A day after they thrashed a police sub-inspector for daring to book an MLA for a traffic violation, two of Mumbai’s most feared political musclemen – MLAs Kshitij Thakur and Ram Kadam – holed themselves up at the Vidhan Bhavan on Wednesday to evade arrest and spent the day begging Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Assembly Speaker Dilip Valse Patil for protection.
On a day the state government presented its annual budget and raised taxes to generate funds for drought-hit regions, the attention remained firmly focused on the cat-and-mouse game between the Mumbai Crime Branch and the two MLAs who seemed to get little support from top leaders. Kadam, in fact, could not even get a call through to his party leader Raj Thackeray or his wife Sharmila. Thakur and Kadam, who had led a mob that thrashed sub-inspector Sachin Suryawanshi on Tuesday at the Vidhan Bhavan for having the gumption to stop Thakur’s car for speeding on the Bandra-Worli sea link, did win a reprieve, albeit temporary, at the end of the day. After intense negotiations between the presiding officers of the legislative assembly, the chief minister, and Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh, it was decided to give the two MLAs time till Thursday to surrender.
The cops, in fact, had begun tightening the screws on Thakur and Kadam on Tuesday night when they placed crack teams at the MLAs’ residences at Nalasopara and Ghatkopar respectively. This was done just hours after the Marine Drive police registered an offence against them and the Crime Branch took over the investigation. Police sources said Thakur and Kadam were not arrested on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning because the police top brass wanted the state legislature to act against them first.
As soon as the budget presentation ended, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Harshwardhan Patil proposed that the five MLAs involved in Tuesday’s attack on sub-inspector Surwanshi – Thakur, Kadam, Rajan Salvi, Pradeep Jaiswal, and Jaikumar Raval – be barred from entering the Vidhan Bhavan premises till December 1. As soon as the news of the five MLAs suspension spread, Crime Branch teams stationed themselves at all Vidhan Bhavan gates. Both Thakur and Kadam were inside. They knew the cops could not arrest them from the Vidhan Bhavan premises without Speaker Dilip Valse-Patil’s permission. But then, they had just been suspended. So would the immunity apply to them?
Thakur and Kadam panicked when they learnt that a Crime Branch team had entered the Vidhan Bhavan premises. Some of the cops, they were told, were in plain clothes. They rushed to Speaker Dilip Valse-Patil’s chamber and complained about the presence of the cops, some of whom, they said, did not have entry passes. Kadam and Thakur last hope was now Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. The CM was addressing a meeting of party MLAs on the first floor. The two MLAs were first not allowed in. When they insisted, the CM agreed to meet them in an adjoining room. While information was not available on what transpired at this meeting, the two obviously did not get any firm assurance from Chavan. The duo’s next stop was the antechamber of Deputy Chairperson of the Legislative Council Vasant Davkhare’s office. Davkhare’s staff, however, could not offer them anything more than some tea and snacks.
Around 6 pm, as news came in that Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh had arrived for a meeting with the CM, Kadam and Thakur now made a dash for Valse-Patil’s office and asked him to request Parliamentary Affairs Minister Harshwardhan Patil to intervene. Around 7 pm, the CM called the two MLAs to his chamber. The police commissioner was still there. The compromise formula arrived at was this – the two will not be made to spend a night in the police lock-up provided they give themselves by Thursday afternoon. A Congress leader, who did not wish to be identified, summed up the day thus: “Thakur supports the Congress and it would have looked very bad if we had deserted him.” (MM)