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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 6, Dated Feb 16, 2008
CURRENT AFFAIRS  
maharashtra

Old Grouses, New Targets

Raj targets poor north Indians, Bal Thackeray attacked middle-class south Indians, writes PROF SHARIT BHOWMIK

THE VIOLENCE UNLEASHED by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) on north Indians will come as a shock to any normal person, but to someone who is born in Mumbai and lived through the turbulent times of the late 1960s and the early 1970s this violence is reminiscent of the birth of the Shiv Sena.

At that time, the Shiv Sena raised the bogey of south Indians taking away whitecollar jobs from Marathi speakers and
created a frenzy. In fact, Raj Thackeray’s recent speech at the Konkan festival, where he attacked north Indians, is very similar in both tone and words to the speeches of Balasaheb Thackeray at Shivaji Park four decades ago. The senior Thackeray used to abuse the south Indians, whom he publicly called lungi-wallahs, in the same manner adopted recently by his nephew.

The MNS cadre have been publicly identifying north Indians and beating them up. The Shiv Sena did the same thing to the south Indians — such as pulling out their season tickets to identify their names and beating them up in the local trains.

The difference between then and now is that the Sainiks attacked middle-class south Indians whereas the MNS is attacking poorer sections of the north Indians, namely taxi drivers and street vendors. The dilemma before the MNS today is to find a proper constituency. Its parent body the Shiv Sena claimed to represent the Marathi-speaking people. However, of late, the Sena has been wooing north Indians in Mumbai. Therefore, Raj Thackeray has retaliated by creating greater jingoism among Marathi speakers.

He thinks this is how he will be able to consolidate his strength among the Marathi-speaking sections of the population to the detriment of the Shiv Sena and other parties. In other words, he is trying to seek a Marathi identity by denigrating other communities.

The workforce in Mumbai has changed dramatically since the 1960s. The Shiv Sena mainly targeted middleclass south Indians because at that time 65 percent of the city’s workforce was in the organised sector. Today, however, hardly 25 percent is. Hence, large numbers of Marathi- speaking jobseekers are competing for jobs in the informal sector. That explains the targeting of the poorer classes of north Indians by the MNS. Amitabh Bachchan is only symbolic.

In both cases, the Congress government in power — led by Vasant Naik at the time of the Shiv Sena’s rise and Vilasrao Deshmukh now — have been ineffective in countering the jingoistic frenzy.

It is useful to see that from 1981 the population increase in Mumbai has been two percent per annum. This is lower than the population growth rate of any other metro, and also lower than the population growth rate of Maharashtra (2.2 percent). This shows that recent migration has not played a significant role in establishing Mumbai’s current workforce, but jingoistic politics overlooks this. What is true is that the north Indians being targeted today would have made Mumbai their home for over three or four decades.

The writer is Dean, School of Management and Labour Studies, TISS, and Member, ICSSR
.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 6, Dated Feb 16, 2008
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Old Grouses, New Targets
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