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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2673

Indians Without India

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

There are at least over one billion 'Indian' nationals in this world. How many of them really feel that they belong to a country called 'India', a country born after a unique peaceful struggle, called Satyagraha led by Mahatma Gandhi. That non-violent way of protest had succeeded in expelling the colonial masters who at one time ruled almost the whole world. But Satyagraha is a word that finds no place in the lexicon of politicians who rule independent 'India'. Fissiparous movements meet no challenge from the rulers who are supposed to defend 'India'.

The name of Raj Thackeray, the chief of Maharashtra Navnriman Sen, will promptly come to mind in today's context of a virtual war that he seems to have declared against a section of 'Indians' who happen to be living in 'his' city, Mumbai. But to be fair to him there have been several other prominent figures before him who travel on Indian passport but would be happier to see the country divided and dismembered.

Raj Thackeray may not be the first person to disabuse 'India' but since he is so much in the news right now it might be relevant to take a look at some of the arguments forwarded by the master of the current hate campaign against 'north Indians' living in Mumbai. 'North Indians'—the Hindi-speaking population—in Mumbai and Maharashtra have been made to feel that they are not welcome and they overstay the local hospitality at the risk of their lives.

If Raj Thackeray has done one wrong it is being responded with more wrong by those who are threatening Maharastrians settled in 'north India', burning public property in protest, or totting guns at bus travellers in Mumbai. The more shocking is the response of 'responsible' leaders that railway service to Maharashtra may be suspended as a mark of retaliation against violence directed at 'north Indians'. As for the 'silence' of certain right wing parties that have always claimed to be the only 'nationalists' in the country the less said the better.

If Raj Thackeray has his way 'Indians' can no longer assume that they can travel to his city (Mumbai) much less find a job there,even if the constitution does not bar them from doing so. That is not how 'Indians' travel and work within 'India'.

The 'north Indians', in Mumbai in particular and the rest of Maharashtra in general, have been served virtual quit orders on the ground that they have taken up jobs that should have gone to the local Mumbaikars and Maharastrians. It must be accepted that Raj Thackeray is not the original advocate of this kind of aggressive 'sons of the soil' policy. The 'credit' has to go to his more famous or infamous uncle, Bal Thackeray, and his Shiv Sena.

Since it is Raj Thackeray, now estranged from his uncle, who has been pursuing this policy relentlessly for the past many months it is assumed that he now has the bigger rights over the plank of 'Maharashtra for Maharastrians'. The state government has apparently either decided to deliberately downplay the danger posed by him or is unwilling to take him on with gusto because it does not know how to contain regional chauvinism he espouses so blatantly.

While the Maharashtra government certainly deserves to be condemned for its inaction in the wake of unabated violence and killing of 'north Indians' in Mumbai, almost every political party in Maharashtra has shown an ambivalent attitude towards the 'antics' of Raj Thackeray and co, probably for the same reason: confronting regional chauvinism head-on can be disastrous politically in an 'election year'.

A brief perusal of the reaction of some prominent non-political Maharastrians figures to the violence against 'north Indians' in Mumbai points to a more disturbing fact: the 'core' issue raised by Raj Thackeray—jobs for the 'sons of the soil'—enjoys wide support. Many of these figures say they disapprove of the violent ways of the foot-soldiers of Raj Thackeray. But that sounds almost like an after-thought.

Anyone who is supposed to be sincere and really concerned about 'terrorism' is expected to condemn it in ‘all its forms’ without any 'if and buts'. There can be no distinction between 'good' and 'bad' terrorists; nor can it be ‘justified’ on the ground that terrorism is the natural consequence of certain 'oppressive' polices and 'injustices', real or imaginary, that a community had to suffer.

So, can there be a qualified denunciation of violent regional chauvinism that Raj Thackeray preaches? Quoting 'genuine' reasons in support of the angry ‘Marathi Manoos’ would be a clever way claiming a slice of the Raj Thackeray cake.

The problem is with the concept of 'sons of the soil'. If India is one entity and the constitution has any sanctity then the 'Manoos' cannot be defined by regional considerations. People in India do not 'migrate' in the legal sense from one part of the country to another. If the 'sons of the soil' theory is to be applied very strictly then where is the need for the constitution to guarantee the right to travel and settle across the country?

As defined in the present context of MNS agitation, a 'son of the soil' is one who is not really even a 'native'—one who has lived at a place for generations--but one who speaks a particular language as his mother tongue and is part of that culture. Raj Thackeray might say at the moment that he has not sent his marauders after non-Marathi-speaking Mumbaikars who have been living there for a long time. That will be cold comfort because quite a few of the 'north Indians' have also been living in the western metropolis for a long time and presumably many of them have also picked up Marathi. But he makes no distinction between the Marathi-speaking and Hindi-speaking 'north Indians'.

When Bal Thackeray, launched a tirade against non-Maharastrians back in the 1960s he had picked on 'south Indians'. Now his nephew is targeting ‘North Indians’. Proficiency in speaking Marathi will not be sufficient to save them. It makes it easy to pick on 'outsiders', be they from the north or any part of India, living in Mumbai which was perhaps the most sought-after city when it was known as Bombay. Today, Mumbai has 'sons' belonging to different 'soils'; all of them cannot belong to one country. Are there 'Indians' in Mumbai?

- Asian Tribune -

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