The Thackerays and Mumbai

Snippets from an interesting article by Vinay Sitapati...
Raj Thackeray was arrested on Monday night for inciting violence against north Indians. This ended a longish period of violence during which most Indians were surprised that Raj Thackeray had not yet been arrested. But weary Mumbaikars knew better. Far from being a mindless thug, Raj Thackeray, like his uncle, is using Mumbai’s unique power dynamics to pole-vault into promi nence. When he has consolidated electoral power by eating into his effete cousin’s vote-bank, he too will turn boringly bourgeois: cannoodling with film stars, corporate types and others in Mumbai’s elite. What is striking about Raj is not his methods, but how he, like his uncle, is able to get away with them. Those who don’t know Mumbai assume that Raj Thackeray’s power derives from the Maharashtrian majority, angry at the influx of outsiders taking over Mumbai. But those who do know, know better.
Mumbai was historically never really part of Maharashtra, let alone its capital. That honour goes to Pune — home of the mighty Peshwas who were within a hairsbreadth of taking Delhi; and of Shivaji, from whom the Shiv Sena claims descent. Mumbai, as every schoolchild will tell you, was a sparsely-populated island blessed with a natural harbour. The original inhabitatants — Kohlis, Agris and Bhandaris — were long ignored by Pune, as they are now by the Shiv Sena. But it was the British, alert to its potential as a trading hub, who in the late 18th century peopled Mumbai with Parsis, Gujaratis, and Bohris. It was only after 1819, when the Marathas were defeated, that Marathi speakers began to migrate to the city, providing labour for textile mills. Even today, Marathi speakers, at 53 per cent, are barely a majority in Mumbai. Of this, an overwhelming majority reject the Shiv Sena, as recent elections show. Even the Maharashtrian intellectual elite has repeatedly locked horns with Bal Thackeray. Of the small remaining percentage, an even smaller number actually vote with their feet, storming roads to shut down the city. Yet, when Bal Thackeray was arrested in 2007, it took just a couple of thousand Shiv Sainiks to make this dazzling metropolis of 14 million people grind to a halt. The numbers simply don’t add up. How was Bal Thackeray, how is Raj Thackeray, able to shut Mumbai down?
The answer goes back to 1960, when, amidst the teeth of opposition, Mumbai was given to Maha rashtra. It has become a lose-lose situation: impoverished Vidarbha farmers have now to compete with BMW-driving Bandra boys for political attention; and Mumbai continues to be shaped by factors outside its shores.
Babudom in Mumbai is made up of Maharashtrians who are recruited from other parts of Maharashtra. Yet the citizens they govern, including urbane third-generation Marathi migrants, could not be more different. The Shiv Sena itself came of age feeding off the anger of working-class Maharashtrians left unemployed when the mills collapsed. But that anger alone cannot shut Mumbai down, without the support of even otherwise fairminded cops.A former Maharashtra director general of police told me: “it is an open secret that the reason the state government won’t take on the Sena is they fear the police will revolt”.It is tempting to trace the original sin to the Samyuktha Maharashtra movement: had Mumbai been a union territory, authority would have been indigenous, i.e., urban Mumbaikars who understand the competing inequities that define this modern megapolis. But that would be missing the point. India’s complex federal structures may have successfully contained its competing sub-nationalisms.But at some cost: a democracy in which the governed and the governing have no relation to each other.
The ‘image’ of the Thackerays differs from reality on two counts. The first is that far from being street fighting bravehearts who take on the mighty state, both the Thackerays derive their power from that state’s low-level functionaries. The other is that the Thackerays piggy-back on the angst of the migrant hoping to reshape Mumbai after an outside reference point. This, then, is the ultimate irony, oft-repeated but rarely understood: that the Thackerays who feed on the fear of the outsider, are in fact outsiders themselves.

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