>’Say Mumbai, not Bambai!’ say the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and its leader, Raj Thackeray. Forty years after his uncle led a campaign against South Indians for allegedly taking jobs away from the ‘sons of the soil’, Raj’s native Maharashtrian blood is boiling. Why? Because North Indian migrants in Mumbai dare to celebrate North Indian festivals like Chhath Puja and Uttar Pradesh Diwas.
If I remember my civics lessons correctly, it’s a fundamental right of every Indian citizen to live and work in any part of India. And to be able to celebrate any festival – be it Chhath Puja or Eid or Hannukah. And if I remember my history lessons correctly, Mumbai is ‘The Maximum City’ because of the inflow of people from all parts of the country. It was not just the Maharastrians who made Mumbai – it was also the Gujaratis, the Sindhis, the Tamilians; people from almost every part of India played a part in converting a group of fishing villages into Mumbai the Megapolis.
A friend told me that it’s pointless to talk about this, since nobody is going to take Raj Thackeray seriously anyway and that in any case, all he wants is cheap publicity. Maybe he’s right. But this ‘us vs. them’ issue seems to be popping up all the time, not just in Mumbai but all over the country. Be it Modi’s ‘Gujarat Gaurav’ or the anti-Bihar riots in Assam or Raj Thackeray’s attack on North Indians – this trend of regionalism is growing and threatening to consume the Nation.
People who know me well are aware that I’m not a big fan of the concept of nations and nationalism. That said, I do believe that in this day and age, nations are the only hope we have. National governments, at least theoretically, are supposed to provide people with stability and security. They’re supposed to make resources available for their citizens. But Nationalism has one inherent flaw – how is a Nation to be defined? Is it a geographical concept? Or is it linguistic, or religious?
Modern India was born out of the geographical idea of ‘Hindustan’ or ‘Bharat’. We’ve multiple racial, cultural and religious groups within this country. The fact that India has survived as a democracy for 60 years is a testament to the power of the idea of a Nation. Surrounded by failed or failing states, India has remained stable. But who is to say that this might not change?Call me an alarmist or a pessimist, but I can’t help wondering – has Regionalism become the new Nationalism?