For a politician seeking to make his mark on state politics and emerge from the shadow of his uncle and Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray seems to have got it all wrong. Reinventing his famous uncle’s ‘amchi Mumbai’ campaign decades ago when he tried to purge the state of south Indians, Raj has now gone into attack mode against north Indians. What started as a rant against cinestar Amitabh Bachchan’s fondness for Uttar Pradesh and the Samajwadi Party, has become the ugly politics of exclusion and has taken a violent turn with MNS workers attacking Sp activists during a rally by the latter.
It may have escaped Raj’s notice that Thackeray sr has given up this line of thinking long ago. It is unthinkable that anyone in his right senses can speak of shutting off India’s commercial capital to any Indian on any ground. For decades, Mumbai has been a beacon for India and millions have flocked here to seek fame and fortune in this cramped but cosmopolitan city. What Raj is seeking to do now is to destroy the assimilative spirit that Mumbai is so famous for. Now what if other states were to come up with their own version of the ‘Mumbai-for-Mumbaikars’ philosophy? Will the MNS answer to all the Maharashtrians who may be driven out of other states? Will Raj and his cohorts be able to find the labour which comes in from other places and which keeps the great metropolis running? Many of Mumbai’s most famous citizens have origins in other states, indeed other countries, the Ambanis and Tatas being among them. Will Raj ask them to leave? At a time when India is rightly proud of its rapid integration into the global economy, such xenophobic outbursts could deter the foreign investors that we are desperately wooing.
If Mumbai is off limits to Indians from other states, then we may assume that foreigners will be equally, if not more, unwelcome. As for Raj’s criticism of migrants from Bihar and UP conducting chhath puja, surely these are matters of faith and as long as such festivities do not interfere with law and order, it is no one’s business. His misplaced indignation suggests a bankruptcy of ideas to capture centrestage in Maharashtra politics. We may be forgiven for suggesting that such pronouncements spring from the frustration of not being able to best his uncle’s Shiv Sena so far. Raj would be better occupied galvanising his followers to ensure that no one dilutes the cosmopolitan character of Mumbai.