HT Image
HT Image

Dr Heckle and Mr Pride

Quite simply, Mumbai 2008 is not Bombay 1966 when the Sena was founded. So Raj will realise the limits of identity politics, writes Rajdeep Sardesai.
By Beyond the byte | Rajdeep Sardesai | None
UPDATED ON FEB 08, 2008 11:16 AM IST

Long before there was ‘monkey’, sorry, ‘maa ki...’, there was ‘bhaiya’. The 1979 Ranji game between Bombay and Delhi at the Wankhede stadium witnessed the repeated chants of ‘bhaiya’ every time Madan Lal ran in to bowl. Ironically, a year or two later, as Madan Lal bowled India to a famous win on the same ground against England, the abuse turned to celebration. In a sense, the contrast was typically Bombay: warm, embracing and cosmopolitan at one level, but unforgiving, narrow-minded, and parochial at another. Mumbai has always been a Jekyll and Hyde city with a fleeting memory span. Madan Lal realised it three decades ago. Now, Amitabh Bachchan is being confronted with the grim reality: a much-loved global superstar one day, targeted as a migrant from Uttar Pradesh the next.

That Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray has chosen to reveal the darker side of Mumbai in the last week should come as no surprise. For more than four decades now, Mumbai’s carefree, ‘bindaas’ spirit (best exemplified in Johnny Walker crooning on Marine Drive “Ae dil he mushkil’ in the 1950s) has wrestled with the forces of nativism and sectarian politics. In a city that prides itself on its comforting urbanism, violence and intimidation have always lurked in the shadows.

Long before Raj discovered the north Indian as the ‘enemy within’, his uncle Bal Thackeray had already uncorked the genie of militant chauvinism onto Mumbai’s political landscape. If Raj targets the north Indian taxi driver from UP and Bihar today, 40 years ago his uncle made a mark by first attacking the shops and restaurants owned by South Indian migrants from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. An opportunistic Thackeray Sr’s hate objects changed over the years. The Shiv Sena started off as an ‘anti-South Indian’ movement; then it took on the communists before settling on the Muslim as the ‘enemy’. If the initial years were designed to nurture the Sena as a ‘sons of the soil’ movement with a staunch Maharashtrian identity, the last 20 years have seen the Sena ‘graduate’ into the party of Hindutva politics, aimed at widening its political base beyond the local Marathi-speaking population. While evolving through its various avatars, one thing has remained unchanged: the Shiv Sena’s search for an enemy and a commitment to the politics of violence as a means to an end. Riots, bandhs and mass killings — the Sena cannot escape the charge of having Mumbai’s blood on its hands over four decades.

To that extent, the nephew is only carrying forward the legacy of the uncle. Over four decades, Bal Thackeray has mastered the art of staying in the arclights by his seemingly outrageous rhetoric and open endorsement of violence. He has also, in the process, been built up as a larger-than-life figure; someone to be feared, reviled or admired, depending on your political preferences. Like his uncle, Raj, too, is a cartoonist, who has consciously modelled himself on the Sena supremo. The mannerisms, the sharp language, even the physical appearance, the similarities are uncanny. An ambitious, charismatic Raj, with one eye on next year’s polls, desperately wants to be like his uncle. But while Balasaheb remains a unique figure in Indian politics, Raj is in danger of being reduced to a caricature of the leader he hero-worships.

Quite simply, Mumbai 2008 is not Bombay 1966 when the Shiv Sena was founded. In 1966, Maharashtra was still a young state, influenced by the linguistic agitation that had led to its formation. The sense of cultural pride in being a Maharashtrian was greater, as was the fear of the ‘outsider’, especially in Mumbai, a city which has been shaped by its capacity to attract people from all across the country. To that extent, the emergence of the Sena was seen by many Maharashtrians as a legitimate platform to express their grievances, especially the economic concerns stemming from increasing middle-class competition for jobs.

Thackeray Sr became a ‘loudspeaker’ of popular grievances, someone ready to question and challenge the dominance of Mumbai’s non-Maharashtrian elites. Membership of a Sena shakha became a badge of honour, designed to compensate for the insecurity being felt in the hostile job environment.

Forty years later, it is questionable whether the Maharashtrian middle-class feels the same sense of anger and alienation. Sure, there is a never-ending battle for Mumbai’s scarce resources, especially housing. But the ‘enemy’ isn’t so well-defined any longer. Comfortably ensconced in the new economy, the aspirations of the new generation of Maharashtrians, like most communities, are going well beyond clerical serfdom. How many middle-class Maharastrians see the UP-Bihari taxi driver as ‘competition’? how many maharashtrians actually feel threatened by the so-called ‘invasions’ of Bhojpuri culture? Ironically, Maharashtrian culture itself has almost willingly succumbed to the march of Bollywood, slowly destroying any sense of pride in tradition and language. As a result, while there is a core group — often of unemployed youth — who will be attracted to the Raj Thackeray style of machismo identity politics, the numbers aren’t large enough to make it a sustainable movement like the original Sena.

