Raj and The Arajya

August 7, 2008


In the month of February, for a period of almost 10 days, Maharashtra, and especially Mumbai, was living with the Sword of Damocles hanging over its mighty head. It was an irony that the Sword was wielded by one of its self-proclaimed ‘Son of the Soil’, one Mr. Raj Thackeray. And once again the reason being the age-old ‘Sons of the Soil vs. The Outsiders’ issue; the Outsiders this time being North Indians.

It transported me back to a day and age when the mighty Hitler had called for an ethnic cleansing of ‘The Fatherland’ Germany, by asking his Nazis to destroy and exterminate the Jews in Germany. To call for a ban or an excommunication on a certain section of society based on their regional ancestry, caste, culture or creed reeks of an uncivilized & barbarian mentality. A mentality in which there is no place for the ideals of brotherhood, humanity, & justice and which views the world in an almost animalistic fear because you feel that even your neighbor possesses the same mentality.

But to think that such behavior will be brought to the fore in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai is a city-planner’s nightmare come true. We love to believe that our city is a dream to live in, that it is a money-maker’s paradise; it is the city where dreams come true, where opportunities exist for everyone irrespective of caste, creed, region or sex. Believe me, it is true. But it is also true that this city has a dark, sinister, hidden face which shows up when one is hardly expecting and strikes with such brutal force that the earlier rosy facts start looking like myths and legends. If it wouldn’t have been true, we wouldn’t have had the Bombay Riots of 1993-94 and other such communal flares. In such times, the city wears an almost devilish mask of terror and every one in the city starts looking like an ancient blood-thirsty priest who is searching for an animal to be sacrificed at the altar to appease some equally blood-thirsty god. And here is where the sheen of Mumbai, the battle-scarred but magnificent face of Mumbai begins to shatter and gets replaced by that of a monster.

But are one man’s, or a few men’s, inflammatory acts enough to break the so-called indomitable and indefatigable spirit of Mumbai? I will not go into how such behavior is uncalled for, how it is absolutely against the democratic principles of a democratic republic. I will also not delve into the topics of how everyone is free to settle & earn a living in the place of his/her choice within the boundaries of our country, how it is a violation of the fundamental rights, etc. What I’d like to point out is to the fact that how this situation of unrest has jolted me and my colleagues, most of who are first time Mumbai visitors and hail from the North of India. We Mumbaiites have gone out of our way to welcome people who have come down here to work by projecting a face of Mumbai that is secular, that preaches prudence, that may be fast and look as if no one’s concerned, but at the same time very warm and caring. How this city’s and its denizens one aim is to make money and to make it fast, that there is no time to fight, retaliate or create a ruckus. But all that comes to zilch when one such incident happens. And we begin asking ourselves “Is our Mumbai safe?”

What was even shameful was the Government’s absolutely nonchalant behavior to the whole issue. Everyday someone would slightly hint that Mr. Raj Thackeray will be arrested on that day, and by the time it reached the public ear, the rumors would have taken such epic & frightening proportions that one feared for loss of life and limb. All resulting in people rushing to the safety of their homes, only to find that nothing was amiss. But all this cost the state & the city’s businesses immensely, not to mention the dent in the stature of the city and the state. We work in IT companies, where work happens according to global practices & standards, which also mean adhering to global timings and work-pressures. And it becomes highly embarrassing to explain to a foreigner that we have a riot situation in our city because we do not like people from other states in our own country coming in to settle down here.

I had read in the book “The World Is Flat” by Thomas L. Friedman, that how a national war between India and Pakistan during Mr. A B Vajpayee’s Premiership was averted by a joint conglomerate of Indian IT business-owners and pioneers. They were under pressure from their foreign outsourcing business partners who threatened to pull out of business in India, if India went into a state of war. And thus a war was averted, when the national leaders understood that no one was buying their jingoistic cries of patriotism and bloodshed. All everyone wanted was peace and progress. The world has turned global, where nationalistic boundaries are fast blurring in favor of trade and progress. Does it make sense, then, to have state boundaries within a single nation? What was appalling was that not one of among the so many business stalwarts and leaders voiced an opinion or raised an issue during these 10 days. If the Government is behaving like a bunch of headless marionettes, then shouldn’t the potent trade lobby come forward and take charge? Perhaps a few threats by the people who matter to withdraw all their businesses out of Mumbai and to carry on their activities in greener pastures where such situations wouldn’t arise will bring the Government to their knees and provoke a faster and better reaction. Because for how long should Mumbai suffer at the hands of a few who wish to only further their stakes at the game of politics, without heed for the betterment of the real Mumbaikar?

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