Raj faces flak for threat to attack protesting hawkers

Parties slammed MNS chief Raj Thackeray Thursday for politicising the issue of hawkers.

Raj had threatened Tuesday to disrupt a rally planned by Azad Hawker Union on January 24 at Azad Maidan to protest alleged police high-handedness during an eviction drive that led to the death of a hawker at Vakola.

Madan Jaiswal (40), who had a roadside stall in Santacruz (East), died during the drive ordered by controversial ACP Vasant Dhoble. The officer was subsequently transferred.

Congress and NCP said everyone had the right to protest. The parties, particularly NCP, also asked police not to overreach powers while evicting illegal hawkers.

"Police should use powers. However, making use the powers of other agencies is a wrong thing to do," spokesman Nawab Malik said. He seemed to be voicing the concern of hawkers who have been complaining that by removing encroachments, police was doing a BMC job.

Malik lambasted Raj, saying no one in India could infringe on the right of citizens to protest.

"Everyone has a right to protest. No one can stop a person from taking out a morcha if they have legal permission. We believe anyone who is threatening to take the law into his own hands needs to be punished." Raj warned hawkers against the rally and threatened "MNS-style" action.

His anger was mainly directed against North Indians allegedly operating illegal hawking stalls and occupying public space. Congress said the issue of illegal hawkers needed to be addressed but it should not be given a regional colour.

"It is imperative to clear roads of illegal hawkers. However, turning it into a Marathi versus non-Marathi issue is not the right thing to do," spokesman Sachin Sawant said.

He suggested parties such as MNS were exploiting hawkers and extorting money from them. "Rather than extorting money from these hawkers, it would stand such parties in good stead if they train cadre to start small businesses," Sawant said.

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