Mumbai, Feb.3: The United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) will hold a Desh Bachao (save country) rally here today amid a bitter Maharashtrian-outsider debate triggered by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray.
The rally will be held at Shivaji Park in central Mumbai, and is likely to be attended by Samajwadi Party supremo and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah, former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, former Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi and Amar Singh.
Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh said on the eve of the rally that it would be aimed at Mumbai's North Indian population, "who are crucial to the city's growth."
Adding fuel to Thackeray's fire, Singh said he would not be cowed down by the latter's threat that north Indians had no place in Maharashtra, and that their customs and traditions should be confined to North India and not be allowed to spread to other parts of the country.
"I am already in Mumbai and the rally will go as per schedule. I am going to do my job... I am not afraid of anything," Singh said.
On Saturday, Thackeray scoffed at the plans to hold the UNPA rally in the city, and threatened that he would not allow SP leaders to enter the city. He also held out a veiled threat to the north Indians, saying, "if they want to remain in Maharashtra then they should stay like Maharashtrians."
"If the North Indians want to stay in Maharashtra, then better they learn the Marathi culture and language. Let them learn to celebrate Maharashtra Day instead of any other state events," he said.
Raj Thackeray's anti-North Indian campaign has already evoked sharp reaction from various political parties, with the Congress even demanding his arrest for spreading hatred.
Union Minister and LJP President Ram Vilas Paswan also demanded Raj Thackeray's arrest. Congress spokesman Sanjay Nirupam dared Raj to stop the Chatth puja and asked the Maharashtra Government to book him for creating hatred among communities.
Raj Thackeray began the campaign against North Indians last week after he slammed some of the north-Indian customs, saying, "Mumbai is not a place for the celebration of Chhath Puja (a festival of Bihar) or Bharatiya Uttar Pradesh Divas."
On Friday, he even targeted Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan, accusing him of 'displaying more love to Uttar Pradesh than Maharashtra' despite the fact that he became a superstar because of Mumbai.
The remarks, apparently aimed at the core Shiv Sena voters, touched a raw nerve.
SP leader and the actor's friend Amar Singh came out in defence of Big B and organised a press conference in Mumbai to condemn Raj Thackeray's statement. This invited more of the old Sena tactic.
Two workers of the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena sneaked into the venue and started raising slogans in a bid to disrupt the press meet. They were, however, promptly thrown out of the venue by SP workers. Amar Singh later alleged that Raj was resorting to publicity stunt.
A fortnight ago, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had also raised the 'outsider' issue, after he had asked Narendra Modi to confine himself to Gujarat and Mayawati to Uttar Pradesh.