Shiv Sena’s Aaditya Thackeray has revived his big push for Mumbai’s nightlife. He wants restaurants, etc, to be open till 6 am. Last week at an event pertaining to the hospitality industry, he asked, “How can something that is legal in the day, become illegal after midnight?’’
The argument is cogent, but dispute over what ‘nightlife’ constitutes has had the idea in cold storage for a while now. As far back as 2013, the BMC had passed a proposal for extending time limits, if not restore it to what it used to be 25-30 years back.
After due diligence, the proposal was cleared by the Mumbai police too. But progress in implementing it since then has been terribly sluggish because the issue is mired in politics. Different parties see their gains – or otherwise – differently, resulting in complete inaction.
Sena’s contention, propagated by Aaditya, is that reviving nightlife will boost Mumbai’s tourism and economy. Whether this reflects a generational shift at the party’s helm, is a short-term measure at winning next year’s BMC elections or, in fact, suggests a policy churn in the Sena, is an intriguing question.
Of course, along with its hard stand on issues like religion and its long game with identity politics, the Thackerays have always had another side to them: strong connections with the film industry and nexuses with nightclubs (like Drum Beat, sometimes known as Earthquake, at Tardeo): apart, of course, from hosting the famous Michael Jackson concert in the city in the 1990s.
But the young Thackeray’s desire to make Mumbai a cosmopolitan hotspot with a flourishing nightlife is at odds with the general political direction that Mumbai – and the state — has been on for a while. The NCP, for example, worked hard to destroy Mumbai’s liberal ethos with its focus on small town ‘morality’ for a large and bustling city.
Congress, the NCP’s ally in the UPA stood by and watched as dance bars were closed, women who worked there harassed and vilified.
The current government, under fire from the Supreme Court in the matter of dance bars and women deriving livelihood from it, is seemingly at odds with itself. Shiv Sena, led by Aaditya, has purposefully pursued a different path.
His stridency and urgency could be because this allows the Sena to escape the claustrophobic hold of the senior party in the alliance.
Since the BJP-led NDA came to power at the Centre, regardless of what the prime minister may say, fringe elements with their various social prejudices and hardline attitudes have come to the forefront in every state.
That has diminished the value for other parties with similar agendas. The Sena’s own identity politics has been hijacked by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, and Raj Thackeray’s outrage against Pakistani artistes in Mumbai since the Uri attack being the latest example. In any case, flogging the Pakistan bogey is paying greater dividend to the BJP rather than smaller regional parties.
Aaditya’s proposal to keep pubs and restaurants open late, while in conflict with other movements within the right-wing agenda, looks based in well thought through realpolitik. Seen in conjunction with the thrust for football he is giving in the city, it adds up to a canny attempt to expand the Sena’s political space.
There is overt appeal to the young through sport. Simultaneously, job and lifestyle aspirations within his party cadres — as indeed for the short-term gain in the BMC elections — could also be addressed if the extended nightlife proposal moves ahead quickly.
How this plays out remains to be seen, but seems like an interesting gambit which could impact the city’s politics and lifestyle if the proposal goes through without too much dilution.
Of course, on a wider canvas, as Aaditya Thackeray should know, Mumbai being liberal is in spite of its politicians and their shenanigans. The city’s live and let live ethos has been because of the people — either born here or those who come here to realise their dreams.
What makes Mumbai unique is it a place where you are free to be yourself. What needs to be ensured is that this is never referred to in the past tense.