Why Raj Thackeray will find no Bangladeshi in Mumbai
Raj Thackeray needs to refresh his memory before he begins to target Bangladeshis, as he has announced. It is likely to be a futile exercise, similar to the one taken up by his uncle Bal Thackeray when the Shiv Sena first came to power in 1995. The outcome was such, the exercise was never repeated.
After rounding up so-called Bangladeshis from slums across then Bombay, the city police decided to deport them to their country. Accordingly, they accompanied them on the Bombay-Howrah Express, at state expense, to Calcutta, not letting them out of their sight until they were across the border. Within hours most of them were back in India — the Bangladesh Rifles had pushed them right back across the border because they were not Bangladeshis.
For, the Mumbai police, like the Bangalore police who similarly razed a slum in their city last month and then discovered the residents were Indians, had no clue about who a Bangladeshi really was. They had picked up anyone who looked or sounded like a Bangladeshi. Which meant most of their deportees were either Indian Bengali, Bihari, Oriya or Assamese Muslims, who ethnically dressed the same, ate similar food and spoke similar dialects.
When then West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu heard of the crowding of the Howrah railway station by these returnees, he packed them back to Mumbai on the Howrah-Mumbai Mail, again at government expense.
When the Mumbai police found they had returned, all hell broke loose. They could not be deported again because, on Basu’s advice, the so-called Bangladeshi immigrants had armed themselves with copies of their family ration cards and letters from their village sarpanchs, certifying that they had been born in that particular village in a state very much belonging to India.
But that was not all. The genuine Bangladeshi immigrants, illegal though they may have been, all had Indian passports and Indian ration cards — those are the first things the Bangladeshis acquired even before looking for jobs in Mumbai. When the police began to investigate, they discovered the Bangladeshis had been helped in procuring these documents by Indian touts. The police could not deport people with Indian passports and so that was the end of that particular campaign.
Perhaps it is this experience that compels the current dispensation to declare that an Indian passport along with other documents like a PAN card or Aadhaar, are not proof of citizenship. Raj Thackeray’s decision to target Bangladeshis could reinforce the same pitfalls on the same grounds and is bound to fail.
How will he identify the Bangladeshis? By the food they eat? Or the clothes they wear? BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh, Kailash Vijayvargiya, thinks Bangladeshis can be identified by the poha (puffed and then flattened rice) they eat. But poha is a very popular savoury breakfast item in Western India, including in Maharashtra and Gujarat. In West Bengal, which has a sweet tooth, it is often soaked in milk and eaten with ghee and jaggery. Then again maachh-bhaat — fish curry and rice — is uniformly favoured by the Bengali, Assamese, Bihari and Oriya migrant workers and the Bombay police had equated them with Bangladeshis because fish curry and rice is the staple among them too.
Then again how do you identify a Bangladeshi by his clothing? Those who had been rounded up in Mumbai had all preferred lungis or sarees with a very East Indian style of draping, the pallu thrown twice over the shoulder, also popular in Bangladesh. Even DNA testing will not do the trick. We are all in the same gene pool, after all. Moreover, there are fewer Bangladeshis migrating to India these days, western nations seem a more attractive destination to them for various reasons.
So, demonising Bangladeshis is now passè. It can bring only diminishing returns.