Stakeholders: MNS, North Indian workers in Mumbai, people of Maharashtra, Government of Maharashtra, political leaders of the SP and RJD
· The attacks on North Indians in Maharashtra began on February 3, 2008 after violence erupted between workers of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and Samajwadi Party (SP) in Mumbai.
· MNS chief Raj Thackeray defended his party workers by blaming the attack on the provocative and unnecessary show of strength by Uttar Pradesh and Bihar migrants and their leaders.
· Raj Thackeray accused migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar of threatening Maharashtrian culture. He termed the celebration of Chhath Puja by North Indian migrants an unnecessary show of arrogance and strength.
· He accused actor Amitabh Bachchan of favouring his native state Uttar Pradesh over Maharashtra, citing that the actor chose to start a school in UP instead of Maharashtra, where he attained fame and popularity.
· The state government finally swung into action on February 13, 2008, arresting Raj Thackeray and local SP leader Abu Asim Azmi for instigating violence and causing communal tensions. They were released on the same day with a gag order forbidding them from making further inflammatory remarks.
· The time leading to Raj Thackeray’s arrest was marked with tension across Maharashtra. North Indians were attacked in various parts of the state by MNS workers.
· On October 19, 2008, MNS activists attacked candidates who had arrived in Mumbai to attend the Railways Recruitment test.
· On October 21, the Maharashtra government arrested Raj Thackeray on various charges of inciting violence.
· Thousands of North Indian workers fled the state following the violence.
· Politicians from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were quick to criticize the attacks. Raj’s views also came in for a lot of flak from Bal Thackeray, his uncle and the chief of the Shiv Sena.
· Though many people sympathised with Raj Thackeray’s cause, his methods were severely criticized.
· The question as to whether Maharashtra was for Maharashtrians alone became a matter of discussion.
· The political motive behind the MNS agitation was also questioned. Was Raj Thackeray genuinely concerned about the people of Maharashtra or was the agitation a political gimmick?
What are the implications of the MNS agitation against the North Indians?
· The MNS started off by enlisting people irrespective of their cultural and regional backgrounds. While the MNS failed in this attempt, the Shiv Sena tasted some success.
· The Shiv Sena was successfully reaching out to people and taking up political issues, like farmer suicides in Maharashtra. Some political observers think that the MNS attacks were a calculated move to unseat the Shiv Sena as the true representative of the Marathi-speaking people. For its own survival, the MNS needed to embarrass the Sena by taking away its mass base.
· The timing of the MNS agitation has hurt the Shiv Sena’s efforts to reach out to North Indians. The MNS actions remind people of the of Shiv Sena’s own agitations against South Indians in the 60s, prompting them to be extra cautious in their dealings with the Shiv Sena.
· The Shiv Sena is now in a situation where it not only has trouble connecting to the North Indians, but also stands to lose ground with the sizeable Marathi-speaking population of the state. The popular sentiment of that group seems to be swinging the MNS way.
· By taking up the cause of the Marathi-speaking people, Raj Thackeray is portraying himself as the true successor to Bal Thackeray.
· The rise of Raj Thackeray could work in favour of the Congress and the NCP (Nationalist Congress Party), as it would curb the growing strength of the Shiv Sena in the state.
· The violence that followed Raj Thackeray’s arrest on October 21 affected normal life in Mumbai. Though it brought the agitation against the North Indians into the limelight, it also could seriously affect Raj Thackeray’s chances at the elections coming up next year.
· The exodus of workers from Maharashtra caused a major shortage in labour in local industries. It is estimated that the financial losses amounted to between Rs. 500 crore – Rs. 700 crore.
· Following the violence in Maharashtra, threats were reported against Maharashtrian families residing in other parts of the country.
Is Raj Thackeray justified?
· The vast migration of people from other states into Mumbai has put a severe strain on the infrastructure in the city, lowering the quality of life of the citizens. Mumbai will find it difficult to cope with further influx.
· Due to this heavy influx, a majority of people live in appalling conditions. It is a known fact that there are a significant number of Bangladeshi immigrants in the city.
· Violence of any sort is unacceptable. But it is not wrong to hold that encroachments should be stopped, that people must not be allowed to occupy pavements, or that the cut-off years for regularisation of slums must be strictly adhered to.
· Raj Thackeray contends that it makes sense for settlers from other states to learn the local language and become part of the local culture. This is the norm all over the world and Maharashtra should not be an exception.
· If North Indian leaders use a festival like the “Chhath Puja” to tap into a vote bank, it could lead to unrest in the city. Politicizing of traditional and cultural events is not desirable.
· The exams were for recruitment into Grade 3 and Grade 4 jobs. These jobs don’t require specific education qualifications. It makes sense for local people to be considered for these jobs rather than finding recruits from other states.
· With a growing influx of migrants, Mumbai stands to lose a distinctly Maharashtrian identity. Since the city is the capital of Maharashtra, this may not be acceptable to Maharashtrians.
· People migrate to Mumbai because they have very limited job opportunities in their native states. The solution to Mumbai’s immigrant problem is to develop an alternative trade hub elsewhere in the country. This idea needs to be put across peacefully. Violent agitations will only result in the inevitable backlash.
· Some Maharashtrian families living in other parts of the country are bearing the brunt of the MNS agitation against North Indians. If the MNS is justified in its actions, are they ready to accept retaliatory actions against Maharashtrians settled in other states?
· Mumbai is perhaps India’s only truly cosmopolitan city. Though it is fair to expect it to reflect Maharashtrian culture to some extent, it is not right to believe that it will be like the rest of the state or even like any other city in the country.
· In India, people are free to seek employment and residence in any part of the country. Employment opportunities are equally available to all people. It is not like the immigrants are taking away jobs from the Maharashtrians. Most immigrant workers are taking up jobs, like vending vegetables or driving taxis, which are normally shunned by Maharashtrians.
· The contribution of various communities in making Mumbai the commercial capital of the country should not be forgotten.
· The notion that any city or part of India belongs only to its ‘natives’ is unconstitutional and damaging to national unity and integration.
· Shobhaa De on Mumbai vs. Bombay
· The Downward Spiral of Maharashtra State Politics
Group Discussion Topics
1. Is Mumbai becoming intolerant?
· A cosmopolitan city tolerates people with different cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds. In the light of the recent violence against North Indians, it can be said that Mumbai is losing its cosmopolitan outlook.
· The city, apparently, is being divided into pockets that are dominated by particular communities. It is believed that people belonging to other communities are dissuaded from buying homes in these pockets.
· Ironic as it may seem, migrants from other states also have had a hand in destroying the cosmopolitan image of the city. In a truly cosmopolitan city, citizens blend in with the local culture, while still retaining their individual identities. By refusing to learn the local language and becoming part of the local culture, the migrants are doing their bit in rupturing the cosmopolitan fabric.
· Agitations are on the rise in Mumbai. Those targeted include famous artists, exhibitions and movies.
· The violence instigated in the city against North Indian workers is the handiwork of a few people motivated by political gains. It does not represent the view of the common people who actually make up the city.
· In times of great crisis, like the floods of July 2005 or the serial bomb blasts of July 2007, Mumbai has shown its true spirit and rallied as one putting aside all cultural, religious and linguistic differences.
· People belonging to a community tend to stick together. This phenomenon is not unique to Mumbai. It is more a matter of convenience than any religious divide. For example, Catholic communities tend to grow in the vicinity of churches.