Here’s a little thought experiment. Take a particle of Marathi chauvinism, say, a member of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), from the cosmopolitan masala mix formerly known as Bombay. Put it on a jet plane and accelerate it in the southward direction. Let the plane travel an hour and a half and descend in the boomtown formerly known as Bangalore. Now let the particle of Marathi chauvinism collide with an equally charged particle of Kannada chauvinism from the Kannada Rakshana Vedike (KRV).
The collision is likely to generate more heat than light. It is also likely to generate sound, as the two identify each other. The KRV man will probably see the MNS man and shout, “North Indian!” The MNS man, in utter confusion, will look around him and say, “Where?” Unfortunately for the poor fellow, little does he know that in Karnataka, he could well be mistaken for a north Indian. If he is correctly identified as a Maharashtrian, then things might get more exciting, since Karnataka and Maharashtra have a territorial dispute since 1956.
Maharashtra has been demanding that the Karnataka district of Belgaum should be given to it since the population is largely Marathi-speaking. This in the past has led to a Marathi-speaking former mayor of Belgaum being beaten up by KRV men and aged tiger Bal Thackeray warning that Kannadigas in Mumbai would be forced to leave.
In a perfect world, our Kannada and Marathi chauvinists would annihilate each other, disappearing in a flash and leaving the world a better place. That, however, somehow never happens. The local dada, like the local dog, never barks outside his street. Nor do they ever take on others their own size or kind. The Kannada chauvinist certainly is the MNS kind. The last time there were protests against ‘north Indians’, particularly from Bihar, seeking Railways jobs, was in February 2008 in Bangalore. Railway stations were vandalised, but no one was injured, so it didn’t make much of a splash.
This time, of course, we’ve all seen the coverage in the media. It’s sad and worrying that two of India’s most important metropolises have loud and violent minorities who want to turn them into one-language, one-religion towns rather than world cities. These chauvinists are incapable of winning elections anywhere. However, they do manage to ruin innocent lives, and great cities. If Mumbai is for Marathis, and Bangalore for Kannadigas, and Chennai for Tamils, and so on across the country, then I guess India has no real existence outside Delhi.