Cities are built not merely with physical infrastructure but equally with social and civic capital. Governments at all tiers are as responsible for creating inclusive cities as for the next multi-crore infrastructure project. Unfortunately for Mumbai, local governments and political parties have gleefully exploited social fault-lines to serve their narrow and bigoted ends.
The Shiv Sena that claims to speak for all of Mumbai is an obvious example. A party with an impressive cadre network and grassroots connect, it has used its power to lord over the city at will, threaten whoever it deems as the villain into submission, resort to brute muscle power to enforce its views, but has done little of consequence to preserve the city’s Marathi character and ethos. In fact, the de-Marathisation of areas such as Dadar, Parel and Girgaum has happened right under the Tiger’s nose.
In its opportunistic opposition to the ban on slaughter and sale of meat during the Jain festival of Paryushan, it spoke for only Marathis and meat-eating Mumbaiites, not for the city itself. Its leaders in Mira-Bhayander could have stalled the BJP’s proposal but chose not to. In Mumbai, where it holds the majority in the civic body, and could have stalled the ban, it went ballistic in its opposition, only to smoke the peace pipe with a delegation of Jain community leaders, after they had paid their obeisance to party chief Uddhav Thackeray. It is safe to assume that had the ban been extended to fish, the Sena would have been more belligerent and spoken up for the Kolis.
The BJP always appeared less strident than the Sena. Now the senior partner in the alliance, it seems to have taken on the tiger’s stripes with a vengeance. Heady with the mandate it got last year and the enormous power it came to wield, the party is trying hard to position itself as guardian manager of Mumbai and its future. This sets it on the war path with its ally, the Sena. In its haste to assert itself, the BJP may have over-played its hand already if the fracas over the meat ban is an indication.
The BJP’s over-enthusiasm in Mira-Bhayandar and Mumbai to shove its food preferences down everyone’s throats has back-fired. It not only brought wide-spread condemnation but also sharp and unflattering comments from the Bombay high court for the government, following which party leaders backed down and meekly accepted fewer days of ban. Who did the BJP bat for? The Jains, clearly. Going forward, there are apparently proposals to enforce such a ban during Navratri, celebrated mainly by Gujaratis.
In Mumbai, the BJP is positioned as the party of choice for these communities. Through its beef ban and meat ban, both selective in different ways, the BJP speaks for them and also for the orthodox and meat-averse Hindu Brahmins across communities, who practise the principle of purity and derive their vegetarianism from it.
True to its ambiguous character, the Nationalist Congress Party opposed the ban in Mumbai but enforced it in Navi Mumbai where it wields power in the local body. And through it all, the Congress spoke for no one in Mumbai or elsewhere.
All parties contributed, in varying degrees, to creating or deepening social fissures. The most deep-seated of them all involves Muslims. Not ‘Adarsh Muslims’ such as the late President APJ Abdul Kalam but the majority of the community. It is they who are hardest hit by both the beef and meat bans. It is no secret that the BJP and Sena both nurse common hostility and aversion to the community; it has increasingly found a voice in the likes of the divisive Owaisi brothers.
In such a fractured cityscape, no political voice speaks for all of Mumbai. The grandest metro and road cannot link a fissured society.