Raj Thackeray told supporters that state home minister Mumbai police chief should step down

The leader of Hindu nationalist party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has defied police instructions not to hold a political rally in Mumbai to protest at the growing sectarian violence that is racking the region.

Raj Thackeray told thousands of supporters that the state home minister and city police chief should be sacked for failing to contain the violence that has led to thousands of Assamese residents fleeing the area.

Violence flared after a demonstration by an Indian Islamic organisation, Raza Academy, against previous alleged attacks on Muslims in Assam. Two protesters were killed and 52 people injured, 44 of them policemen.

Thackeray accused outsiders from the states of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkand and Bihar of stirring up trouble. He was full of praise for the police but accused their leaders of letting them down and said they should quit.

Despite a ban on his protest march, Mumbai police did nothing to stop it.

Battle for power

Observers said Thackeray held the demonstration as a way of flexing his muscles to gain a bigger stake of Maharashtra state's Hindu voters and boost support among police forces.

He founded MNS in 2006 after splitting from Shiv Sena, a popular right-wing party led by his uncle.

Thackeray denied that the demonstration had political aims.

"I am not veering towards Hindutva [the Hindu Nationalism movement]. Maharashtra dharma [philosophical concept of natural law] is my only dharma," he said.

Nevertheless he used the stage at the rally to attack Abu Azmi, the leader of the socialist Samajwadi party, which relies on Muslim support.

Thackeray accused Azmi of supporting the families of the injured protesters but not police officers who were hurt.

"Abu Azmi is giving compensation to the rioters. Has he ever cared to inquire about the policemen injured in the brutal attacks?" he said.