A terrible sickness is affecting the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS)?rival but ideologically similar parties in Mumbai?and it is saddening. What both are suffering from is not just vicious parochialism; it is fear of change that is as deep-rooted as it is self-destructive.
One fear, as was expressed by MNS ?leader? Raj Thackeray, is that the ?invasion? of Mumbai by ?outsiders? will affect Marathi culture, as if Marathi culture is week and easily dominated. The entire concept is laughable. India is a multi-cultural society. We have?and recognisably so?a Bengali culture, a Punjabi, Rajasthani, Gujarati a Tamil or Kerala culture which have lived together happily in close proximity. In the process many have undergone subtle changes, some superficial, some quite fundamental, but they have all been accepted as inevitable. Anyone who had lived in Mumbai, say, in the thirties of the 20th century, would tell how obvious some of the changes that have taken place are, so noticeable today, in dress, deportment, food intake and other ways of life.
In the thirties one could recognise Parsis, Gujaratis, Maharashtrians just by the dress they wore whether by males or females. No longer. Maharashtrian ladies today, like others from different cultures, have adopted the salwar khamiz and Maharashtrian males have given up their traditional dhotis and caps for the more comfortable trousers and bush shirts. In the 1930s there was not a single ?Udupi? restaurant in Mumbai and few had heard of idli sambhar and masala dosa. Today there is hardly any restaurant run by Maharashtrians providing a typical Maharashtrian thali. And no one is bemoaning the fact. Just as popular are Chinese restaurants and nobody has suggested that they should close down. As Ashish Nandi, the sociologist has noted, ethnic food has become ? the measure of one's tolerance of social and cultural diversity?. One made a social or political statement if one disliked a particular ethnic cuisine and not if one like it. In competing with each other, the Shiv Sena and MNS ?leaders? are both talking of the ?other??as if the ?other? needs to be kept out to keep Mumbai culturally ?safe?, meant only for Maharastrians!
If this principle is stretched to its logical conclusion, then there will be no movement of people, no inter-action between different communities, thus inviting the inevitable death of a multi-cultural society and the dream of One India One People.
In their pathetic fight for political space, the two Thackeray cousins Raj and Uddhav are threatening to ?throw out? migrant labour ?in a cargo plane like packages? once they have completed their job assignments. The contempt of ?outsiders? is clearly noticeable. The people who come to Mumbai are not human beings: they are commodities like spades and pick-axes, to be discarded once their usefulness is over.
Mumbai, needless to say, is over-crowded, and there is a limit to how many more people it can comfortably absorb, but the theory of containment should be applicable to all?whether they come from Konkan, Satara or Vidharbha or?and there'swhere the rub is?from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan or even Bangladesh. The theory that Maharashtra is only for Maharashtrians is not only antedeluvian but is impractical and anti-national as well. The people of this vast sub-continent cannot be geographically confined to well-marked boundaries. It will destroy the very concept of India that is Bharat.
What the Thackeray clan has obviously not realised is the way things are changing the world over. The European Union was inconceivable in the 1940s. Today a German does not need a passport to visit France or for a Hollander to visit Belgium. If the silly SS-MNS theory of ?Maharashtra only for Maharastrians? is accepted, then we will be destroying the very concept of India and leave a great country floundering.
Presently, Bangalore is becoming the Mumbai of the south but Kannadigas are taking it in their stride and if Mumbai is the commercial capital of India, Bangalore might claim to be the scientific capital of the country and rightly so. The ?We? and ?They? disease has not yet affected Bangaloreans which is one reason, one suspects, why Bangalore has become so closely identified with Information Technology and Software. There is no Shiv Sena in Bangalore nor a Karnataka Navanirman Sena with goons running around damaging taxis run by non-Kannadigas. There is, if one wants to know, no such thing as ?cultural security? and separateness. All cultures are under constant change. What needs to be corrected, gets corrected.
Decades ago it was compulsory?or traditional?for Brahmins to wear a tuft (shendi), at least in some parts of India. As westernisation slowly crept into Hindu society, the lad who wore his tuft became the laughing stock in his class and over the years it was given up. So many are the aspects of what goes for ?culture? that have been given up. Widows no longer have their heads shaved, as once was the practice in some parts of the country. Some re-marry, which would have been considered a sin in the old days. Or take inter-caste marriage. This, too, has become acceptable. One can think of a hundred different ways in which ethnic cultural norms have done somersaults. How many modern Maharashtrian women wear bara hathi saris? Time was when anyone who crossed the seas had to do prayaschitta?penance?before being readmitted to his caste. What culture, then are Raj and Uddhav Thackeray talking about?
It is the height of brazen stupidity for MNS goons to prevent the showing of a film in Bhojpuri. This is a travesty of Maharashtrian culture. And it is an insult to the fair name of Maharashtra. Whatever our lineage, whatever our linguistic affinity, whatever our predilections, we remain?and must remain Indians. Raj Kapoor showed it in Mere Naam Joker. Whatever he ate, whatever he wore, mera dil hai Hindustani, he said. So powerful was its message that Mao Tse-tung, it is said, saw that film over forty times. Whatever our hopes and fears, the doors to the land of our ancestors must be open to all. That is the only culture that becomes us.
The frog-in-the-well behaviour of the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navniraman Sena is a sign of immaturity. If we can'tcompete with ?outsiders?, throw them out in order to save our faces seems to be the philosophy of MNS followers. The stagflation of the 1970s characterised by high unemployment and high inflation may have been responsible for the Shiv Sena behaviour of those times. Haven'twe matured since then? Biharis are not aliens. They are our own people. And if Bihari labour adds to Maharashtrian prosperity they deserve our thanks, not our opprobrium.
When will Shiv Sena and MN sainiks grow up? They should be ashamed of themselves.