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No one’s an outsider here

Mumbaikars have to take the lead and tell the world that the parochial designs of a few will never be allowed to succeed. Pankaj Vohra examines...

columns Updated: Apr 02, 2008 18:59 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The shameful attacks on north Indians in Mumbai by lumpen elements allegedly owing allegiance to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have sent shockwaves across the country. What is more shocking is the indifference of the state government. It has failed to take action against Raj Thackeray, the MNS chief, who continues to instigate gullible Maharashtrians. This is only adding to the insecurity of lakhs of non-Maharashtrians who live in Mumbai, which was once regarded as India’s only cosmopolitan city.

The excuse offered by some leaders of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, which runs a coalition government in the state, is that Raj Thackeray’s arrest will make him a hero and serve his objective of projecting himself as the saviour and custodian of Maharashtrian culture, the very plank on which his uncle Bal Thackeray established the Shiv Sena 42 years ago.

Even more shocking was the photograph that appeared in a national daily. The photograph showed Raj Thackeray — against whom an FIR had been registered — being greeted by the Mumbai Police Commissioner at his daughter’s wedding. Later, TV clips showed a senior police officer going to Raj Thackeray’s residence to check his security.

All these incidents have led to speculation that the state government was perhaps supporting the MNS leader to curb the Shiv Sena, which is making inroads into state politics. By stating on the TV that charges against Raj Thackeray were being verified, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has further eroded the credibility of his own government. North Indians, who provide the support services in virtually every sector of the city, are yet to get any safety assurance from him. It is obvious that the Samajwadi party and some others will try to cash in on this in UP and Bihar. The supreme irony is that the loudest protest against these attacks came from former Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam who is now in the Congress.

Even Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan’s statement that Bal Thackeray is a father figure went uncontested in the game of politics. The Congress and NCP leaders failed to ask the minorities — who form the backbone of the Sp — what they thought of the remark given that Bal Thackeray was being spoken in such revered terms by a SP leader. In fact, no one else in the party made any effort to distance themselves from the parochial politics of the Shiv Sena.

Mumbaikars need to ask themselves a very simple question: can incidents like these be allowed to continue? Mumbai has always been a city where people from other parts of the country have made the best use of opportunities that have come their way. Even Maharashtrians who are Mumbaikars like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar are revered nationally not because they are from Maharashtra but because they are exceptionally talented Indians first and foremost. Any attempt to look at any other person living in the city in a parochial way would be wrong. As Indians, all of us have the right to pursue our interests in any part of the country. The Ambanis, the Birlas and the Bollywood superstars or many others are not Maharashtrians but are as much Mumbaikars as anybody else. Each citizen contributes in a big or small way. And, leaders like the Thackerays cannot discriminate against them.

More than Mumbai, it is Delhi, the fastest-growing metropolis, which is facing the challenges of migration. But then has anybody started an agitation against the migrants here? Delhi is perhaps a large-hearted city, where even Bangladeshis are accepted. The influx of people from UP or Bihar can also be seen as a reflection of the quality of governance and opportunities available to the people in their own states.

Whatever may be the case, there is no denying that people from UP and Bihar have proved their mettle wherever they have gone. The myth of the Punjabi farmer would be shattered if labourers from these two states did not provide the manpower. The domestic help in Delhi would collapse minus these people. Even in specialised and technical services, bureaucracy, police and academics, people from UP and Bihar have excelled. Kolkata, like Mumbai, may have its own views about people from these two states, but we have to learn to coexist peacefully and not discriminate against anyone. In political circles, many think that Sharad Pawar, one of the shrewdest politicians, could not become a truly national leader because he was projected as Maharashtra’s shareholder in national politics.

To support this faulty thesis, it is argued that, other than P.C. Alexander and one or two others, Pawar has never allowed a non-Maharashtrian to get elected to the Rajya Sabha. But if he has done so, he may be right since the Rajya Sabha was a council of states, which it has ceased to be after the conditions of domicile were relaxed.

In the end, Mumbaikars have to take the lead and tell the world that the parochial designs of a few will never be allowed to succeed. As far as the state government goes, it must restore respect for the rule of law. Between us.