Saturday, February 16, 2008

Raj and the Parochial Rhetoric

Stirring up parochial sentiments is no new thing in Indian politics. We have seen that card played over and over again. From Anna Durai to Budhhadeb Bhattacharya, many are guilty of the same offence. But what was new this time round was the style and th directness of the rhetoric, and the follow up that the city of Mumbai experienced.

One clearly understands that this is clearly nothing more than mere vote bank politics. Amar Singh, India's undisputable political "deal broker" is searching for new pastures. Riding on the Big B wave and given the large North Indian population of this cosmopolitan city, Mumbai can definetely be Mulayam's first stride outside UP,where they are fast losing ground.
The first people to object to Amar Singh's attempt would have been the Sena, Mumbai's local strongarms. However, they had their job cut short, by a foolish young man, eager to jump on to the fire. In an attempt to take a bite out of the Sena's Marathi vote bank, Raj Thackerey has landed himself to the far right of the political spectrum, a move that severly undermines the ambitions of a young leader in a cosmopolitan town like the Mumbai.
He can, now, at best dream to be a small time ultra right politician, representing a very miniscule fraction of the "Marathi manoos" votebank. A man with the Thackerey tag should have had greater ambitions in mind.

Now let us come to the ethical and moral aspects of Raj Thackerey's rant. Of course, he sounds like a spoilt five year old, crying "mommy,the neighbor's son is touching my toys".
But Raj does have a point that cannot be ignored,especially when globalisation threatens the existence of local cultures like never before.
Men live in communities, bonded by common ethnicities, cultures, language,religion etc. This basic human need of a "cultural space" can never be ignored in the name of national integration.
National integration is to accept the unity by keeping the cultural uniqueness in its place, not by dissolving it into thin air. Mass immigration to cities always have the danger of encroachment on this local cultural space, and to the undermining of the ethnic values that gives,to much of the city,it original charm. Chennai has stood its ground firmly, warding off a "foreign invasion", even at the risk of losing out to less resourceful cities in the rat race for "we are the IT capital".

I have seen North Indians in Chennai constantly expressing their dissatisfaction at the average Chennai-ite's refusal to accept Hindi as the language of common conversation. What they do not get is the fact that it is a matter of far more importance, than the simple convinience of conversation.

Raj is indeed correct in pointing out the dangers of increased immigration to Mumbai, which encroaches upon the space of the Marathi Manoos by creating a parallel culture, that robs Mumbai of its own ethnic charm. The other thing that one must think,with or without the Raj factor, is the development of the "Bimaru States". The uneven development that India is seeing today, as the resulting mass migration will result in several problems, this being one of them.
Amar Singh would thus do a great service to the nation by developing his own State rather than rabble rousing in Mumbai.

Also, Raj is not the first to play the regionalism card. Most of Tamil Nadu's politics has, and still revolves round the "Anti-Hindi" issue. Elsewhere, the liberal leftist Chief Minister speaks out for a particular cricket player, and his supporters sit on train tracks, demanding that he be reinstated. In the West, we recently heard the great macho man of Indian politics, talking of "Gujarat Asmita".

However, the regionalism card is played much more subtly by more seasoned politicians, and the clash of interests there are not so immediate and apparent as in Mumbai.
The media's Badshah of one day, Raj Thackerey is surely putting himself down as one of the "also rans" of Maharashtra politics, with childishness such as this.