Nitesh Rane’s press conference was not for all. Only a select few journalists, with established pro-Hindutva credentials, were allowed for the conference.
Nitesh Rane addressing a press conference held at the police commissioner’s office.

Mumbai: On January 23, Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Nitesh Rane visited Mira Road, located in the north of Mumbai. His visit was prompted by the violence that had erupted in the Nayanagar area of Mira Road on the night of January 21. Allegedly, a group of Muslim youth had manhandled Hindu youth after the latter entered a Muslim locality late at night, honking, playing loud music and chanting “Jai Shri Ram”. Accompanied by the region’s MLA Geeta Jain and several other BJP members, Rane met with the police commissioner of the Mira Bhayandar region. Soon after, he addressed the press.

Rane, a BJP representative who had travelled to the area approximately 500 kilometres away from his constituency of Kankavali in coastal Maharashtra, openly threatened the Muslim community and the police during the press conference. He used offensive language to address the Muslim community, made provocative statements, and urged the Hindu community to “unite and retaliate”. He further went on to verbally attack the police inspector of the Naya Nagar police station for allegedly “siding” with the Muslim community.

While Rane’s actions on January 23 warrant criminal action under the Indian Penal Code, the most alarming aspect is the fact that he made these statements while inside the commissioner’s office. Rane was permitted to address the press from the conference room of the Mira Bhayandar, Vasai Virar Police Commissionerate.

Screengrab from a video of the police commissioner addressing the press from the same conference room.

Rane’s press conference was not for all. Only a select few journalists, with established pro-Hindutva credentials, were allowed for the conference. Sabeer Shaikh, a journalist with close to two decades of experience, and an editor of a popular YouTube channel ‘On Record Mira Bhayandar’, recalled the events of that day. “A bunch of reporters went to see the police commissioner that day. After the impromptu meeting with the commissioner, a few of us headed out to assess the situation on the ground. Soon after we left, Rane came to meet the commissioner. And only a few handpicked reporters were called for the press conference by Rane,” Shaikh told The Wire. Azim Tamboli, another freelance journalist from the locality, confirmed Shaikh’s claims. A senior reporter from a national paper who has been covering the region for over a decade too confirmed.

Also read: ‘Police Didn’t Stop the Mob’: Shopkeepers, Injured Recount Hindutva Violence at Mumbai’s Mira Road

The Wire also spoke to several reporters who had attended the press conference. They confirmed that the press conference was organised in the ‘Sanvad’ room, a space dedicated for the police press conference. One among them, Shashi Sharma, who runs the channel “Dabang Khabre” on YouTube, was among the attendees. His YouTube channel, like many other from the region, carried Rane’s speech as is. In no time, the video had gone viral.

Shaikh told The Wire that he had put out a video on his channel questioning the police’s decision to allow Rane to address the press from their office. This video, he says had to soon be taken down after a call from a “senior officer”.

The video story that journalist Sabeer Shaikh had to take down after he was allegedly threatened by a senior police officer.

The Wire wrote to police commissioner Madhukar Pandey, additional commissioner Shrikant Pathak and deputy commissioner of police (DCP) Avinash Ambure who had reportedly met Rane before his press briefing. None of the three officers responded to The Wire’s messages. Pathak wrote back saying he is on a leave and directed this reporter to DCP Prakash Gaikwad, who too didn’t respond. The article will be updated when they respond.

A few hours after Rane’s press conference, a second round of violence broke out in the region. Young men, sporting saffron flags and chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’, ran amok in parts of the city, vandalising shops belonging to Muslims. Many Muslim youth were injured in the attack.

Why is Rane’s access to the police’s space important? Besides the most obvious fact that a legislative leader accessing the police space so blatantly shows the police’s failure to operate independently, Rane’s potential role in instigating violence on the evening of January 23 is in question here. Many citizens of Mira Road and several rights organisations have raised questions on his direct involvement in instigating the Hindu crowd against Muslims. He has, for long, been making provocative speeches and threatening the Muslim community of dire consequences.

Even at the press meet in Mira Road, Rane whipped up a frenzy by making baseless claims that Hindu women were “unsafe” in the city, that Mira Road has become a “mini-Pakistan” and that over 35 Hindu women have been forcibly converted to Islam. Not just that, threatening the police inspector, Rane said: “You are getting fed biryani by them (the Muslims). Don’t forget our party is in power. Will get you suspended in the upcoming assembly session. Then don’t come crying [to me].”

In the past year, Rane has made several such public speeches, including the most recent ones at Pandharpur and Govandi in Mumbai, where he openly asked Hindus to take law into their own hands and implied that he and his supporters will be protected by deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

It has been over three weeks since violence broke out in Mira Road. The Wire had published a detailed report on the incident in which victims and eyewitnesses of the violence spoke about the police’s complicity in the attack. The police have since filed eight FIRs in the several attacks that occurred between January 21 and 23. While four FIRs are registered by Muslims who were attacked in the violence, the other four name Muslims as the accused.

A clear pattern can be seen here. In cases in which Muslim men are accused, multiple arrests have been made. In cases where Muslim youth have suffered grievous hurt or damage to their property, the police have made no arrests so far.

Advocate Shahood Anwar, who is representing the Muslim youth arrested here, told The Wire that besides the two minor boys who were released by the Juvenile Justice Board, no one has been released on bail yet. “We have applied for bail for four men and it is scheduled for hearing before the Thane sessions court on February 15,” Anwar told The Wire. Anwar also pointed to the biased nature of investigation in the case. “In many cases, the police only took a NC (non-cognisable crimes) and refused to file an FIR,” he pointed out.

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