‘Welcome to Nashik, The City of Pilgrimage.’ So says a board placed by the Public Works Department on the green path leading into the city.
Having entered the city, 185 km north-east of Mumbai and now a vibrant industrial centre, the first thing you see on the left is a gleaming, glass-fronted Hyundai showroom.
Only yards away is a Honda outlet, and for the next 1 km, the line-up of sparkling structures is something like this: Hotel Taj, a Toyota showroom, Mahindra House and Axis Bank.
Till recently, Nashik was known for its temples and the river Godavari. Ram, Lakshman and Sita are believed to have stayed here during their exile; and the place owes its name itself to Lakshman’s act of cutting off the nose (nasika in Sanskrit) of Surpankha.
It has also prided itself on its Maharashtrian character: Freedom fighters Anant Kanhere and Veer Savarkar and the pioneer of India’s film industry, Dadasaheb Phalke, were Nashik-kars.
Globalisation changed the town’s character: It is today a hub of steel-rolling mills and power and automobile industrial units. The 1,400-plus units have attracted over 35,000 semi-skilled and unskilled workers from the Hindi heartland since the year 2000.
This inflow has helped the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) fight the Shiv Sena in Nashik. Raj Thackeray’s party has not only taken over the Marathi agenda but is using the same methods to mobilise the Marathi manoos against “outsiders”.
Further in, you can see a 150-sq-ft office that looks like a Shiv Sena shakha. There’s a banner, ‘Voter Assistance Centre’ outside. In the office is a huge framed photograph of Raj Thackeray on one wall and another, equally big one of Raj with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray on another.
This office used to belong to the Shiv Sena; it is now a branch of the MNS.
Nandu Khairnar (41), a full-time volunteer here, remembers the day he joined the Shiv Sena.
“10-10-1980. I was in Class 7. I’d go with other Sainiks to block trucks carrying cows to Malegaon for slaughter,” he says. He quit the party in 2006, the year the MNS was formed.
Why? “When we’d go to Matoshree earlier, Meenatai (Balasaheb’s wife) would inquire: ‘Have you had food? Do you have money to go home?’ It was a family. In the last few years, whenever we went to Sena Bhavan, we were asked, ‘Why have you come here?’ No one cared.”
Two college students, anxious, enter the office. They want help in applying for higher education. Khairnar plays guide and they leave, relieved.
“Raj is like Balasaheb,” says Khairnar. “He does what he says. His ‘deadline’ for signboards in Marathi worked. North Indians have taken up the new jobs here. They are the helpers, fitters, turners, security guards. Where do locals go? He talks about this.”
Raj has worked on making Nashik his fort for some years; his candidate got over 2 lakh votes in the Lok Sabha polls.
Student wing leader Sandeep Bhavar joins Khairnar. He was booked for anti-migrant rioting last year. “Industrial units must pay Rs 150 per day to labourers; workers from UP-Bihar work for Rs 600-700, so the units prefer them,” he says.
A few months ago, the MNS held classes for 700 Maharashtrian youths wishing to take the civil services exams. Exactly what the Shiv Sena did to form social bonds. But what of that one cog in the wheel that’s missing?
You step out of the office, look right, and there it is, parked on the roadside: The neighbourhood, party-sponsored ambulance. The Shiv Sena isn’t pleased; nor are migrant workers who bore the brunt of the violence in 2008.