The Outsider

The scary truth is that the lure of a luxurious lifestyle has completely blinded young urban India to consequences — moral or otherwise

The concept of “outsiders” in the context of a society is always a controversial one. Just who is an outsider? Someone who has just arrived, or who somehow does not belong, ethnically, linguistically or even racially even if based within that society for generations? In a world which has seen migrations and intermingling since time immemorial, can anyone really be an outsider? The obvious answer to the last question would be no, but that has not stopped demagogue politicians from using it to tap into the basest fears of people.
In India, which is a confluence of cultures and has always been proud of its diversity and pluralism, the term “outsider” should be redundant. Yet, politicians use it to get political mileage. For some the issue has been dormant in public life; now suddenly politicians in different parts of India are once again raising the outsider bogey for their narrow ends. The example of Mumbai, where a young political scion has tweeted against Gujaratis, is illustrative of this.
Mumbai, for all its cosmopolitanism, has a long history of such things. In the 1960s, when the Shiv Sena was born in Bombay, it positioned itself politically as an anti-communist organisation. The communists held sway in the labour unions and it was important to fight them to attract the working class. But that platform had limited appeal. To make a mark, Bal Thackeray started a campaign against “outsiders”, mainly south Indians, who he called, “lungi-wearers”. His complaint was that these migrants came to Bombay and stole the jobs which would have gone to locals, i.e. the Marathi-speaking people. Naturally, violent action was part of the strategy and soon Shiv Sainiks were targeting Udupi restaurants — that such businesses were not out of bounds to anyone, least of all Marathi speakers, did not matter. Emotions were charged and a soft target had been found.
Four decades on, the late Thackeray’s nephew Raj Thackeray, who broke away to form his own party — the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena — used the same tactics to browbeat, and also physically beat, north Indians from Bihar, claiming they were shutting down employment opportunities for the Marathi-speaking people. Mr Thackeray’s excitable followers bashed up a few Bihari cabbies to get their point across. How exactly a cabbie takes up another’s job was never explained, since there is nothing that stops a native Marathi from becoming one.
However, there was a subtle difference from the Shiv Sena campaign. Unsaid but fully understood was the implication that these Biharis had brought their own cultural practices to Mumbai. This kind of prejudice was widespread but largely hidden — Mr Thackeray gave it voice.
And now a young, upcoming politician, Nitesh Rane, has declared that all those Gujaratis of Mumbai who admire Narendra Modi and his development model should leave the city. They cannot live there and praise Gujarat, he declared. His logic is that if they leave, there will be more housing for Marathis to live in. Gujaratis form roughly 20 per cent of the state’s population and have been settled in Mumbai for generations; indeed, they could be regarded as among the original settlers who came from what is now Gujarat to build their fortunes in this new boom town in the 18th century.
Mr Rane is the son of Narayan Rane, a Congressman and minister in the state government. He wields enormous clout in the coastal regions of Maharashtra. It is also useful to know that Rane Sr was the chief minister of Maharashtra in the 1990s — at that time he was an important and long-standing member of the Shiv Sena. Rane Jr clearly has imbibed much from the Sena tradition. He has been in the public eye for his supporters’ clashes with Shiv Sena activisits. Earlier this year, bodyguards of his brother, who is a member of Parliament from the coastal region of the state, got into an altercation with a traffic volunteer because she asked them to move their car. The case received widespread publicity.
Anyone else would be queasy and uncomfortable explaining away these perverse remarks, but not young Nitesh. He not only stood by them on national television but seemed to enjoy doing so, only offering the absurd caveat that he meant it only for
Mr Modi’s supporters. No doubt his convoluted way of thinking had given him national exposure, which could only be to his advantage. So far his leaders have not condemned him and other political parties, barring the Bharatiya Janata Party, have remained silent. Some half-hearted action may be taken sometime, but undoubtedly this will only encourage him to keep at it and raise the ante.
But why blame an up and coming politician? Within days of the announcement of the new state of Telangana the strutting chief of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi asked government employees from other parts of Andhra Pradesh to leave Hyderabad. Is this the beginning of yet another “outsiders get out” drive?
In Kashmir, where divisive politics has assumed monstrous proportions, Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the hardline Hurriyat wants lakhs of workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal to leave the state not because they are taking up jobs, but because they are “destroying Kashmiri culture”. The culture card is usually the last, desperate attempt of the politician and in Kashmir, the idea of an exclusive and pristine culture is deeply embedded. Does Kashmiriyat — whatever it means — not also preach tolerance of others? Fortunately, businessmen who use labour from outside are not likely to care much for this call, but if it escalates it could lead to violence and even killings, as has happened in the past.
Mendacious politicians will always be around, looking for opportunities to stoke trouble and then reaping political gains. But it is up to more responsible public figures and, more importantly, the authorities to ensure that these things are kept in check. The past record on this is not encouraging. In the end, it will be up to us as citizens to not pay the slightest attention to such rantings. Once politicians see no rewards for their cynical hate-mongering, it will just fade away.

The writer can be contacted at sidharth01@gmail.com

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