Attack on Migrants-Attack on India’s Pluralistic Fabric
Rakesh Srivatstava | 27 Mar 2008

Pluralism is the dominant principle of the Indian society. Plurality, heterogeneity, or even conflict in values is regarded as characteristics of the Indian system. That is the reason why the Indian civilization is distinguished from other civilizations of the world given its continuity, heterogeneity, and accommodating ethos.

Since time immemorial, the Indian civilization has played host to streams of migrant groups and communities from across the world. The migrant groups and communities enriched the Indian society with their respective traditions and behaviour patterns that they had brought from their native lands.

In the course of time, they lost contact with their places of origin, underwent an extensive process of indigenization, and helped build the nation that we know as India today.But several critical factors have threatened the very fabric of this unique pluralistic society from time to time. Communalism, casteism, religious extremism, and what not! In the recent years, regionalism has been raising its head again and is eating into the core of the pluralistic heart of the Indian union.

When the politicians start feeling insecure about their acceptance amongst people, they raise the emotional issue of locals vs outsiders. Delhi CM Sheela Dixit once suggested that North Indians particularly those coming from Bihar and UP were burden on the national capital. The Assam militants resorted to the killing of Bihari migrant labourers. And now Raj Thackeray’s ranting against the ‘uttar bhartiya’ in Mumbai.

All these acts of political desperation can only be termed as politics at its most emotional, irrational, inarticulate, and incomprehensible.

Raj Thackeray’s assertion that “migrants come and ruin local culture” is absolutely ridiculous. It is certain that, if asked, Raj Thackeray would not be able to define ‘local culture’. I would suggest Raj read the eminent sociologist M N Srinivas to learn that the local culture at a given place reflects local, regional and all-India patterns. While a lot in Pune’s culture will be the same as that of Nagpur, there will still be certain things that will be different. Similarly, while Mumbai has an admirable culture that is different from that of Delhi, there are lots of common traits too between the two as both are within India. Culture, by its very definition, is the amalgamation of various behaviour patterns that people bring in from their native lands.

A person in Delhi will tell you that his native place is Bihar, a person in Patna will say that his native place is Chapra, and a person in Chapra will say that his native place is Amnaur.

The above example will help one understand that any vibrant society is in a constant state of migration – migration from a village to a town, migration from one town to another, migration from one state to another, and migration from one country to another. The cultural amalgamation resulting from this migration process leads to better people-to-people understanding. This is something that needs to be fostered, since in recent years, identity politics is trying to endanger the accommodating society that India has been for ages.

It is widely believed that migration is a burden on the local society. This is a myth. On the contrary, migration is a two-way enrichment process. International studies of immigrants clearly show their significant contribution to host economies. While the migrants improve their lives with the opportunities available in the host society, they also contribute to its growth. They also generate thousands of jobs through their spending within the host land.

Punjab is amongst the most developed states of India today. Could Punjab have achieved the status of ‘food granary’ of India without the contribution of migrant Bihari labourers? The contribution of Parsis to India's welfare and its economic and social development is extraordinary. Tata and Godrej are household names in India. Can anyone imagine Mumbai as the business capital of India without the contribution of Gujaratis who have made Mumbai their home?

Let us look further across the Atlantic. America is known as the land of immigrants. The USA is the most developed country of the world because it is a heterogeneous society of immigrants. If you analyse why America became more powerful than the countries where its people came from, you will realize that it is due to its assimilation of the immigrants into a liberal democratic American society. While the American society correctly asks what the immigrants have to offer to them, it also ensures that the immigrants are able to live in peace and enjoy all services offered to America’s citizens. This assimilation and care for each other results in a liberal culture in the society. The synergy generated by the people from different background and different strengths has built America what it is today.

Raj Thackeray should understand this. He should know that a majority of the migrants coming to Mumbai are engaged in production-related jobs. As per a recent Times of India report, migrants, apart from working in industries, are involved in providing 48 types of services in the city — ranging from selling milk, vegetables and provisions to driving vehicles, working as security guards and so on. While these are mostly low-paying jobs, their contribution to maintaining the standard of life in this affluent city cannot be discounted.

The non-migrant population on the other hand, dominate white-collared professional, technical, executive and managerial jobs, including clerical and sales jobs, in various service-based industries.

But those who have nothing new to offer to their people, have taken recourse to identity politics without realizing that it will ultimately harm their own society. If militants in Assam are killing Bihari migrants, it’s not adding to the reputation of the state. Rather, it is creating an uncertain atmosphere in the state where law of the land does not rule roost. And this results in industrialists not looking towards Assam as a good place to invest that would have generated jobs for lakhs of Assamese. So, ultimately, it’s the Assamese people who are suffering. The sooner the Assam ‘nationalists’ understand this, better for them.

