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Home > India > News > Columnists > Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retired)

Provincialism: Problems of Mumbai

March 19, 2008

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Part I: Provincialism: The new internal security threat dealt with the insurgencies in the northeast and Punjab.

Before I get accused of scare-mongering by painting Assam or Punjab-like scenarios in Maharashtra, let me assert clearly, that situation does not exist. Yes, violent incidents did take place in Nashik, but that had more to do with the fact that the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is strong there. Other than this, no city saw any violence or intimidation against north Indians. People fled even from Pune but the dubious 'credit' for that must go to the 24x7 news channels.  

In all the cases from Assam to Punjab, where an agitation turned to insurgency and terrorism, it was not just provincialism but many other factors that were responsible. In case of the northeast, besides the provincial fault-line there is also the issue of geography. The remoteness of the area and lack of communication abets alienation. In case of Assam the added factor was that the Assamese felt that their natural resource (oil) was being exploited while they were left high and dry. In case of Punjab, provincialism also coincided with religion.

In case of Maharashtra, such convergence of more than one fault-line does not exist and therefore it is reasonable to assume that Maharashtra would not go the Punjab or the Assam way.

Maharashtrian ethos

Maharashtrians had to fight hard to get their own state. Nearly 105 people died in police firing as the central government was unwilling to concede statehood to Maharashtra (and Punjab) as according to then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru these were the only two states that had memories of having ruled Delhi and so were dangerous. A Congress politician, S K Patil, had publicly stated that even if Maharashtra is given statehood, Mumbai will never be part of it. All this was part of the convoluted logic of Nehru who was wary of the memory of Shivaji and all that it represented.

During the entire agitation there were no overtones of separatism. Marathas, it should not be forgotten, had fought at Panipat (a thousand miles away from home) against the Afghans to save India. Even later, in 1803, it was the Marathas who fought the British near Delhi, Aligarh and Lassawari (near Agra [Images]) in 1803. (The Jawaharlal Nehru University conspirators who masquerade as historians have successfully buried this part of our history).

But the suspicion lurks that there is a plan to separate Mumbai from Maharashtra, and it always provokes a strong reaction. One often wonders why similar moves are never made in the case of say Kolkata, Chennai or Bengaluru?

Problems of Mumbai

Essentially the current issue of anti-North Indian bias is entirely a problem confined to Mumbai. While Mumbai contributes hugely to the central exchequer, it gets very little in return. Despite its hugely profitable suburban rail system (overloaded to the limit), when it came to metro rail, it was Kolkata and Delhi that got first shot at it. The living condition of over 40 percent of Mumbaikars is a little better than cattle. In such a situation, violence is always lurking under the surface. One sociologist called it 'pathology of urban living'. So Mumbai periodically bursts into violence. Currently it is the north Indians who are victims.

Politicians of Maharashtra have seldom been assertive about the interests of the state and Mumbai. It is a joke that decisions like having more local trains are taken in Rail Bhavan in New Delhi! Mumbai dwellers have seen the steady decline of the quality of life in their city.

Some yeas ago when trainloads of Biharis who had come to appear in railway job interviews were attacked in Mumbai, there was widespread criticism against this violence. Nobody paused to ask a simple question, what were the Biharis doing in Mumbai for railway jobs? The whole purpose of all-India representation, for which recruitment is done in various regions, is defeated if Biharis monopolise railway jobs.

Larger issue of regional disparity  

While the specific issue of Mumbai is important, there is also the bigger issue of the lack of development in the north. It is not only an economic issue but encompasses the political and social fields. In the north 'leaders' have fostered a notion that political power is the solution for all ills from unemployment to economic progress. No north Indian leader has had the gumption to say that education and hard work are the only paths to economic progress. Despite the cloak of 'socialism' that many of these worthies wear, they are feudal at heart and attitude. In fact, feudalism has emerged as the biggest obstacle to progress.

Electoral calculations

After the recent delimitation of constituencies, Mumbai and nearby urban areas have got increased seats in the state legislature. Many see the propping up of Raj Thackeray and his MNS as a Congress attempt to break the Shiv Sena's hold over Marathi votes. Raj Thackeray is handled with kid gloves by the Congress government in Maharashtra.

The real danger is that once unleashed, these negative forces may well be appropriated by other violent groups like the Naxalites or jihadis.

Sooner or later, India will have to address the issue of regional disparity. Unfortunately, the solution lies in social and political reforms in the BIMARU states. Presently there seems no sign of it.

Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retired) is the coordinator of the Initiative for Peace And Disarmament, a Pune-based think-tank.

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