Time and again the idea of India as a democratic and secular nation has come under attack.
The religious divide, particularly between the Hindus and the Muslims, keeps resurfacing.
Sometimes it results in political violence or terrorism. Regionalism too has been rearing its head, though it is not as dangerous and negative as communalism. Since States in India have been organised on the basis of language and common culture, it is only natural that regional identities and regional pride crystallise over time among the people of a state.
This is not necessarily bad. In fact, riding on the regional plank many political parties have won elections and are ruling various states. This is in tune with the stronger federal system where different parties could rule the states while major pan-Indian parties (in alliance with some regional parties) could rule the Centre. Regionalism becomes dangerous when extremist and exclusionary views seep in.
When some militant political parties take up extremist positions and launch movements against people belonging to other states or regions, then it negates the Constitutional guarantees and framework.
It also poses a serious law and order problem. That precisely is what has been happening in Maharashtra.
MNS and anti-Bihari rhetoric
Raj Thackeray is once again in the news. His party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which champions the cause of Maharashtrians, has been in the forefront of violent action against unorganised labourers, autorickshaw and taxi drivers, and petty vendors from North India, in particular Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
A powerful orator, Raj Thackeray has been alleging that Maharashtrians, the sons of the soil, were losing out on jobs because of the so-called outsiders, the non-Maharashtrians, who have been migrating to Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra in search of employment. The problem is Raj Thackeray’s speeches are not just sound and fury. When he calls for action, his followers take to the streets and resort to violence. The poor people from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh who migrate to Mumbai have been the targets of violent attacks by MNS cadre. For instance, a few years ago, MNS workers disrupted a railway recruitment examination because some candidates were non-Marathis.
Now the pro-Marathi politics of Raj Thackeray is assuming communal overtones. Recently he threatened to brand all Bihari migrants as ‘infiltrators’ — meaning foreigners who have entered the city illegally — and demand that they be sent away.
This outrageous and provocative statement comes in the wake of violence that erupted during a rally by Muslims in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan. Some rioters vandalised the Amar Jawan Memorial. Many people were angry and upset. The Maharashtra police apparently did not follow some administrative procedures such as informing the Bihar government when its team went to Bihar to arrest one of the persons accused of vandalising the memorial. The Bihar government wrote to the Maharashtra government about it and Raj Thackeray saw an opportunity to launch yet another attack on Biharis. This time he came up with an extreme view of branding Indian citizens as infiltrators.
Clearly, the MNS leader has gone overboard. Not surprisingly, Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray echoed the MNS leader’s statements. His cousin and political rival, Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray was clearly competitive when he said that a “permit system” should be introduced to check the migration of labour into Mumbai.
Otherwise every other political party — from the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party to Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal and the Congress — criticised Raj Thackeray’s statement. BJP leader and deputy chief minister of Bihar Sushil Kumar Modi attacked Thackeray’s “habit of making inflammatory speeches” to further his “regional and chauvinistic political agenda”. A spokesman of the JD (U) Neeraj Kumar too was critical along the same lines.
Attack on Constitution and legal fallout
The government of India has taken the right view on the issue. Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who incidentally hails from Maharashtra, made it clear that all Indian citizens had the right to seek employment in any part of the country. It is a right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. “Everybody has a right to go anywhere and seek employment,” he told reporters outside Parliament House.
There has been a chorus of demand for legal action against Raj Thackeray. Opposition parties put the ball in the Congress’s court. “It is the duty of the Central Government and the government of the State (Maharashtra) to take note of the conduct of a person like Thackeray and deal sternly with such elements,” said Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The BJP and the JD (U) in Bihar blamed the Centre for inaction. One leader went to the extent of seeking Thackeray’s arrest on charges of sedition for attacking the unity and the integrity of the country. Even parties friendly to the Congress like Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Ramvilas Paswan’s LJP demanded the Centre take stringent action against Thackeray.
Responding to the widespread demand, Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil assured people that Raj Thackeray’s “speech will be probed and a legal inquiry will be initiated if it is established that he is guilty of virulent statements against people from Bihar”. Another development was that a couple of cases have been filed in Bihar against Raj Thackeray in this regard.