Express News Service

MUMBAI:  On a day marred by protests and exchange of barbs, senior BJP leaders sought to distance themselves from Union minister Narayan Rane’s controversial statement against Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, but said his arrest was an attack on democracy and Constitutional propriety. 

While it was the turncoats who first jumped into Rane’s support, senior leaders later joined them. BJP MLA Ram Kadam was one of the first to defend Rane, followed by BJP MLC Prasad Lad.

While Kadam was earlier in the MNS, Lad came from NCP. Both vociferously defended the Union minister, claiming Shiv Sena was targeting him.

Later, Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil said while he did not support Rane’s remark, the police could not arrest him. Leader of Opposition of Devendra Fadnavis was the last to address a press conference in support of Rane, but he,too, did not defend his statement. Fadnavis said people should refrain from making such remarks against anyone.

The old guard of the BJP kept away from the controversy. However, soon after he was arrested, BJP president J P Nadda tweeted in support of Rane, while BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra criticised the Maha Vikas Aghadi, claiming Rane’s arrest was an attack on democracy and Constitution. Meanwhile, Fadnavis said despite Rane’s arrest, BJP’s Jan Ashirwad Yatra will continue with others leading it.

The magistrate’s court denied the police’s request for Rane’s custody, but asked Rane to attend the Mahad police station on two days.

The BJP leader had said during the Jan Ashirwad Yatra of his party on Monday that he would have slapped Thackeray over the latter’s `ignorance’ of the year of India’s independence.

“Satyamev Jayate” (truth always prevails), Rane tweeted after getting bail and on his way back to Mumbai.

After his arrest on Tuesday afternoon, Rane was taken to Mahad in Raigad district, 165 km from Mumbai, where an FIR was registered against him over the remark.

Cases were registered against him at Nashik and Pune too as the remark set off angry protests by workers of the ruling Shiv Sena.

Rane was taken into custody at Golwali, the ancestral village of former RSS chief Sadashivrao Golwalkar ‘Guruji’ in Ratnagiri district.

He was then handed over to Raigad police around 2.45 pm in connection with the FIR registered at Mahad.

The case at Mahad was registered under IPC sections 189 (threat of injury to public servant), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of public peace), and 505 (statements conducive to public mischief).

At the Mahad court, Government pleader Bhushan Salvi sought seven-day police custody for the BJP leader.

It was important to investigate if there was a conspiracy to tarnish the reputation of the chief minister, he said.

Opposing the application, Rane’s lawyers Aniket Nikam and Bhau Salunkhe argued that his health condition was serious as he was 69 years old and suffered from sugar and blood pressure issues.

Nikam further argued that the offenses under IPC for which Rane was arrested were all punishable with less than seven years and hence his custody was unnecessary.

Nikam also argued that Rane’s arrest was illegal as no summons was issued to him under Section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure before his arrest.

Court, after hearing both the sides, denied the police the Union minister’s custody.

It instead remanded him in judicial custody and then, on the plea moved by his lawyers, granted Rane bail on a surety of Rs 15,000.

The arrest had followed Rane’s statement targeting Thackeray in Raigad district on Monday.

“It is shameful that the chief minister does not know the year of independence. He leaned back to enquire about the count of years of independence during his speech (on August 15). Had I been there, I would have given (him) a tight slap,” Rane had said.

Rane defended his remarks against Thackeray, saying he hasn’t committed any crime by making them.

On media reportage of his ‘imminent arrest’ in the case, Rane said hours before his arrest that he was not a ‘normal’ (ordinary) man and cautioned the media against such reportage.

Rane’s remarks against Thackeray drew sharp reactions from Shiv Sena, whose workers put up a poster in Mumbai, calling him a ‘kombdi chor’ (chicken stealer), a reference to the poultry shop he ran in Chembur area five decades ago, during the initial part of his over four-decade-long stint with the Bal Thackeray-led party.

Rane’s remarks against Uddhav Thackeray set off protests in Mumbai and several other cities which included pelting of stones and vandalising offices of BJP in some areas by Shiv Sena cadres.

In Mumbai, activists of Yuva Sena, the youth wing of the Sena, and the BJP clashed near Rane’s residence on the Juhu Tara Road in Santacruz (West).

Stones were pelted from both sides, following which police used cane-charge to disperse the agitators, an official said, adding heavy police security was deployed outside Rane’s residence.

Slamming the Maharashtra government, BJP president J P Nadda said Rane’s arrest was violative of constitutional values, and his party will not be cowed down by such actions.

In a tweet, Nadda said the “huge” response the BJP has received in its ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra’ has jolted its rivals.

“We fight democratically. The yatra will continue,” he said.

Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil distanced himself from Rane’s remarks.

“I am not defending Rane’s comments, but I will also not express regret,” Patil said.

Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis said the BJP does not support Rane’s comments, but the “party stands behind him 100 per cent”.

Alleging that the state police force was being used as a tool for “vendetta politics”, the former chief minister said there should be law and order and “not Taliban-like governance”.

Shiv Sena MP Vinayak Raut wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, demanding the sacking of Rane over his remarks against the Maharashtra chief minister.

Though a team of Nashik police was earlier said to have left to take Rane in custody (as an FIR has been filed against him there too), a senior police official said late at night that they would not arrest the BJP leader for now in view of the Mahad court’s bail order.

(With PTI Inputs)