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Why can’t Raj be tamed?

An ex-Shiv Sainik who came to Mumbai from Bihar 20 years ago asks the real question, writes Sanjay Nirupam.

india Updated: Nov 05, 2008 23:59 IST

When I came to Mumbai 20 years ago, I was an Indian. Now I am being made to realise that I’m a north Indian.

In the name of regional aspiration, Mumbai, a cosmopolitan city, is being divided into different communities, though these different communities have worked together to make Mumbai what it is today. The north Indian community

provides 48 essential services in Mumbai that include milk vending, security services, taxi- and auto-driving. They have contributed largely towards the smooth functioning of Mumbai. Now the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has started a hate campaign against them.

On what grounds? Nobody has stopped the local populace from operating any of these services. On the contrary, the local population has many advantages over migrants. In a free-market society, the consumer is king, quality rules and competence sustains. That is how Mumbai runs. In the month of February, the MNS launched a campaign in Pune and Nashik targeting migrant workers. Consequently, thousands of migrant workers have fled and more than 50 per cent of the city’s industrial units are closed since then because of this flight. But why have local workers not come forward to fill this gap?

The general perception is that Raj Thackeray is growing at the cost of the Shiv Sena. But his actions will hurt the Congress more than any other party. North Indians in Mumbai always felt protected during a Congress regime. The MNS actions have disheartened them. For the first time, they have started feeling insecure. I understand that each and every taxi driver and train passenger cannot be provided protection. But a question that haunts every North Indian here is: why can’t the MNS be tamed?

The emergence of the Shiv Sena in the 1960s was by appealing to the fears and paranoia of the Marathi-speaking population. It was the realpolitik response to the virulent trade unionism practised by communists and was sold to the masses in the name of the ‘sons of the soil’ philosophy. The rest is history. The closure of over 200 textile mills was the most decisive event of its time — 200,000 mill workers, primarily Marathi-speaking ones, were rendered jobless. For the next 30 years, the issue of unemployed Marathi mill workers remained the single most important political issue for Shiv Sainiks in the city. Slogans of reopening the mills and re-employing Marathi mill workers remained the rallying point for politicians of all hues for the next generation.

But no mills were reopened and no mill worker got his job back. When the mill land was finally put up for sale in 2005, Raj Thackeray and Manohar Joshi, the two stalwarts of the Shiv Sena at that time, bought the land — not for opening a mill but to develop a shopping mall. The self-proclaimed custodian of Marathi interests, Raj Thackeray, preferred to behave like any other businessman.

By fate and design, Mumbai evolved into the financial and commercial capital of modern India. Workers both skilled and unskilled from all over the country migrated to the city. The best among them got jobs and stayed back, making Mumbai home. The fittest survived and prospered. The blood and toil of different communities and regions led to the growth of the city. Mumbai became the symbol of aspirations — a modern, progressive, free city. Now as a global Indian I am free to go to New York, Los Angeles and London. But if Raj Thackeray has his way, I won’t be free to stay in Mumbai. As an Indian, I can run a taxi, own a shop, sell wares in any part of India. And the government of the day is duty-bound to protect me, my livelihood and my constitutional rights.

‘Vajli Tutari kara Tayari asel Mumbai pyari tar hakla Bihari’ (War is announced, get ready. If you love Mumbai throw out Biharis.) This text message is being sent by MNS workers selectively to Marathis. The police have not yet registered any case against any one for spreading this hate message. With such messages swirling about, how does one expect North Indians in Mumbai to remain unperturbed?

Sanjay Nirupam is a Congress MP from Maharashtra