Raj Thackeray’s anti-Bihari invective, in the same vein as his rant against ‘outsiders from north India’ at the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena public meeting in August, should surprise no one. After the Bihar police protested at not being taken into confidence in the arrest of an Azad Maidan rioter by the Mumbai police in Sitamarhi, Raj threatened to brand all Biharis as ‘infiltrators’ and throw them out of Maharashtra if the Bihar government posed any impediments to the investigation. He also demanded registration of all migrants — read people from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. The call was quickly endorsed by his cousin Uddhav in the Shiv Sena, who revived the demand for a permit system to keep out ‘Bangladeshis’. The MNS has got away with worse, beating up students from the north appearing for railway recruitment examinations and Bihari taxi drivers and shopkeepers in Mumbai, apart from pouring vitriol on all migrants. After all, the MNS has learnt its political style from the Shiv Sena. Its portrayal of the Bihari or “bhaiyya” from Uttar Pradesh as dirty and criminal is reminiscent of the way “Madrasis” were once caricatured by the Shiv Sena. While nothing better can be expected from the two Senas bent on capturing the Marathi vote bank, what is inexplicable is the consistently limp response of the ruling coalition in dealing with these threats.
Bal Thackeray’s father Keshav Sitaram Thackeray or Prabodhankar, who encouraged his son to form the Shiv Sena, wrote in his autobiography that the family hailed from a place near Nashik. He went to Kolkata for his studies, after which he moved to Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh before arriving in Mumbai, all in search of livelihood. That makes it plain that Prabodhankar was no less a migrant than the tens of thousands arriving in Mumbai every day. India’s commercial capital owes much to the sweat and toil of migrants. Over the centuries the city has welcomed them and benefited from them. Both the MNS and Sena should know that without its multi-ethnic workforce drawn from all corners of the country, Mumbai would not be the metropolis it is today. It is the constitutional right of every citizen to travel and live in any part of the country; it is the state’s duty to secure this right. Unfortunately, the Congress lacks the gumption to tackle the chauvinism of the Senas. Political expediency might be the reason the Prithviraj Chavan government lets the MNS get away with its provocations, but it can continue to play this game only at great risk to the social and economic fabric of India’s biggest metropolis. It is time the Maharashtra government stood up and showed that the state has not withered away.