By Dr Jay Dubashi
Every time Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent to the Nehru-Gandhi empire, opens his big mouth, he puts his foot into it, often both his feet. In his very first meeting in Phulpur, his great-grand-father’s constituency, he asked his audience how long they were going to Maharashtra for begging – Kab tak Maharashtra jakar bheekh mangoge? It is not the kind of question they expected from a man like him – who had actually gone to Phulpur to beg for votes in the coming assembly elections. They were so stunned they just got up and left, according to reports, and the would-be Prime Minister was left twiddling his thumbs.
Actually, it is the Nehru-Gandhi themselves are responsible for turning up-wallas into “beggars”. The big state has provided a large number of Prime Ministers from Nehru onwards, almost all of them, from Allahabad. Rahul’s party, the Congress, has also provided a long list of Chief Ministers, before the party was thrown out by disgusted voters. What have all these people done for the state? Virtually nothing, going by the statistics. There is not a single state in the country with a per capita national income less than that of UP, except Bihar. In other respects also, the state remains the most backward, with maybe as many as 75 per cent below the poverty line. And for sixty long years, the Nehrus have been lording it in New Delhi, as well as UP.
No wonder the UP-wallas are abandoning their state in millions. It is said that every train that reaches Mumbai from Uttar Pradesh—and there are about a dozen every day—brings thousands of immigrants many of whom, may be most, never go back. It is wrong to say, as the young man, who is also an emigrant from Allahabad to Delhi, alleged that they are all beggars. They are certainly not beggars. They may be poor, but they are certainly not beggers. They come to Mumbai looking for jobs, perfectly honourable intention, because in the Land of Nehrus and Gandhis, there are no jobs. So they come to Mumbai, which offers jobs to all and sundry, and they become Mumbaikars.
They sleep on footpaths, they sell chana, they drive taxis and rickshaws, they work as coolies (porters) at railway stations, they open vegetable and fruit stalls in bazaars and sometimes on footpaths, and some turn to crime. But this is what emigrants do everywhere. There are Indian emigrants in New York and Chicago, in London and Vancouver, in Durban and Sydney, in Rio de Janerio and Los Angelos. Most of them emigrated from Mumbai or Chennai or Ahmedabad, or even from Lucknow and Allahabad. As Salman Rushdie said, the earth is full of Indians, and they are everywhere.
They are not the only ones. There are emigrants everywhere, and not all of them are Indians. America itself is a country of immigrants. Two out of five people in London are outsiders. If you go to a place called Harrow, near the London airport. You will scarcely come across an Englishman, who has become a stranger in his own country. Indians have taken over large patches of London, like other cities in other countries. A global economy triggers global emigration, legal or illegal, and there is little, you can do about it.
Almost the entire film industry in Mumbai is full of non-Mumbaikars. Almost all stars and superstars came from outside the state, including Amitabh Bachchan (who came from Allahabad). The Kapoors (Peshawar, now in Pakistan), Shatrughan Sinha (Bihar), Katrina (London), Priyanka (Punjab), Shah Rukh Khan (Delhi), Akshya Kumar (Punjab) and so on. There is not a single Maharashtrian among the big stars, excluding perhaps Madhuri Dixit. The film industry does not recruit its stars and actors by which state they come from and which language they speak. And many of the people who are now star probably arrived as ticketless travellers from Moradabad or Ludhiana. Go and ask Dharmendra how he arrived in Mumbai. People like Ashok Kumar were rare: they probably came with return tickets. The rest, including Amitabh Bachchan, came to try their luck, like thousands of others who didn’t make it and are now driving taxis. But they are all Indians, and none of them is a beggar.
In fact, the intermingling of people from various states is a strength, not a hindrance. Indians have been travelling all over their beloved country for thousands of years. My great-grand father went to Varanasi from Goa when he was a young man of twenty-four. His name – along with the names of two others who travelled with him – is written in a thick folder maintained by a muth and was shown to me when I visited the place nearly a hundred years after my great-grand father’s visit. He has signed the book, and his signature, now fading, is almost like a blessing. If you go to Martand in Kashmir, you can see some of the names of your ancestors there. We Hindus used to go on pilgrimages all the time and wherever we have gone, we have left our imprint. Now, instead of Varanasi and Puri, our children go to New York and London, but we are the same Hindus travelling all over the globe, for travelling is in our blood.
There is nothing wrong if some people from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar go to Mumbai for work, for they are all Indians, and they can work anywhere, provided they do not affect the livelihoods of local people. They should take care of their susceptibilities, for, otherwise, in a tight economy, you may create unnecessary trouble. But that doesn’t mean that a person migrating from one state to another is a beggar. Are Indians who are acutally operating the transport networks in London and New York beggar? They work and they get paid. The only beggars you see in London are hippies who have given up work altogether and are totally at the mercy of his own countrymen who toss coins at them. I have not seen a single Indian beggar anywhere, for Indians, whether from Uttar Pradesh, including Phulpur, or Bihar, are a hard-working lot, unless they happen to be Congress politicians in kurta pajamas, who, when fed up in Delhi, go out for a jaunt among the fleshpots of Bundelkhand and Jhansi and abuse the locals.
We are all immigrants in one way or another. We arrive on this earth from the other world, and return to that world, when our work is done. What does it matter if we shift our abode from time to time before we depart this worldly shore for good?