There is also a critical demographic difference between the 60s and today. Bal Thackeray’s south Indian ‘lungiwallahs’ were barely 5-6 per cent of the city’s population, and hence were a real ‘minority’. By contrast, the 2001 census suggests that north Indian migrants comprise around 12-14 per cent of the population. The UP or Bihari migrant is no longer a marginal figure in Mumbai’s salad bowl; he is a crucial ingredient in the city’s ethos of economic interdependence.

Politically, this has transformed Mumbai’s map. A Govinda, for example, would not have won a Lok Sabha seat from Mumbai without the staunch support of the north Indian community. The Congress-NCP alliance would not have won 19 of the city’s 34 assembly seats in 2004 without the support of the north Indian migrant. Even the heir apparent to the Sena throne, Uddhav Thackeray, realised the limitations of anti-north Indian politics and abandoned the ‘Mee Mumbaikar’ campaign before the last municipal elections.

Raj, too, must realise the limitations of the politics of violent confrontation. As indeed must those discredited elements within the Samajwadi Party who have emerged as the self-styled spokespersons of Mumbai’s north Indians, creating a sense of ‘victimhood’ within their flock. For an overcrowded megalopolis of over 20 million people, with a rapidly crumbling infrastructure, the last thing required is a rupture in its social fabric caused by visionless political interests.

Maybe, if Raj is interested in the future of Mumbai, he could shift his gaze from ill-advised, high-profile agitations against chhat pujas to more concrete proposals for urban renewal. The train from Gorakhpur and Patna station to Mumbai central isn’t going to stop in its tracks because a lumpen mob insists on it. What can be stopped is the political corruption that has destroyed Mumbai’s body, and now threatens its soul. Why can’t Mumbai’s leaders agree, for example, to stop regularising illegal slum colonies? Maybe, Raj is also a talented film-maker. He should consider making a film that exposes the culprits responsible for Mumbai’s decay. He might even want to get Amitabh Bachchan to act in it.

Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief, CNN-IBN

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Delhi's deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia.(HT photo)
Delhi's deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia.(HT photo)

Assembly Budget LIVE: Manish Sisodia to present Delhi's first paperless budget

By hindustantimes.com, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 09, 2021 10:46 AM IST
  • Among the key highlights, the budget is expected to have a special allocation for free Covid-19 vaccination at Delhi government hospitals.
Delhi deputy chief minister and finance minister Manish Sisodia arrives to present Delhi budget at Vidhan Sabha. (HT Photo by Raj K Raj)
Delhi deputy chief minister and finance minister Manish Sisodia arrives to present Delhi budget at Vidhan Sabha. (HT Photo by Raj K Raj)

'All set...': Manish Sisodia to present Delhi's first paperless budget

By hindustantimes.com | Edited by Arpan Rai, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 09, 2021 10:43 AM IST
Sisodia was seen carrying a tablet device in a red cover while entering the Assembly as this will be Delhi's first paperless budget.
Close
The Child Budget Statement is proposed to be prepared in two parts, namely 100 per cent child-centric and less than 100 per cent child-centric programmes/ schemes. (Deepak Gupta/HT)
The Child Budget Statement is proposed to be prepared in two parts, namely 100 per cent child-centric and less than 100 per cent child-centric programmes/ schemes. (Deepak Gupta/HT)

Andhra Pradesh govt to bring gender, child budget from financial year 2021-22

ANI
PUBLISHED ON MAR 09, 2021 10:38 AM IST
  • The Gender Budget Statement is proposed to be prepared in two parts. Part A- reflecting schemes that are 100% targeted towards women and girl beneficiaries; and Part B- reflecting Pro-women and girl schemes in which 30 to 99% allocations are towards women and girls.
Close
The Supreme Court said a decision on reviewing the 50% ceiling on reservations in educational institutions and jobs needs to be answered in the context of the “changed social dynamics of the society”(HT PHOTO)
The Supreme Court said a decision on reviewing the 50% ceiling on reservations in educational institutions and jobs needs to be answered in the context of the “changed social dynamics of the society”(HT PHOTO)

Time to review 50% cap on quota? Supreme Court asks states

By Abraham Thomas, Utkarsh Anand, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 09, 2021 10:26 AM IST
  • If the Supreme Court's five-judge bench accepts that the judgment in Indra Sawhney case should be modified, the case will have to be referred to an 11-judge bench.
Close
The Supreme Court. (HT archive)
The Supreme Court. (HT archive)

SC to examine whether to review 50% cap on quota: Key points

By HT Correspondent | Edited by Sameer
PUBLISHED ON MAR 09, 2021 10:01 AM IST
The apex court said the issue of whether it is time to scrap it on quotas in educational institutions and jobs needs to be answered in the context of the “changed social dynamics of the society” and recent constitutional amendments
Close
Representational image.
Representational image.

