January 04, 2011

Pune phonetaps show how Shiv Sena scripted its violence

Indian Express

by Nisha Nambiar, MANOJ MORE

Posted: Tue Jan 04 2011, 02:06 hrs

In the days after the Pune Police produced tapped mobile phone conversations between two top Shiv Sena leaders as evidence that last Tuesday’s violence and arson in the city was planned in meticulous detail — including inviting TV reporters to cover the rioting — the dominant mood within the party has been of wariness and defiance.

No senior local Sena leader has explicitly denied the conversation between their Pune district chief Neelam Gorhe and her boss, Uddhav Thackeray’s close aide Milind Narvekar — they have, instead, expressed outrage that the police listened in, and warned that the Sena-BJP’s turn too shall come.

Many of these leaders, who in private conversations admitted having called Gorhe to report on their “contribution” to the bandh, have switched off their mobiles. Those who are talking announced early that their phone was under surveillance — to suggest that the conversation would have to be restrained.

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“Several of us called Neelamtai from early in the morning on Tuesday to tell her what we have been doing,” said a Sena ward leader who declined to be identified. “Each one of us had been instructed to actively participate in the bandh.”

It was difficult to get through to Gorhe, the leader said, because her phone was frequently busy. “She must have been flooded with updates from across the district,” he said.

The Pune Police taped a conversation between Gorhe and Narvekar around midnight on Monday, in the course of which Narvekar issued detailed instructions to Gorhe on gathering mobs and TV crews, and torching buses and trucks.

The Sena-BJP called the bandh to protest against the removal of Dadoji Konddeo’s statue from Lal Mahal. Following the police FIR, both Gorhe and Narvekar surrendered before a Pune court on Thursday, and were given bail on personal sureties of Rs 15,000 each.

A Sena leader, who said he organised meetings and coordinated preparations on Monday, explained that once the party mouthpiece Saamna announces a bandh, all karyakartas slip into clearly defined roles.

Representatives from the city and all Assembly constituencies coordinate to draw up the action plan a day ahead. Preparations for this bandh followed the same pattern, he said.

“Karyakartas travel extensively in their wards, give hotels and shops prior intimation that they should stay closed,” said a leader.

On Monday evening, added another leader of the party, some 400-500 Sena karyakartas, mostly from the youth wing, were “on duty from 7.30 pm to 9.30 pm”, visiting shops and hotels, speaking to the owners, “politely and with folded hands”.

Several hospitals were told to stand by, said Sena leaders — should a Sainik be injured while enforcing the bandh, he should be taken in without too many questions.

On B-day, the karyakartas always start early — it was “6 am” for him on Tuesday, said a shakha pramukh in central Pune. Local party offices become control rooms, watcing and regulating the enforcement of the bandh by cadres. “We have very clear instructions that if people refuse to obey our instructions, we can resort to violence. People know we mean business, so they generally do what we tell them to,” said a karyakarta.

The Sena’s preparations include keeping lawyers ready, in case the police act tough. “On Monday, the first arrests of our party members came around 11.30 am. We got reports, and had three-four lawyers ready,” said a senior Pune leader.

Once the bandh was over, around 5 pm, these lawyers visited the police stations in their areas and bailed out the arrested Sainiks, he said. A member of the youth wing added that it was customary to felicitate the cadres for a successful bandh in meetings later.

Gajanan Babar, Sena MP from Maval, warned that the boot could soon be on the other foot. “The NCP-Congress will have to pay for this (tapping). Don’t forget we too will one day become rulers, and then we will pay them in the same coin,” Babar said.

The Sena, he said, would agitate to ensure “people get to know who in the government directed the Pune police to tap phones”.

Gorhe herself said it was “highly regrettable” that the “rajyakartas” had now begun to “peep into people’s bathrooms and toilets”.

Asked if she was denying that the voice on the tape was hers, Gorhe said, “Whatever I have to say I will say in court. You are not the judge.”