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    Posted on 17 April 2012
    OPINION  
    Binoo K John

    Demonising migrants is silly

    Binoo K John on why both factions of the Shiv Sena must stop the game of ethnic rivalry

    Illustration: Tanmaya Tyagi


    BIHAR CHIEF Minister Nitish Kumar’s declaration that he needs no visa to come to Mumbai and Raj Thackeray’s challenge thrown at him to try and hold a Bihar Day in Mumbai, are all the fallout from the sub-nationality politics that is the mainstay of both factions of the Shiv Sena. The very fact that a chief minister has to make a visa statement about a visit to Mumbai is in itself a matter of concern. This so-called ethnic rivalry is a manufactured one. Raj Thackeray is trying to use the anti-Bihar card to gain a political constituency as different from the original Shiv Sena. “We never go anywhere to celebrate our 50th year. Why do they need to come here?” was MNS leader Raj Thackeray’s question.

    Thackeray is only re-inventing the sub-nationalist plank of his uncle Balashaheb Thackeray. The question is: how much will it help him? Also, should Nitish Kumar be worried about Biharis working in Mumbai when other states are trying to get more labour from Bihar to work in their fields? The anti-Bihari sub-nationality plank is utterly flawed and will in the long run boomerang on Raj and his party. The world is no longer what it was when ‘anti-Madrasi’ anger was whipped up by the Shiv Sena. That too was manufactured and even today south Indian establishments and people from the south do well in Mumbai. There is no enmity, only cooperation. The unifying factor is prosperity, Maharashtra being a top state in term of foreign investment, not to mention the fact that the richest people live there and it is the finance capital of the country. For the common man and for everyone in Mumbai, what matters is money and its growth: typical of what happens in a place where the stock market dominates people’s lives. It is here that Raj Thackeray is trying to create a divide, just like his uncle also did — with limited success.

    Before this, the states’ reorganisation , the problem was with Gujaratis, who then formed 18 percent of the population. Though there were huge agitations for Samyukta Maharashtra led by communists and also Bal Thackeray’s father Keshav Sitaram Thackeray, the reorganisation finally worked out. It is after this that Bal Thackeray took upon the ‘Marathi manoos’ as the defining politics of his party, something which his nephew has been trying to appropriate. In sub-nationalistic politics, to create hate objects is of primary importance. In the post-independence days of struggle for a Samayukta Maharashtra, the hate object was the Gujarati. SA Dange, who led the agitation for Samyuktha Maharashtra, gave the agitation a class spin, saying Marathis were reduced to working for the rich Gujarati. It is predominantly still the case, but the Gujarati is no longer a hate object in Mumbai.

    Bal Thackeray left the Gujaratis alone and made the South Indian the new hate object, caricaturing them. There were attacks on South Indians, but things did not change drastically. South Indians survived, and so did Mumbai. So he found the new hate object — the Muslims — during the eighties and nineties. When, tor reasons other than the Shiv Sena’s campaign, there were anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai, the Shiv Sena too played its part.

    It is then that the Shiv Sena split, and Raj, in the last five years, has been focussing on creating a new hate object in the Bihari, in order to carve out a distinct political space. On the street this can also include the poor UP-ite, so basically the entire country ( the rest of India, so to say) has been off and on held up as hate objects to be thrown out of Mumbai. How much of this whipped up anti-Bihari sentiment will catch on? Will this also peter out like the earlier hate campaigns? The ethnic or sub-nationalistic strife that the Shiv Sena has sought to create has no basis in reality.

    THE SITUATION of the Bihari going to Mumbai or other states for jobs can be compared to Indians of all ethnicity going to the Gulf countries or the West for lower-level jobs, and this includes Marathis as well. This in fact helps brings down wages in that country and mostly spurs growth, as has happened in Mumbai. In Dubai, for instance, 80 percent of the population are migrants (with similar pattern in other Gulf states) and the government there has no issues. The Dubai government has made no mention of sending back Marathi labour, for instance.

    Raj Thackeray’s war cry, apart from being anti-national, is self-defeating. The jobs which the Bihari occupies in Mumbai to a large extent are not the jobs the unemployed Marathi is looking for. He is aspirational and mostly educated. Given a chance, he would prefer not to drive a taxi. To capitalise on the frustration of the unemployed is a Shiv Sena ploy but that may not work any more because opportunities are growing. All the more in Mumbai.

    Raj must also realise that other states are looking for cheap labour, including Punjab, where there are not enough hands for agriculture labour. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has asked for the national rural employment scheme to be suspended for the duration of the harvest season so that Bihari labour will migrate. If Bihari, Oriya and UP migrant labourers stay put in their home states (as is happening now thanks to the rural employment scheme), there will be a crisis in the agricultural sector. So the Bihari migrant worker is being welcomed elsewhere. They are loved for their hard work, uncomplaining nature, and for accepting wages much below the prescribed minimum wages. Only Raj Thackeray hates them. In any case, societies which welcome people of all ethnicities (look at the West) always thrive. Mumbai too is an example.

    So Nitish Kumar holds all the cards. He has an absolute constitutional right to hold the Bihar Day celebration in Mumbai, Bihari migrant labour is what will spur growth in Mumbai and many other states in the near future as it has in the past. Who else will work in the huge constructions planned for Mumbai? Hopefully, Mumbai will see through this narrow divisive politics of Raj Thackeray, like it did in all earlier occasions when hate politics and militant populism was sought to be forced upon the city. The cosmopolitanism of Mumbai should always win.

    Binoo K John is an author and columnist based in New Delhi. The opinions expressed are his own.
    binoojohn@gmail.com


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    Posted on 17 April 2012
 
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