Friday, January 29, 2010

New licence raj and Hindiwallas

Will Raj Thackeray now turn on Mukesh Ambani? The Reliance chief not only said that Mumbai belonged to all of India. He put a punning punch into his comment on taxi licences being given only to Marathi-speakers. He said: “India’s corporate world has moved away from licence raj, but Mumbai’s poor taxiwalla is still dealing with licence raj”.

Licence-Raj Thackeray distributed learn-Marathi booklets to taxidrivers and gave them 40 days to master the language. So he can hold Ambani, a certified Mumbai resident, to account. After all, when Sachin Tendulkar said he was an Indian first, Uncle Bal Thackeray had told him to shut up and stick to cricket. Uncle has rushed in again to tell Ambani that Mumbai belongs to Marathis, a bald statement that will further isolate the aged Uncle.

Infighting Thackerays are indulging in competitive chauvinism and there is no Maharashtrian leader willing to call their bluff. Linguistic chauvinism is of course a factor in most of our states. But in no other city has it been developed into a political constituency. Yet, what are the Chavans and the Deshmukhs and the Pawars doing? They have the stature and, as office holders, the responsibility to treat law-breakers as criminal offenders. Instead, they act in a cowardly manner. They are politically foolish too because they won’t get the parochial votes anyway.

Chief Minister Chavan showed how far this foolishness could go when he mooted the idea of linking taxi licences to Marathi fluency. He was forced to withdraw the move, making himself a butt of ridicule. Did he really think that his Congress party could outdo Raj T. and Bal T. in bigotry?

Eventually Raj T. may prove that his strategy is smarter. Bal T. had found that crusading against South Indians was a no-win game because, without Udupi restaurants and Kaka narialpaniwallahs on the beaches, Mumbai would grind to a halt. He was forced to embrace anti-Muslim Hindutva in order to sustain himself. That too was a non-winner because the space there was already occupied by geniuses of hate politics such as Pravin Togadia and Ashok Singhal.

Raj T. had a more saleable idea when he targeted Biharis and UPwallahs. The Hindi belt has a serious psychological problem. People there are convinced that they alone are Indians and all others must defer to them. For example, Mulayam Singh and Mayawati firmly believe that they are going to be prime ministers tomorrow. But have you ever heard them utter a single word in any language other than Hindi or reaching out to non-Hindi speakers?

This superiority complex can lead to dangerously bristling situations. Imagine a railway goods booking clerk posted in Thirunainarkurichi and interacting with the honourable citizens of Thirunainarkurichi exclusively in Bihari Hindi, the only language he knows. Lalu Prasad will gloat about the number of Yadavs he gave jobs to. But in the process he also unleashed a typhoon of anti-Hindi sentiments among rural as well as urban Indians.

When Raj T. takes it out on Hindiwallahs, we feel sorry because the victims are helpless, poor people. But we may secretly like the idea of someone telling the Mayawatis and Mulayams that arrogance will not take them too far. Not in this hugely complex India.

Ultimately that’s Raj T.’s problem as well – arrogance. But he or his Uncle cannot seriously take on Mukesh Ambani whatever they may say to impress their flocks. Gujaratis sustain Mumbai. Sena bigots may beat up an MLA inside the Assembly for taking his oath in Hindi. But they won’t dare raise a word against Gujarati in the Stock Exchange. The official language in the BSE is Gujarati, like it or not. Without Gujarati the markets will crash, and without markets Mumbai will crash. In the end the “baajaar” wins.