Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Identity and Exclusion: EPW on the Mumbai madness

The editorial in the latest EPW says there are three serious issues thrown by Raj Thackeray's movement against North Indian outsiders. One is the presence of a large army of unemployed youth in Mumbai. This, according to EPW, is a result of reckless pursuit of capitalism causing bad amenities, and unsympathetic bureaucracy. People migrate to Mumbai, because the city has mirages of opportunities. As Dipankar Gupta explains in his Nativism in a Metropolis (1982), the senior Thackeray succeeded in 1960s, because of the prevailing unemployment. So, essentially, the EPW's edit is a confirmation of Gupta's thesis, and its relevance. This is also supported by Sainath's article in The Hindu. But one fails to understand why the EPW poses this as if it is a new development caused by the mindless pursuit of capitalism. (what is this mindless pursuit anyway, and how was the earlier unemployment in 1960s caused?).

EPW's second thesis is difficult to appreciate. It says there is growing diversity in the cities, and therefore, the notion of natives has no relevance in cities. But it admits there is tension between regional identity and cosmopolitanism. This caught the imagination of ordinary Mumbaikar in 1960s, and today the older identity lost to faceless cosmopolitanism. This sense of loss has led to the us vs outsiders syndrome. So, essentially, there has been no difference between the 1960s and now. If the notion of nativism has lost its relevance, then how does it produce tension, when confronted with faceless cosmopolitanism?

EPW's third thesis says the cultural symbols and identity marks - produced by these fault lines of nativism - have become reference points for social tensions and "we & You" kind of cultural superiority. Today, Raj has been able to frame an agenda of exclusion - privilege certain identities and derecognise some - because there is growing murmur within Marathi society about the genuineness of his grievances. Correct. If the roots of nativism are ignored, it is bound to lead to such unhappy consequences. That is why the constitution makers, in their wisdom, anticipated the influence of nativism, and provided for Article 16(3). Had Parliament enacted a uniform law to manage such nativist demands in time, the Thackerays could have been nipped in the bud. EPW does not say how nativist demands can be managed, even though it blames reckless capitalism. The answer perhaps lies in taking a close look at our Constitution, and the remedies inherent in it.

I shall cite two more observations to buttress the point that nativism need not be seen as contradictory to national unity. The former Chief Justice M.Hidayatullah said: sometimes, local sentiments may have to be respected or sometimes an inroad from more advanced States into less developed States may have to be prevented. (Though he said it in 1970 -Annual Survey of Indian Law, Indian Law Institute, 1970, p.11), it is actually the reverse which is happening now, if the migration from Bihar to Mumbai is an indication).

The eminent sociologist, M.N.Srinivas has also discarded the argument that the sons of the soil movements are anti-national, called for positive steps to neutralise, nativist movements. He said that for certain categories of jobs, especially the semi-skilled and unskilled, local people should be given preferences as a matter of an all-India policy, and insisted that posts requiring specialist qualifications be filled only on merit and on an all-India basis. (On Living in a Revolution and Other Essays, 1982) ( as cited in T.M.Joseph's Politics of recruitment: Migration and ethnic conflict in Urban India (Bangalore), 1990)

Bangalore, where the natives' out-migration is not as low as compared to Maharashtra, also has had an aggressive nativist movement in the past. In Mumbai, the proportion of marathi population has declined over the years. It was 40 per cent in 1960, now it is just 30 per cent. In Bangalore, 65 per cent are non-Kannadigas. The sense of insecurity among the natives who claim the cities as their Capitals of their States appears to be natural.
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