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Home > Communalism Repository > Professional ’natives’ vs ’outsiders’ in Bombay

Professional ’natives’ vs ’outsiders’ in Bombay

by Ravinder Kaur, 31 October 2008

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The Times of India, 31 October 2008

Not Yours Or Mine

To understand the phenomenon of Raj Thackeray and the present predicament of Mumbai and its reaction in distant Bihar, one has to combine a psychological and sociological perspective. In the case of Raj — and equally of his uncle Bal — it can truly be said that the personal is political. While the psychological is provided by the unfolding of the relationship between them, the sociological is the constant invention of the ‘other’ as a necessary tactic of survival by the Shiv Sena, and now the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).

Raj Thackeray, as we know, decided to reinvent himself once it became clear that he was not going to be Bal Thackeray’s political heir. For the latter, the son’s blood triumphed over that of the nephew, ushering in the unlikely leader Uddhav as Bal’s successor. One isn’t quite sure what made the senior Thackeray change his mind after years of having projected Raj as his political heir. In installing Uddhav, Bal Thackeray showed an unusual lack of wisdom, fuelling a hostile competitiveness and rancour in the spurned Raj Thackeray.

To teach Bal and Uddhav a lesson, Raj decided to take them on — on their own turf — by launching the MNS. The MNS would not only challenge the Shiv Sena but also other parties and lay its own claim to representing Marathi Mumbaikars if not all of Maharashtra. While rarely coming into open conflict, the two factions have been waging an underground war for supremacy.

Raj, through his long and close association with his uncle learnt everything that the latter could teach — how to control Mumbai through muscle power, how to hold it to ransom, how to tweak the psychological nerves of Mumbaikar Maharashtrians so that they felt ‘represented’ and protected against the perceived onslaught of ‘foreigners’ of all hues — those poor and distraught other Indians who make their way to the shores of Mumbai to seek livelihoods their own lands deny them.

He learnt well enough that the superstructure of a passionate mass following would be provided by loyal Marathi Mumbaikars. He also knew that the steel structure that supported such outpourings in favour of ‘the leader’ was built upon a well-oiled machinery of intimidation and extortion through the redistribution of which loyalty of the common Marathi Mumbaikar was bought. And Raj, like his uncle, and unlike his cousin, has the guts of steel to mastermind, condone and operate through such machinery.

Innumerable writings and films are testimony to the composite nature of Mumbai, created as it continually is through the migrations of Indians of all hues — whether they are from the east, west, north or south. In this, Mumbai is no different from any other major city — say New York or London. Like New York, Mumbai is also an island where people are packed in and thrown upon each other, where they are forced to relate to each other irrespective of class, caste, income, language or regional and religious division.

Perhaps, there is a greater scope for combustion in such places. Perhaps real relationships are fewer. Sociologists such as Simmel and Wirth have debated on what a city engenders and what matters most in it — the breakdown of community, the emergence of the blase spirit, or the flowering of freedom, independence and intellect, not to mention innovation.

What we do know is that such cities are built from the labour of millions of individuals, each searching for their own dream and trying to make a go of it.

Do such cities belong to anyone? Can they survive by abdicating to claims of primacy by a particular ethnic group, granting it privileges not granted to others? Language is a privilege that comes with ethnicity and those moving to Mumbai do not resist the language but accommodate their own speech to it. Marathi is not threatened by other languages and Bambaiya Hindi, even more so, is a special creation of the city itself.

The Shiv Sena has survived as a regional party through a long track record in successfully creating the ‘outsiders’ and presenting them as those who take away what rightfully belongs to the ethnic Marathi speaker. We don’t need to remind ourselves that first it was south Indians who faced this, followed by Muslims with the latest victims being people from UP and Biharis. It seems that the Shiv Sena cannot do without drumming up a perceived enemy. Easy to beat down upon, the outsiders have always been a migrant minority — regional or religious.

What does this do for the greatness of Marathi manoos that the opponents chosen are weak and defenceless unlike those that their hero Shivaji chose to battle? But perhaps the relevant point is that for Raj Thackeray it is not the Bihari who is the real opponent — it is really uncle who he is fighting to wrest back what he perceives to be his rightful inheritance. That day may not be far away as the older Thackeray fades away to meet his maker.

Unfortunately, the youthfulness of a desperate Raj promises us that his brand of goondagiri is not about to fade away in a hurry. To limit the damage resulting from his disruptive and violence-generating actions, one needs more police officers like Prasad, the first one who daringly asserted “Mumbai kisi ke baap ki hahin hai ”. Such police officers need the support of political leaders if Mumbai is to fulfill its promise of being a world city.

The writer is a professor of sociology at IIT Delhi.