Cynical calculations in Mumbai

Cynical calculations in Mumbai

The arrest of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) leader Raj Thackeray had most elements of a political stunt. Unless the underlying causes of urban unrest being witnessed in Mumbai are removed, his arrest will remain what it is—mere tokenism.

Formally, Thackeray has been arrested and charged under Sections 153, 336, 353, 425 and 427 of the Indian Penal Code. There is a slim chance that he will be successfully prosecuted. But the rot runs deeper. His arrest took place after months of prevarication by the Vilasrao Deshmukh government.

Why was his arrest delayed? What purpose did it serve? One cynical calculation behind the delay was that as Thackeray grew in “stature", he would eat into the support base of the Shiv Sena, so far the only credible political opponent of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) regime in Maharashtra. As a result, the intimidation and coercion of workers from other parts of India in Mumbai —and other places in Maharashtra—was ignored.

Such calculations, notwithstanding their popularity with politicians, seldom work. Something similar in intent, but very different in scope, was tried by the Congress party in Punjab when it tried to use a seminary graduate to counter the Akali party in the 1980s. His name was Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. The consequences were disastrous.

In Thackeray’s case, there is an underlying pulse of discontent, one that has been fuelled by a decade of non-performance by the Congress government. Basic civic facilities have been allowed to decay. At the same time, no efforts have been made to do something about the reserve army of labour in Mumbai, whose ranks swell with every passing year.

The underlying causes of discontent are socio-economic, but these have been skilfully channelled by Thackeray to political ends. In this situation, poor migrants from other parts of India have become the villains.

To hope that the Congress-NCP government will take meaningful political steps to counter this urban unrest is, perhaps, to expect too much. As argued above, this was never the intent of the government. It should surprise no one if cases filed against Thackeray die a “natural death"—hearing after hearing, witnesses turning hostile and judicial challenges in higher courts will ensure that.

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