February 4, 2010

India For Indians?

There is a sad irony in the fact that even as so many Indian politicians are happy to criticise racism in Australia, so few are willing to slam regionalism in India. So, we must applaud the courage of the few who do. From Mukesh Ambani to Rahul Gandhi, several thinking people have criticised the “Mumbai for Mumbaikar” chauvinism of the Shiv Sena. If these voices had been raised even earlier, the situation may not have come to this pass. Mr Ambani, of course, deserves to be congratulated because not too many high-profile Indians — Shah Rukh Khan being the other in this category in recent weeks — think it is worth their while to get into matters that don’t affect them directly but impact ordinary Indians. Indeed, given that even the ruling Congress party thought nothing of falling in line with the Shiv Sena’s position, till Mr Gandhi raised his voice, Mr Ambani’s statement was all the more welcome, being the first important voice to be heard. It is a sign of the clout he commands that, while the Shiv Sena was quick to react to Shah Rukh Khan’s statement on the fact that no Pakistani players were bought by IPL teams, the same didn’t happen as far as Mr Ambani is concerned. While Mr Gandhi deserves to be cheered, one cannot ignore the fact that his criticism of Mumbaikar chauvinism was not heard as clearly before the elections in Maharashtra and was voiced only in Bihar, with Biharis feeling vulnerable as they prepare for an election. This is a measure of the cynicism that has come to shape party political doublespeak on such matters.
But while rushing to condemn the Sena and the Congress party, and to congratulate the RSS-BJP for the line they have taken on the matter, it has to be recognised that protectionism is a natural reaction of all threatened societies/groups of people. If you think the Shiv Sena has a monopoly over such sentiments, just listen to US President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address and his decision to stop tax breaks to firms that outsourced work to India. When there is little employment available, such a backlash is inevitable. What does a state like Maharashtra do when it finds its citizens losing out to immigrants? Also keep in mind that, in the next few decades, the largest population increases will occur in places like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and, given the lower income levels and job opportunities in these areas, the pressure of migration in places like Maharashtra will only increase. This is a wake-up call for India’s political class and those engaged in thinking about the country’s future. Merely aligning with or against the Shiv Sena is not the solution. This involves serious rethinking about employment and educational opportunities, and the pressure on people to migrate in search of better options or just livelihood security. Blind “sons of the soil” employment policies hurt the poorest of the poor and divide the nation. It is time India’s national parties stood up to be counted in defence of national identity and against the politics of casteism, communalism and regionalism.

Source:Business Standard.

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