Thursday, November 13, 2008

...of politics and local sentiment

Events in Mumbai in the month of October 2008 brought about a lot of unwanted attention to this megapolis city. The MNS political party went on a rampage and attacked life and property in protest of the arrest of its leader RT. He was arrested for inciting his party workers to attack examination centres and drive out North Indian candidates (essentially from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh). RT has also strongly advocated that these north Indians get out of Mumbai as he feels they are snatching away jobs from locals, i.e. Maharashtrains or people who were born and brought up in Maharashtra and speak Marathi as their mother-tongue. But is there any rationale in what he is saying? And what about his methods?

Changing tracks
When RT broke away from the Shiv Sena in late 2005, I had hope. Although Shiv Sena had its violent history of which RT was very much a part of, here was a young and dynamic man who was humbled in his earlier party despite holding much promise. I felt at that time that, after setting up his own outfit, such a person would assume new responsibilities and bring about a change in Maharashtra by focusing on real issues like ensuring regular power supply, improving infrastructure (Mumbai's infrastructure has already crumbled, Poona's traffic has no discipline, etc) and ensuring regular water supply to the state's hinterlands. 

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for my hopes and expectations to come crashing down. Perhaps being unable to do anything constructive for the city and Maharashtra or perhaps being impatient and wanting quick results, it did not take very long for RT to resort to his uncle's tactics. In the 70s, while the uncle targeted South Indians and sought to drive them away from Mumbai, RT turned his attention to - and threw kitchen sink at - North Indians. Ever since February 2008, RT and his partymen have been consistently targeting taxi drivers in Mumbai (predominantly Biharis and UPites), vegetable vendors, construction workers, etc. His latest ire towards north indian candidates who came to Bombay to attend the Grade IV railway board examination landed him in so-called trouble when the pressure from various quarters, including the Centre, forced the Maharashtra State Government to arrest RT. 

A hidden message...
RT claims that 'outsiders' come to Mumbai and steal away our (locals) jobs. A majority of taxi drivers, washerman and such menial labour hail from north india. These people are ready to work at cheaper costs and the sheer drove of them who migrate to Mumbai (as also other cities; you would know if you have gone to Delhi, or even cities in Gujarat) is the reason why you see them everywhere around. 

Fundamentally, I do not see how we can stop people from moving from one part of the country to another. We may belong to several states, but we are all Indians, first & foremost. We may owe our upbringing to our local culture and our way of life has an alliance to our city and state, but we are all Indian citizens. It is illegal to ban people from moving from one state to another. 

But there are a few issues to this problem. Firstly, it seems to me that RT's stance is about the menial and class IV labour and not the middle and upper class migrants. He may have issues with elite north Indians like Amitabh and Jaya Bacchan (he wants them to be 'more' "grateful" to Mumbai, but doesn't necessarily want them to leave the city and go, or he wants them to atleast learn Marathi for instance), he's made it quite clear that he doesn't really want the north Indian labour class migrants to stay back in Bombay. Anyways, while much of the former live legitimately and pay income tax to the city, the latter don't pay income tax (IT), probably because they are daily wage earners and don't come in the IT bracket. But thier contribution to the city is less of monetary, and more of labour (we need both labour and money to grow, eventually). 

Bombay is bursting at its seams. Roughly its population is around 1.9 crore. Housing is a perennial problem. Lakhs of people enter Bombay daily in order to search for a livelihood. It's a fact that slums are growing everywhere. I have no issues with slums, per se, because at the end of the day even a 'slum' is somebody's home. But in a bid to woo votes, greedy politicians in the past have sought to regularise and legalise scores of illegal shanties that crop up. Illegal Bangladeshi migrants, I am told, are a reality in Bombay. 

People say Bombay's infrastructure is crumbling, I'd say it has already crumbled. Perennial traffic jams can be seen across Bombay and now whatever time you step out, you land up on the middle of a jam. There is encroachment everywhere on public places, wherever there is space. So whether we like it not, whether we want to admit or not, and whether we decide to act on it or not (but hopefully peacefully and constructively, not violently, if i may add), the problem of influx is very much here. It's happening, guys! 

At the same time, I have always wondered why the central government and also governments from the backward states like Bihar and UP aren't doing anything to further the development in these states. Look at the kind of political representation and clout that Bihar and UP have at the Centre. And then, look at the kind of progress these states make, compared to states like Maharashtra and Gujarat. 

Population in Bihar and UP is out of control. Laloo Prasad Yadav himself has nine children! What family planning can politicians like him teach to their citizenry, I wonder. Clearly, it's been known for decades that there is mass scale migration from these states to other prosperous states. But other than launching hundreds of long-distance trains that ferry people from here to the rest of India, what have these politicians done for the state? Have they created large-scale employment opportunities? Have they improved the standard of living? Ask any citizen to list out the states (barring those from the extreme east-India like Arunachal Pradesh, etc because of other issues like border security, connectivity, climate, etc) where he/she would like to settle and I bet Bihar and UP would not even figure on most of the lists. Even Kashmir would figure higher on the list, despite terrorism. And the less said about law & order in these states, the better. I think it's high time to ask the question: WHY?

....told wrongly
Having said that, we must realise that violence is not the way to bring about a change. Mercilessly beating tax drivers, smashing their taxis, who work hard all throughout the day and making a dent in their daily wage is not the right way. I really don't know why I see so few Maharashtrian taxi drivers than UPites and Biharis, and if for some reason the taxi union or such authorities discourage enrollments of Maharshtrian taxi drivers then they are the ones to be questioned, not the poor and innocent taxi driver. But if Maharashtrians are not interested in driving taxis, for instance, then who is to be blamed? 

All said and done, even if RT's point is right, his methods will eventually throw water over them. The only way that RT can bring  about a change is to focus on improving public utilities and doing something concrete to improve the quality of people. Respect is to be earned, not demanded. Look what happened to the right-wing political parties. Their anti-Muslim stance may have brought them to power once, but they were ousted in the subsequent elections. Not that the current government (both state and centre) are any better. Hence, change needs to be brought about by hard work. Populist statements and violence are short-cuts that will earn you cheap publicity in the short-term, but you will lose out in the long run. In between all this political brouhaha, what will happen to all those Maharashtrians who work and live in other states? Will RT go and protect them if out of this backlash, they are unnecessarily targeted? 

But this is not the worst thing happening in Bombay and Maharashtra right now. More dangerous than the actual act of violence is its tacit and subtle endorsement by either taking superficial or no action at all. How sad! 

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