It is good that two Maharashtrians with moral authority have tried to prick the Raj Thackeray bubble. Sachin Tendulkar has said that Mumbai belongs to all Indians and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat has spoken out against the divisive politics of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). Meanwhile, the MNS has shot off a letter to the State Bank of India in Mumbai asking it to give priority to Maharashtrians in the local recruitment of bank clerks.
Thackeray’s politics invites either passionate defence or passionate condemnation. Such reactions widen the divide and eventually help his brand of divisive politics. It is time to clinically take apart the MNS’ pernicious agenda by drawing people to the centre.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Raj Thackeray feeds off the economic insecurities and cultural anxieties of Marathi speakers in the Mumbai region. These are not unique: Such responses to immigration have been seen in areas as different as London and the tribal regions of Chhattisgarh. Bhagwat has pointed out that the issue of local language and its rights have cropped up all around the country and need to be dealt with carefully. Thackeray wants to fan these fires rather than douse them. Dealing with him needs to take this fact on board.
Bal Thackeray pioneered anti-outsider agitations in Mumbai in the mid-1960s, and his rebellious nephew is merely copying what the uncle did. That the same issues continue to resonate shows that street fighting has not helped working class and lower middle-class Maharashtrians even after 40 years. The Shiva Sena got a few of them clerical jobs or helped them set up vada-pav kiosks rather than prepare them for a global economy, while party leaders became successful real estate barons. The MNS will do the same.
Immigration is a winner: Those who come into a region bring skills while also getting a chance to earn more. A Mumbai without “outsiders” would see an economic collapse: depopulation, a labour shortage, uncompetitive wages, a steep fall in real estate prices and a loss of economic vitality.
The bigger threat is that MNS-style politics will take root in other growth regions which receive waves of immigrants from failed north Indian states. India is finally moving to a national market for goods and services because of the imminent introduction of the goods and services tax. A splintering of the national labour market at this juncture would be bad news for the country.
That is why the virus must be tackled before it spreads through a variety of measures: a special Centrally administered fiscal package for Bihar, job training for local youth who feel threatened by immigrants, and a greater respect for local languages and cultures.
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