RECENT development in Mumbai concerning the presence of Biharis in the city makes one wonder whether the Government of India was wise in agreeing to the reorganisation of states on linguistic lines. Instead of strengthening the country, that has resulted in attempts at socio-cultural separatism of the vilest kind and in introducing the politics of intolerance that is slowly turning into a menace. ‘Tribalism’ – if it can be called that – is cutting across the land. Whether it is in Bodoland or in Kashmir or in Mumbai, the feeling of “we” and “they” is becoming increasingly noticeable, leading even Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to express his concern at what he called “increasing communal and ethnic tension”, particularly in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala.
In Mumbai the situation has come to the point when the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) would like the introduction of permits to Biharis to enter the city. The MNS is, surely, aware of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, expecially clauses (d) (e) and (f) which guarantee the Fundamental Right of any Indian citizen to move freely throughout the land and to reside and settle in any part of it. This cannot be challenged under any circumstances. It is not, it is well to remember, that Biharis are entering in large numbers sufficient to disturb the demographic ratio in Maharashtrian State as Muslim refugees are reportedly doing in Bodoland. Their entrance is largely into Mumbai, a city highly regarded for its cosmopolitanism and which is the product of contributions over several decades of Parsi entrepreneurship, Gujarati business acumen, Andhra physical labour and a range of services offered by people hailing from all over the country. Percentage-wise, the contribution of the Marathi manoos to the growth and sustenance of the city has its limits – a fact that the Shiv Sena and the MNS refuse to acknowledge, let alone accept. This is not to ignore the sense of deep possessiveness of the Marathi manoos, which is understandable, but to point out that it should not be pushed to unacceptable lengths.
In the first half of the 20th century it was Gujarati enterprise and Marathi labour that turned Bombay into India’s textile capital. Bollywood became what it is thanks largely to influx of talent from north India, though how can one even forget Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle to name only two? The point is that Mumbai belongs as much to Bollywood’s Aamir Khans and Amitabh Bachchans as to the Sachin Tendulkars and Sunil Gavaskars. That is the beauty and greatness of Mumbai. To question it is to engage in pettiness and reveals’s one’s sense of inferiority complex.
But the problem facing India today is not so much demographic aggressiveness of the Shiv Sena or the MNS, but to larger national issues such as sharing river waters and the free movement of people from one State to another in search of employment. This calls for grace and acceptance of the fact what we are Indians first and last and Bengalis, Punjabis, Tamilians, Kannadigas, Marathas, Jats, Sikhs or whosoever by accident. It is that which the Constitution says in so many words. Again, it is not to say that one must forget one’s native culture. Ganesh Chathurthi and the mass worship of Vighneshwara, popularised by Bal Gangadhar Tilak is now a national ritual and beyond Maharashtra’s borders. To be in Kerala and enjoy the celebration of Onam is a joy in itself as the worship of Durga in Bengal. The Shiv Sena and MNS would do well to remember what Narendra Modi said about Tamils in Gujarat celebrating Pongal in January. Addressing a meeting in Chennai he said: “There is a huge population of Tamils living in Gujarat, peacefully contributing to our economy. In my own constituency, Maninagar there are more than 20,000 Tamils. By inviting me you are making the social, cultural and economic ties between Gujarat and Tamil Nadu stronger…” That is being a true Indian. Modi was not trying to expel the Tamils. He was, on the contrary, thanking them for their contribution to Gujarat’s economy.
We are all children of one mother: Bharat Mata. Incidentally, the word Vandu means, in Kannada, one. Vande means ‘only one’. We can give a new twist to Vande Mataram to mean all of us have only one mother. The trouble in Mumbai, one suspects, is lack of togetherness of people hailing from different social, cultural, religious and caste groups. This lack of connectivity is a major reason for Shiv Sainik angst. This needs to be corrected – and the sooner, the better.
On a different level we also need to establish social and political connectivity between people of different states to minimise needless friction and encourage one-ness. Rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Krishna, Godavari and Kaveri do not belong to anyone State whatever the riverine origin. Efforts must be made to understand and appreciate the needs of all people, irrespective of their statehood, whose livelihood depends on the waters of a river throughout its long journey to the sea. And the allocation of river waters to people of different states should be a central responsibility and not a matter for two neighbouring states to quarrel over. Indian politics maybe fractured but that shouldn’t affect cultural unity which alone suffices to keep India together. The Kumbh Mela attracts millions to have a dip in the Ganga showing the utter oneness of the people of India. Both Sai Baba of Shirdi and Satya Sai Baba have disciples from across the length and breadth of India. The leaders of Shiv Sena and MNS must ponder over these facts. But there is no reason to fear. Technology is moving fast and capturing the hearts of the people. It will be technology that will overtake the current inanities to make India one nation, one people, as it is already doing in Bengaluru which has now become the hub of technological expertise. No Thackerays can stop the progress of technology and it is only a matter of time before they are slowly marginalised. Till then they are free to enjoy their moments of glory.
Linguistic separatism is an outdated concept and those who practice it must be treated with contempt. The best way to punish them is to ignore them, something that the Arnav Goswamis of the electronic media would do well to remember, Maharashtra has a great past. Those who sully it should be given short shrift.