Hate and dividing communities is the hallmark of right wing politics, wherever they are. Whether it is in Mumbai, bashing north Indian taxi drivers or Australian skinheads attacking Indian students – the underlying message is clear – “we” are different from “you” – and this some how gives “us” the right to violently exclude “you” from our society. If the “we” in this case is the majority, this gives the added bonus to whip up a majoritarian frenzy and ride to electoral victory using that.
The anti North Indian issue whipped up by Raj Thakre and now the Bal Thakre attack on Shahrukh Khan over his comments that Pakistani cricketer should have been considered for the IPL, are a part of this larger hate agenda.
The original movement for Maharashtrian identity was very different from the hate project of the Shiv Sena and the MNS. It was the left – both communists and socialists – that had played the key role in the movement for creating Maharashtra out of the erstwhile Bombay province. This was a part of the larger struggle for linguistic reorganisation of states, waged all over the country. These were not divisive movements – they did not turn against other communities but wanted the states to be based on language. These were the movements which complemented the national movement and allowed India to create itself as a multi national and multi ethnic state – a feat that was considered inconceivable by western commentators on India then.
The Shiv Sena model of Marathi pride from the very beginning was an exclusive and a divisive one. It started with attacks on South Indians in Mumbai – the Marathi identity was asserted from the very beginning as an exclusion of other communities from Mumbai. Of course, let us have no illusions that the ruling party then – that the Congress did not dirty its hand in this too. In order to break the left labour unions, particularly in the textile mills, the mill owners and the Congress joined hands to provide explicit and implicit support to Shiv Sena. The Marathi pride was the instrument not of asserting a Marathi identity but as an instrument of exclusion.
Shiv Sena expanded its hate agenda to later include Muslims. The Mumbai underworld became also the terrain of struggle as it is one of the major “economic” forces in Mumbai. Extortion, eviction, controlling unions, all this became a part of Shiv Sena politics. It is this backdrop in which we have to see the current politics of hate in Maharashtra. Raj Thakre wanted a continuation of the earlier Shiv Sena politics, but needed an Unique Selling Point (USP as the marketing gurus say) for himself as a part of competitive politics. That is why the expansion of his exclusionary political agenda to now include North Indians.
It is strange that the real problems of the country does not bother the right. Maharashtra has the highest number of farmers' suicides. It has Vidharba and Marathawada, which are economically backward. The food prices are sky-rocketing in the country. The loot of mining interests in large swathes of the country is taking place in a way that we have never seen before. The large scale displacements of the poor from their lands under the current neo-liberal polices is triggering an incipient tribal revolt. The huge telecom scam has transferred Rs. 60,000-100,000 crore as public resources to private hands. The gas scam – in which gas is now priced for Mukesh Ambani at $4.20 per million BTU when Reliance agrees it would have made a profit even at $2.34 is a huge transfer from the consumers – the people – to again private hands. And the third estate – the press and media – is not only not acting as a conscience of the nation but instead of selling advertisements as news.
This is the key difference between politics of the left and the politics of the right. The left seeks mass mobilisation on real issues. It mobilises on an inclusive agenda that seeks to bring people together on a common cause. Even when it takes up sectoral demands, it is based not on myths and identities but on real discrimination communities are suffering from.
Let us take the Marathi manush case. The Thakres claim that Mumbai belongs primarily to Maharashtrians. Very simply, Mumbai is the financial hub of the country just as it also is the film hub of the country. Neither of this can be exclusively Maharashtrian. The major corporations have headquarters in Mumbai because it is the financial capital of the country. Any attempt to make Mumbai an exclusive Marathi city will drive both the companies and the film studios out of Mumbai. Even at the level of grievance, the rest of India could claim that it is they who are being discriminated – most of the money that is generated by either the companies or by the films are not from Maharashtra but the rest of India.
But this would be wrong way to go. The issue here is how we see ourselves as citizens of this country and what right do we have as citizens. The right to work anywhere in this country is an absolute right – no state can claim that it will restrict this right by virtue of “state of origin” or the language people speak. Anything else is to re-open what kind of country we want. Do we want to break up in a bunch of small countries warring amongst ourselves – a Balkanised India enmeshed in bloody, ethnic wars on the lines we have seen in Yugoslavia and even in Sri Lanka? Do we understand that once we open the fault-lines within India on the basis of language and ethnicity, we give up India as a viable nation?
The right wing agenda – the creation of nations based on ethnic, linguistic and religious identities is what brought in Europe hundreds of years of war including two world wars. It is this kind of mindless nationalism that the Indian national movement eschewed, building instead an inclusive Indian nation uniting language, ethnicity and culture in a multi national multi cultural nation. An unique achievement for which we can justly take pride. There are no other examples of such an achievement in the world – look at the European Union which is trying to go where India already is and see the difference. See the unravelling of multi ethnic states in Europe – Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. See the travails of Canada struggling to unite only the French speaking Quebec and English speaking other states.
It is this grand edifice of India that the right hates. They are comfortable if nations are built on hate and exclusions – not if they are built on unity and inclusions. And intrinsic to their thinking is attack the weak and the helpless. Beat up taxi drivers – in Australia or in Mumbai – the pattern is eerily similar. That is why the right all over – to Paki bashing skin heads in England or the new Australian variants resemble their Shiv Sena and the MNS counterparts in Mumbai.
Let us make no mistake. We are fighting for the soul of India. Whether we remain an India that we can truly be proud of – an inclusive, vibrant nation or will descend into hatred and anarchy – this is the challenge before us. This was the challenge that the generation fighting the colonial yoke overcame. How we face this challenge will determine whether India becomes another failed project or will be a beacon to other nations and communities. As we have done for the last 60 years.