Toolkit case: Nikita Jacob, Shantanu Muluk’s bail plea to be heard today

By HT Correspondent | Edited by Zara Khan
PUBLISHED ON MAR 09, 2021 09:59 AM IST
The duo, along with climate activist Disha Ravi, has been charged with sedition for creating and sharing a toolkit on social media related to the ongoing farmer’s protest against the three new farm laws
Close
ED officials at Khaira's home in Chandigarh on Tuesday morning.(HT Photo/Ravi Kumar)
ED officials at Khaira's home in Chandigarh on Tuesday morning.(HT Photo/Ravi Kumar)

Money laundering case: ED raids MLA Sukhpal Khaira's house in Chandigarh

By hindustantimes.com | Edited by Amit Chaturvedi
UPDATED ON MAR 09, 2021 10:30 AM IST
The raids are being carried out at five locations in Punjab, one in Chandigarh (at Khaira's house there) and two in Delhi.
Close
The statement was issued by the high commission said, following the debate which stemmed from an e-petition that attracted over 100,000 signatures on the parliamentary website.(AFP file photo)
The statement was issued by the high commission said, following the debate which stemmed from an e-petition that attracted over 100,000 signatures on the parliamentary website.(AFP file photo)

Farmers' protest: India condemns false assertions in UK parliamentary debate

PTI, London
UPDATED ON MAR 09, 2021 10:32 AM IST
The mission said it would normally refrain from commenting on an internal discussion involving a small group of honourable parliamentarians in a limited quorum.
Close
Representational image. (HT Archive)
Representational image. (HT Archive)

Indiscriminate mining has irreversibly damaged Aravallis, suggest documents

By Jayashree Nandi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 09, 2021 09:42 AM IST
An affidavit enclosed with the application submitted by YS Malik, principal secretary, mines and geology, in March 2010 said in the Aravallis, opencast mining is followed, and stocks once mined are removed from the site and can never be replenished
Close
Elderly citizens receive Covid vaccine shots in Guwahati on Monday.(PTI Photo)
Elderly citizens receive Covid vaccine shots in Guwahati on Monday.(PTI Photo)

With 15,388 new cases, India's daily Covid-19 infections dip slightly

By hindustantimes.com | Edited by Amit Chaturvedi
UPDATED ON MAR 09, 2021 09:33 AM IST
The country also recorded 77 fresh fatalities, which pushed the death toll to 1,57,930, according to health ministry update.
Close
IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said that India is at the 'forefront' of fighting the pandemic.(Bloomberg/file)
IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said that India is at the 'forefront' of fighting the pandemic.(Bloomberg/file)

'India stands out in terms of its Covid-19 vaccine policy', says IMF's Gopinath

By hindustantimes.com | Written by Deepali Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 09, 2021 09:19 AM IST
Gopinath appreciated India's effort with its coronavirus vaccine policies when asked by the permanent representative of UAE to the UN, Lana Nusseibeh.
Close
Fire breaks out at the 12th floor of a multi-storeyed building in Kolkata, Monday, March 8, 2021. (PTI Photo)(PTI)
Fire breaks out at the 12th floor of a multi-storeyed building in Kolkata, Monday, March 8, 2021. (PTI Photo)(PTI)

Kolkata fire tragedy: Centre orders high-level inquiry and other latest updates

By hindustantimes.com | Written by Shivani, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 09, 2021 09:13 AM IST
  • On Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced ex-gratia of 2 lakh each from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund for the next of kin of those killed in the fire.
Close
Representational image.
Representational image.

Delhi HC to hear plea challenging new rules to regulate internet content

By HT Correspondent | Edited by Zara Khan
UPDATED ON MAR 09, 2021 09:16 AM IST
On February 25, the Centre had notified the rules for governing online content, which includes setting up a three-tier self regulatory mechanism for websites such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hotstar and online news media entities
Close
A Kashmiri boy walks homeward after attending private classes, after a brief spell of fresh snowfall in the outskirts of Srinagar Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)(AP)
A Kashmiri boy walks homeward after attending private classes, after a brief spell of fresh snowfall in the outskirts of Srinagar Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)(AP)

News updates from HT: IMD predicts rain, snow in western Himalayan region

By hindustantimes.com, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 09, 2021 09:02 AM IST
Here are today’s top news, analysis and opinion. Know all about the latest news and other news updates from Hindustan Times.
Close
Rohtak has seen a steep rise in crime, particularly murders. The district has reported 14 murders this year against last year’s nine in the same time period. (AFP)
Rohtak has seen a steep rise in crime, particularly murders. The district has reported 14 murders this year against last year’s nine in the same time period. (AFP)

Missing woman's body, chopped into pieces, found in Jharkhand

PTI
PUBLISHED ON MAR 09, 2021 08:43 AM IST
The body, identified as that of Sona Marandi who was missing since February 24, was recovered from the bank of Bansloi river near Rangatola under Amrapara police station area.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP