Mumbai, Feb 12: MNS chief Raj Thackeray was Wednesday detained and then freed as thousands of party activists laid siege to toll booths across Maharashtra, forcing the government to call him for talks.
After Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan invited the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) leader for talks Thursday and had him released, Thackeray suspended the state-wide anti-toll protests.
“Our intention was not to cause inconvenience to people. We wanted to highlight and draw the government’s attention to the toll issue,” the MNS founder told the media.
He appealed to party members in the state to suspend their agitation — for now.
“We hope at tomorrow’s meeting with the CM, the contentious issue would be amicably resolved,” said MNS spokesperson Nitin Sardesai.
As Thackeray was released from preventive detention, MNS activists withdrew from the roads and five hours of tensions eased across the state.
By then, however, damage had been done to public and private property and thousands were caught in traffic jams on many roads and highways.
The problem began when police halted Thackeray’s convoy in the morning when he was going towards Vashi on the Mumbai-Navi Mumbai border in a bid to stop toll collection.
The MNS says people should not be forced to pay toll on highways for ever.
His wife Sharmila Thackeray staged a sit-in outside the police station in Chembur, denouncing the arrest of party leaders.
The preventive detention came as the MNS agitation spread across Maharashtra with all major roads and highways being blockaded by thousands of party activists.
On the Aurangabad-Beed highway, minor violence erupted as some activists, purportedly from the MNS, stoned buses and private vehicles after Thackeray was detained.
Shalini Thackeray, a relative of Thackeray and also a party leader, led the activists who mobbed the Dahisar toll in north-west Mumbai.
MNS activists, including women, stormed important roads and highways on the outskirts of Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Raigad, Nashik and other major cities to halt the morning peak hour traffic.
In some places, vehicle tyres were deflated, causing traffic jams.
However, vehicles transporting school and college students were allowed to proceed. So were ambulances and vehicles of other essential services.
Police and the Rapid Action Force were out in large numbers, catching and detaining hundreds of MNS activists.
Security was beefed up at 145 toll booths in the state, including five in Mumbai.
In recent weeks, activists purportedly of the MNS vandalized several toll booths in places like Kolhapur, Thane, Mumbai, Aurangabad and Pune.