People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 42

October 26, 2008



Endangering Nation's Unity

AS we go to press, the incendiary violence by the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS) over the arrest of its chief, Raj Thackeray, has engulfed the metropolis of Mumbai and its suburbs. Nearly 300 buses of the state road transport have been damaged, many burnt, scores of government installations damaged and the lifeline of Mumbai, the local train service, disrupted in many places.

This violence has left so far, according to official information, three people dead and scores injured. Over a thousand MNS activists have been taken into custody under preventive detention. Curfew continues in Mumbai’s suburb, Kalyan, and large-scale violence and arson is reported from some districts like Ahmednagar.

For some months now, the MNS has been spearheading a “sons of the soil” campaign and targeting non-Marathis, particularly North Indians, working in Mumbai. Last week, they attacked North Indian applicants when they arrived for railway recruitment examinations in Mumbai. The widespread vandalisation of the examination centres and physical attacks on the candidates created a national furor.

Following a nationwide condemnation and an uproar in the parliament, the Maharashtra state government finally arrested him on October 21. He subsequently secured an interim bail.

Such a chauvinistic campaign mounted by the MNS and the accompanied vandalism is simply not acceptable. The Indian Constitution clearly gives the right to any of its citizens irrespective of their caste, creed or gender to reside and pursue occupations anywhere in the country. It is this fundamental feature of the Constitution that is being attacked with impunity. It is the duty of both the centre and the state governments, who are in office under the oath of this very Constitution, to take all measures, stringent if necessary, to protect, uphold and implement the provisions of our Constitution. Both the governments led by the Congress party have, so far, failed in this task.

The MNS is seeking to replicate the manner in which the Shiv Sena emerged as a major political force in this state. By targeting South Indians in the 1960s, Bal Thackeray roused regional chauvinism to such a pitch that enabled him to earn a political space amongst the Marathi youth. Subsequently, in collaboration with Hindu communalism, often taking positions more extreme than the BJP, the Shiv Sena emerged as a major political player in the state. The MNS is seeking a similar political trajectory by targeting North Indians this time around.

Before we consider how and why the MNS could succeed in mounting such incendiary lawlessness, it needs to be noted that its charge that the local Marathi youth are being deprived of employment because of outside recruitment is specious. According to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the workforce in Maharashtra’s organised sector consists of 75 to 90 per cent Marathis. This figure varies according to various economic activities but nowhere is the percentage of non-Marathi workers larger than the Marathis. Even in the construction industry, which draws the maximum number of daily wage labour from outside of Maharashtra, only 35 per cent are non-Marathis. When these workers fled following physical attacks earlier, construction activity in Mumbai virtually came to a standstill.

Clearly, therefore, it is not the facts of the matter but the emotive appeal that regional chauvinism has in bolstering political-electoral prospects that has motivated the MNS to launch this campaign. If Bal Thackeray and Shiv Sena could do it in the past, then why not Raj Thackeray and MNS today seems to be the refrain.

That the MNS was allowed to get away for a long time with such a campaign promoting large-scale violence is due, in a large measure, to the cynical short term political-electoral benefits that the coalition partners in the state government – the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party – independently perceived. It must be recollected that during the 1960s and later, the Shiv Sena was allowed to mount its insidious violent campaigns by the Congress party as it saw in the Shiv Sena a force with which the dominant militant Left-wing trade unionism in Mumbai and Maharashtra could be disrupted and destroyed. Similarly, both the NCP and the Congress are seeking to woo the MNS, given its estrangement with Bal Thackeray, as an outfit to split the Shiv Sena’s consolidated influence. The resulting division in the votes, both hope, will give them handsome electoral benefits.

The Congress never seems to learn its lessons. Whenever it has patronised extremist or chauvinist movements for narrow, petty electoral gains, it unleashed forces that have wreaked havoc for the unity and integrity of India. The Congress’s propping up of Bhindranwale and the Dal Khalsa led to Sikh militancy ruling the roost for nearly two decades in Punjab. This finally consumed the life of Indira Gandhi herself.

For their perceived short term electoral gains, the Congress and the NCP had allowed the MNS to mount its rampage leading to the current dangerous situation. It is only after the nationwide condemnation and the uproar in the parliament that the union government sent three advisories to the state government on October 17, 19 and 20. It is only after this that the state government moved into action to arrest Raj Thackeray. The manner of his arrest and interim bail is being perceived by many sections as a cover to pursue the cynical game of political opportunism. In a normal bail condition, the accused cannot be permitted to leave the place without informing the local police station. Raj Thackeray has a non-bailable warrant issued against him by the Jamshedpur trial court after getting the go ahead to prosecute him from the Jharkhand High Court. The Mumbai police could well offer the excuse to not allow Raj Thackeray to go to the Jamshedpur court as he would be required to be in town in connection with the Mumbai cases.

Whatever be the veracity of such apprehensions, it is clear that there is little trust in the state government’s commitment to end this cynical political game. Such cynical politics, however, cannot be allowed to be pursued jeopardising the unity and integrity of our country. Needless to add, any retaliation in any other part of the country against Maharashtrians will only add grist to the mill of this vicious rousing of regional chauvinism in Maharashtra.

Maharashtra has a tough Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). If the state government is sincere and the central government is determined, then many feel that this law could be enforced. In any case, the Congress-led central and the state governments have so far utterly failed to rein in the situation. The democratic movement in the country needs to force both the governments to take the required measures to protect both the Indian Constitution and the people from such mindless violence aimed at gaining political-electoral advantage.

(October 22, 2008)