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Why the Thackeray cousins must unite

July 29, 2009 20:22 IST

While doing an Internet search on the Rani of Jhansi I got to know that she was a Maharashtrian by birth. So is Tamil film superstar Rajnikant (surname Gaekwad, same as the erstwhile rulers of Baroda). In fact a Maratha ruler built a Ganesh temple in Thanjavur's Brihadeesvara Temple complex in Tamil Nadu.

Wonder how the cousins Uddhav and Raj Thackeray would react to this! After Raj Thackeray floated his party and his recent success in splitting Shiv Sena votes to the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance's advantage, the Marathi manoos and their grievances are on the top of the agenda once again.

Why do people come to Mumbai?

Let's take the Sindhis and Gujaratis first. Bombay was the capital of Bombay Presidency that included Sindh and parts of modern day Gujarat till Sindh was detached in 1935 and Gujarat in 1956. By virtue of being a commercial centre, Bombay attracted Sindhis and Gujaratis, both of whom are predominantly business communities. During Partition Sindhis travelled in steamers from the port city of Karachi to Bombay.

Attracted by work opportunities and Bollywood, a number of Punjabis came to Bombay notably Dev Anand, the Kapoors and the Chopras.  

Due to lack of jobs in Kerala, the Malayalis came to Mumbai. The strong anti-Brahmin sentiment in Tamil Nadu compelled them to shift to Mumbai among other cities.

From being among the best administered states in the 1950/1960s, Bihar is among the worst today (things are improving under the BJP-JD-U government though). Uttar Pradesh is no better. Lack of employment has forced migration. After all, no one in Mumbai who is willing to work goes hungry.

Since Mumbai is the country's financial capital and home to many corporate offices, it attracts talent from all over India.

Lastly, the existence of an excellent coastline encouraged export-import trade and resulted in an influx of a great number of outsiders, eg, traders, agents etc.

Over the years Mumbai has become home to not only Maharashtrians but Parsis, Sindhis, Punjabis, South Indians, Biharis and UPwalas not to forget Bangladeshis.

Why have migrants done better in Mumbai than Maharashtrians? The world over it is natural for migrants to work harder than locals.

The media's continuous harping of Mumbai's cosmopolitan nature has subtly destroyed the resolve and spirit of the Maharashtrians such that even they speak Hindi, not Marathi. This is unlike Bengal or Tamil Nadu where the local language is widely spoken.

The textile strike of 1982 created a large pool of unemployed mill workers. The government and industry did not take adequate steps to retrain them. It became a classic case of disguised unemployment. This forced the homemaker to work as domestic help.

There are not enough Maharashtrians to service Mumbai's burgeoning population. Outsiders get a chance because demand exceeds supply.

Here are some ideas which could make Maharashtrians prosper.  

Regain the pride of being Maharashtrians. Draw inspiration from Lokmanya Tilak, Veer Savarkar, Mahatma Phule and Dr Ambedkar. In the 18th century Marathas ruled over large parts of India through the Peshwas of Pune, Scindias of Gwalior, Gaekwads of Baroda, Holkars of Indore and Bhonsles of Nagpur.  

Start training schools where Maharashtrians are taught to become entrepreneurs, service providers like carpenters, plumbers, drivers and masons.

Conduct courses that change attitude and mindset such that Maharashtrians become hard-working, risk-takers, street-smart and ambitious.

Maharashtrians should open roadside stalls that sell local fast food. See how well the Dilliwalas sell chole bathure etc. They could take a leaf from the Shetty community's success in running Udipi restaurants.  

Open an airhostess training academy where Maharashtrian girls are trained. . 

When the stock market is down advise Maharashtrians on how to stop loss/make money.

Stop being defensive about calling Mumbai a Maharashtrian city. In spite of being the country's capital, Delhi is still known as a Punjabi city.

What could non-Maharastrians do to create a better living environment in Mumbai?

Learn to speak Marathi even if it is broken words. I know of non-Bengalis born in Kolkata who speak fluent Bengali. Same is the case elsewhere.

I have seen many north Indians look down upon the Maharashtrian community as one lacking class, not rich enough. That must stop. Be appreciative of their tolerance.

Support your domestic help by sponsoring the education of one child. 

While renovating your home make it a point to use the services of Maharashtrians for eg the Maratha community make very good painters.

Learn to respect the Marathi manoos. Many a Bihari taxi driver told me that one of the reasons for current tensions is because the younger generations of migrants look down upon the Maharashtrians.   

The politicians of Bihar and UP need to take quick and firm steps to create employment opportunities in their states. 

If implemented some of these ideas could reduce tensions between the Marathi manoos and others.

I am the son of a refugee who left Lahore for Mumbai in 1947. A laminated picture of Shivaji Maharaj and Guru Govind Singhji is the first thing you see on entering my home. I speak better Marathi than my mother tongue Punjabi. What does that make me?

Lastly, there is a case for the warring cousins and their Senas to unite. Let me tell you why.

Balasaheb Thackeray's Shiv Sena owed its success as much to the personality of Balasaheb as much to his late wife Meenatai. She not only complemented the Tiger but knew how to get the best out of him. Raj has modelled himself on Balasaheb while Uddhav seems to have followed his mother's footsteps. So the personalities of Raj and Uddhav are complementary to each other in the same way as Balasaheb's and Meenatai's. It is a widely known fact that Raj is the son of Balasaheb's brother and Meenatai's sister. So there is common blood running in the cousins from both the maternal and paternal sides.

If the cousins are able to put aside their differences and create a working organisation that respects their egos it would greatly strengthen the case of the Marathi manoos. Conversely, if they continue to wage war it would weaken the Marathi manoos, not only in Mumbai but elsewhere in Maharashtra as well.

By virtue of reviving the Marathi manoos campaign in typical Sena style and performance in the recent Lok Sabha polls (had votes polled by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena gone to the SS-BJP alliance they would have won 9 more seats), Raj has made the point that on his own steam, he is a force to reckon with in select pockets of the state. He can now negotiate from a position of strength with cousin Uddhav. However, Raj needs to realise the limitations of being a one-man party and the Congress-NCP's strategy to use him to break the Sena votebank.

On the other hand Uddhav needs to realise and appreciate, that modelled on Balasaheb, Raj's capacity to pull in the crowds at rallies and votes as well. This would assume importance in the post-Balasaheb era.

It is collective positive action that will enable the warring cousins to carry forward the Thackeray mantle in 2010 and beyond. Fighting over a limited votebank could see their downfall just like what befell Shivaji Maharaj's successors till the Peshwas came on the scene decades later.

The cousins can keep on fighting the Bihari and the Bhaiyya but they will be unable to fight the Bangladeshis who replace them. That is the tragedy of India!

Sanjeev Nayyar is founder of http://www.esamskriti.com/.

Sanjeev Nayyar