These regional chauvinists should know that by indulging in violence, they may get media coverage for few days, months, or at the most years, but their kind of extremist politics will not survive long. One thing is certain, it will never bring them to power. We have history as the witness. Even the flag bearer of the extreme right politics in France, Le Pen of Front National has changed track. Now he does not direct his ire against the immigrants, he does it against the politicians who support the immigration. Le Pen’s message is not directly anti-immigrant. Certainly he sees what he calls the flood of immigrants as the immediate reason for France’s decline, but for him it is not the immigrants’ fault: they can’t help wanting to come to a great country. It is the fault of the politicians who have let them in.

In India too, the problem is the same. The development is not uniform across the country. The myopic urban development policy of the central govt. has created this mess. Some areas have developed a lot whereas others have remained under darkness.
Hence, people from backward regions like UP and Bihar throng developed cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore in search of opportunities. Given an option, these immigrants would rather return to their home state if they are developed as centres of employment and high economic growth Trillion-Dollar-Experiment . After all, no one, not even poor labourers, want to live in poor living conditions of the slums in these cities that rob them of their dignity.

Migration can be reduced if jobs are created nearer home. It’s nobody’s case that Raj Thackeray’s fulminations are mere incarnation of our worst racist selves. We cannot deny that there is fire behind the smoke. Maharshtra is not Punjab where poor Bihari labourers are invited to do jobs that the Punjabis do not want to do themselves. So, we see no protest by any political party in Punjab against the Bihari labourers. On the other hand, there is widespread unemployment Wall-Street-Layoffs in Maharashtra.

Raj Thackeray has identified that there are lakhs of unemployed Marathis in the state who feel let down by the politicians. The media too does not give voice to the resentment of these people suffering from a feeling of victimization. Sensing this as an opportunity, Raj Thackeray is trying to be the principal electoral voice of these Maharashtrians who feel that they are suffering due to the north-Indian immigrants. Most of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s new recruits come from these sections of society.

However, Raj Thackeray is treading a path that is not going to succeed. His exclusivist politics may fetch him limelight and he may become a household name in India, but only for sometime. The Mumbai of the twenty-first century is not the Mumbai of seventies when the original Thackeray first played the politics of mumbaikars vs outsiders and achieved success. The socio-economic profile of Mumbai has changed in forty years. Recent surveys show that the majority of modern educated Maharashtrians do not approve the exclusivist and intolerant agenda of Raj Thackeray. Raj may have acquired some fan following after his recent rantings, but it will always be limited to that. It will remain and create nuisance from time to time but it will not grow.

If Raj does not want to fade away in history as someone whose goons once bashed up north-Indian taxi drivers in Mumbai, he should formulate an inclusive political strategy for the development of Maharashtra, and that means development of all those who live in Maharashtra – Marathis, Gujaratis, South Indians, Parsis, Biharis and UPites. It would do him a lot good if he reads the recent writings in Le Pen’s diary. Then, as Le Pen did, he would also realize that innocent citizens should not suffer due to the follies of the state. If he is a true nationalist that he claims to be, he should immediately ask his violent activists to stop venting their ire against immigrants. He should channelise the anger of these unemployed youth into pressurizing the govt. to have a proper urban development policy for Mumbai and stop regularizing illegal slum colonies.

However, this is also an opportunity for the nation to ask itself certain questions. Why are migrants in different parts of the country suffering at the hands of marginal politicians and militants. Why does not the state deal strongly with the perpetrators of violence against the vulnerable immigrants? Can we allow political compulsions to overtake the respect for law and national integrity? Can we afford to keep our focus of development on the few cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore? Or should we target the new areas of growth and opportunity – the tier two towns? Shouldn’t the country have a proper urban development policy which should include a development-friendly national immigration policy?

Mumbai, Delhi, Patna and Bastar are all parts of the body and soul of India that is Bharat. While Mumbai and Delhi grow, Patna and Bastar cannot be left far behind. The Centre along with the govts. of the under-developed states must up its ante and work together to create more job opportunities in the states, sooner rather than later. But at the same time, migration and migrants should not be seen as problems to be dealt with. They should rather be looked upon as challenges and opportunities. The state govts. must understand migration as part of the range of poor people’s livelihood options.

Migrants are people trying to improve their lives and must be treated accordingly. This country can be built into a great nation only with the synergy generated by different people possessing different strengths. We must not allow fringe elements like Raj Thackeray to attack Non-Maharashtrians in Mumbai. The nation can no more afford a ‘Non Non-Maharashtrian manifesto’ or ‘Non Non-Assamese manifesto’ the way it witnessed a ‘Non-Brahmin manifesto’ in 1916 in Tamilnadu.