“In order to save the lives of your people in Bhiwandi, I have slaughtered Muslims taking a sword in my hand. Still, you don’t know what Diwakar Raote is? I’ve carried you Gujaratis on my shoulders. In one riot we slaughtered 300-350 Muslims which your businessmen witnessed. What have you seen till now? I am not a goonda but when the time comes our leaders have taught us to take up arms.”
The 40-minute monologue was full of four-letter words. The Hindu-Muslim riots had shaken Mumbai, Thane and Bhiwandi in 1984; the Sena had played a leading role in them. The recording was apparently made during a meeting between Raote and the businessmen held in 1996.
Though Chhagan Bhujbal, then a Sena leader, alleged that the Congress had fabricated the tape, Raote never denied that the voice was his; indeed, it was recognised and acknowledged as his when the tape was played out in then Mayor Chandrakant Padwal’s chamber for the corporators. Sena chief Bal Thackeray had called the taping an act of “meanness”.
The tape (a copy of which was with this reporter) was made public by independent corporator Rustom Tirandaz, who had received it in a box of sweets sent to him for the Parsi New Year. However, the controversy didn’t affect Raote’s political career.
Sharad Pawar, the then chief minister, did nothing. Three years later, Raote became the Mayor. When the Shiv Sena came to power, he became the revenue minister under CM Narayan Rane.
Ironically, in the run up to the latest Assembly elections, Raote was the channel through which many Marathi-speaking Muslims approached the Shiv Sena, offering their support if the party fulfilled their demands.