Mumbai: Six months ahead of civic elections in Mumbai, the incumbent Shiv Sena is reviving memories of some of Mumbai’s old social and communal fault-lines.
This week, one of the editorials in Shiv Sena mouthpiece ‘Saamna’ focused on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stern message to “80% anti-social Gau Rakshaks (cow protectors)”. But the editorial — the writer is usually Sena’s Rajya Sabha MP and Saamna’s executive editor Sanjay Raut — also took a swipe at property builders in Mumbai who it said have created “islands of apartments” where non-vegetarians are not welcome.
The editorial, while applauding Modi’s criticism of spurious Gau Rakshaks, also asks the Prime Minister to discipline these ‘Gau Rakshaks’ of the real estate business who build apartments exclusively for vegetarians.
“This is also another gorakhdhanda (fraudulent business) and the Prime Minister should crack down on such builders just as he has on the fake Gau Rakshaks,” the editorial says asserting that builders had no right to determine food choices.
This is not obviously a culinary issue — the vegetarian versus non-vegetarian debate encompasses some of Mumbai’s oldest social and communal divides.
Though arguments about food are a relatively recent occurrence, they are part of the larger landscape of lingual, religious, and regional politics of Mumbai’s different social groupings. For instance, all the Thackerays — the first family of the Sena — are famous connoisseurs of non-vegetarian food. They include the late Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray.
An overwhelming majority of Sena cadres, supporters, and voters are non-vegetarians. Naturally, the Sena has always been on the meatier side of this vegetarian versus non-vegetarian fracas.
There is another reason, which has gained greater currency since Modi became the Prime Minister, Amit Shah became the BJP president, and the BJP emerged the single largest party in Maharashtra elections all in 2014, for the Sena’s frequent recourse to this dietary debate. Most vegetarians in Mumbai are traditionally considered close to the BJP, the party Sena loves to hate and which has emerged as the main challenger to the Sena’s dominance at the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM).
Though the BJP is in alliance with the Sena at the Centre, in Maharashtra, and at MCGM, they may not team up for the civic elections. Hence Sena’s non-vegetarian politics. The elections are due in February 2017.
Of Greater Mumbai’s 12 million-plus population as per the 2011 census, Gujaratis at 19% form the second largest language group after the native Marathis who comprise around 31%. Though there is no authentic data available, it could be safely argued that a large majority of Mumbai’s Gujaratis are vegetarians.
The trading communities of Marwaris and Jains are also predominantly vegetarians. The Gujaratis, Marwaris, and Jains also form the bulk of the real estate sector in Mumbai. The Sena’s grouse is that these builders, who themselves are devout vegetarians, also determine their clients by deciding to sell flats only to vegetarians.
In the older building societies in the suburbs or localities populated by a larger number of vegetarians, an unwritten code has set in to bar sale or rent agreements with non-vegetarians and in some cases Muslims. While the Sena has not taken up the Muslim accommodation cause in Mumbai, it has become interested in the diet of its ‘supporters’ — that is the non-vegetarians.
The immediate trigger is the perceived rise of Gujaratis and other non-Marathi population in Mumbai with the advent of the Modi-Shah duo. There is also the matter of the civic elections, where the Sena has to at least guard its Marathi constituency which may be looking at other political choices, such as the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena or even the BJP.
Since there is no data available on how many BJP or Sena or Congress supporters are ready to make their electoral choices based on who supports their dietary choices, myth-making and reducing a serious civic election to the private matter of what is there in the food plate of a Mumbai citizen is in keeping with the political discourse where real issues are rarely put on the political menu.