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The story Thackeray never wanted told…

By: A Mid Day Correspondent

When then Mumbai mayor Chandrakant Handore asked Mahanagar reporter Yuvraj Mohite to accompany him to Bal Thackeray’s house on January 8, 1993, it was journalistic curiosity that made Mohite accept the offer.

Little did Mohite know that he would get himself a scoop that would later become a headache for Handore and the basis for an attempt to prosecute Thackeray for his alleged role in the 1993 riots.

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal told a Muslim delegation on Saturday that if Handore testified against Thackeray, then the state would go ahead with the Srikrishna Commission’s recommendation to bring Thackeray to book for his alleged role in the riots.

It was 7 pm, January 8, 1993. A sense of imminent trouble was enveloping the city after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. Mohite did the civic beat for his newspaper and, after hunting through the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) headquarters for a story, was about to call it a day.

As he walked to the exit of the BMC headquarters opposite CST, he stopped at the mayor’s chambers. Handore had just finished discussing the tension in the city with Chief Minister Sudhakarrao Naik. He thought of asking the Shiv Sena, Bharatiya Janata Party and Muslim leaders to issue a joint appeal for peace.

Mohite suggested a memorandum, signed by the leaders of different political parties. Mohite prepared the memo with Handore’s help. The first signatory was former underworld don Haji Mastan, who was then leading a political party.

At 8.30 pm, they reached Matoshree, Thackeray’s residence. Mohite remembers, “I was instructed by Handore not to reveal my identity as a reporter as that could create problems.” They were ushered into the Shiv Sena chief’s room. After greeting them “Jai Maharashtra”, Thackeray and Handore talked about the situation in the city.

Mohite says, “All the while, the conversation was being interrupted by telephone calls the Sena chief was getting. He was talking on several phones at a time, and as I listened I realised that he was directing Sena activists to attack Muslims. ‘Sarv landyana maroon taka,’ he said. He told the callers to see that not a single Muslim lived to give evidence in court.”

Didn’t Thackeray become suspicious of the unidentified man accompanying Handore? Mohite says, “He was suspicious. I was just a few feet away when he was talking on the phone. He asked me my name. I told him. But before he could ask for more information, his attention was diverted by another phone call.”

Mohite adds, “I heard him mentioning the names of localities like Mazagaon. In the next few days, I realised that places mentioned by Thackeray in his phone conversations figured prominently in the riots.”

Some of Thackeray’s worst abuses were allegedly reserved for A A Khan, then additional commissioner of police (north), who the Sena chief said was killing Hindus. Mohite remembers, “Thackeray was saying, ‘Tyala Allahcha gharat patva.” (Send him to Allah’s house.)

Meanwhile, Mohite was taking notes. Uddhav Thackeray told him to stop writing.

After they left Thackeray’s residence, Handore asked Mohite not to report what he witnessed at Matoshree. Mohite called up his editor, Nikhil Wagle, who called up then minister of state for home, Babanrao Pachpute. That was past 11 pm. Wagle asked Mohite to hold the story for a few days, after which it was published.

Later, Handore, a former Republican Party of India member who had won the election to the BMC on a Congress ticket, called his decision to take Mohite to Matoshree “gadhavpana” (stupidity).

Mohite testified to the Srikrishna Commission on June 22, 1997.


Published In Mid Day
January 13,2003