Migrants have played a seminal role in the development and growth of Mumbai. They have also played a very important and decisive role in shaping the politics of the city.
Their dominant presence in the early 60s and 70s in the political discourse of Mumbai laid the ground for the city being identified as a symbol of India’s secular modernity. However, the massive presence of migrants in the city also led to the growth of regional nativism and assertion of a nativist agenda, which spurred the spread and growth of political parties like the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
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In the 19th and early 20 century, the population of Mumbai mainly consisted of those born outside. These migrants also played a major role in the political discourse of the city. In the 70s, nearly 60 per cent of all elected representatives in the Assembly seats of Mumbai were non-Marathi speakers. This lopsided representation in a city which was seen as the capital of a Marathi-speaking state laid the grounds for the assertion of political power that was the natural right of the Marathi-speaking resident.
Shiv Sena’s projection of everyone other than native Marathi speakers as outsiders paid electoral dividends and helped change the political landscape of the city as well.
“The virulence of anti-migrant agitation in the name of ‘sons of soil’ politics and associated violence in Mumbai during the last two decades of the 20th century and its resurgence through the emergence of a political party named the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena during the 2000s has been associated not with the increasing migration in Mumbai but with the shift in the migration pattern in favour of inter-state migration,” according to Gavin Jones of the National University of Singapore, in a paper titled “Population Change and Migration in Mumbai”.
Before the Shiv Sena gained ground in the city, native politicians from Maharashtra constituted only 35 per cent of the total elected representatives in the city.
During the Shiv Sena’s political zenith in the 90s, this number shot up to as high as 65 per cent as many political parties, including the Shiv Sena, gave tickets to natives who managed to win seats.
In the 2014 Assembly elections, the number of native representatives hit an all-time high with 65 per cent of those elected from Mumbai being Marathi-speaking natives, attributed to the Shiv Sena’s expansion of its anti-migrant agenda to include Hindutva.
However, Hindutva’s promotion of Hindi-Hindu in its efforts to form a pan national identity are a challenge to the Shiv Sena, especially as the number of Hindi-speakers in its bastion Mumbai is increasing. It also gives others such as the Congress political space, as evident from statements by Congress leaders that Mumbai would come to a standstill if the North Indian community decided to stop working.