New Delhi, Nov 20: As the probe into the Malegaon bombing envelops more and more Hindu radicals, Agriculture Minister and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar has described the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as "unpatriotic" for questioning the ongoing investigations.
Speaking to a correspondent, Pawar used uncharacteristically strong words to say: "The police have started investigating... If any political party takes objection, it is unfair and unpatriotic."
Asked if his criticism also included the BJP, which has viewed the action by Maharashtra`s Anti-Terrorism Squad as a pre-election gimmick by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), Pawar said he was referring to "all" those raising questions about the probe. "Why should we interfere in the process of investigations?"
When Hindu ascetic Pragya Thakur was first picked up for her alleged involvement in the Malegaon blasts, the BJP did not know how to react to the dramatic development. The scenario has since changed.
Now L K Advani, the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, has charged the Congress-led UPA with political motivation.
Among the first to call for a ban on the Bajrang Dal, the NCP chief said: "I had said that action should be taken against Hindu fundamentalists. A terrorist does not have any religion."
Speaking at length about the Marathi-Bihari divide, Pawar expressed disappointment with "the Bihar politicians", flayed the media for sensationalising the issue and defended the culture of tolerance of Mumbai and Maharashtra.
"In Mumbai the Marathi-speaking people are only 24 percent. Show me any other state capital where 74 percent belong to other states?" he said. "Is this not tolerance? We have built up a cosmopolitan culture in Mumbai."
Commenting on the resignation by some Bihar MPs, following attacks in Mumbai on non-Marathis, Pawar said: "They have a right to take their own decisions."
But hitting out at his own colleagues in the UPA, though without naming them, he asked: "In a city where the population from the rest of India is 74 percent, if someone attacks, say, a Gujarati-run shop, should you have the entire Gujarati leadership come together, meet the prime minister, and demand that the chief minister of Maharashtra be removed?
"They (Bihar politicians) are playing their political games, against each other, at the cost of Maharashtra."
Pawar dismissed allegations that the NCP and the Congress were propping up Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray so as to divide the Shiv Sena vote -- just as the Congress tacitly supported the Sena in the early years to break the Communist trade unions.
"Raj Thackeray contested local elections and managed to get only around 40 out of 5,000 seats. That shows his strength," Pawar quipped.
"I don`t think he has the capacity to create a problem for the Shiv Sena. What I know of the Sena, no leader who has left it has been able to affect it. Its core remains intact.
"Secondly," Pawar went on, "why should we give him importance? His attack is... against the Congress and us, against the chief minister and the deputy chief minister."
The NCP welcomed north Indians in Maharashtra, Pawar said. "We welcome all. My party gave representation to north Indians in government. When I was chief minister, there were always north Indians in my ministry. There have been 10-12 north Indian MLAs in the Maharashtra assembly. There are also Gujaratis and south Indians.
"But except for Madhu Limaye and George Fernandes, who were accepted in other states from where they contested elections, which are the other leaders who are accepted by other states? How can anybody say the Marathi community is against north Indians? This is injustice."
He appealed to north Indians not to forget that Maharashtra had produced leaders such as Lokmanya Tilak, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule, Y B Chavan and S A Dange who never took a parochial line. "That is also the overall thinking of the people of the state."