If the Maharashtrian vs Gujarati debate in Mumbai that gained prominence in the run-up to the state Assembly elections in October last year appeared to have softened following the Shiv Sena’s decision to join the BJP-led government in the state, the gloves are now off again.
On Wednesday, the Shiv Sena called for a bandh in Girgaum to demand that the Mumbai Metro Rail Route 3 be realigned to ensure that no resident was displaced, and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena too supported the agitation.
Local MNS leader Arvind Gawde accused the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MMRC) of parcelling off Girgaum to the “vegetarian lobby” of Gujaratis.
All of Girgaum and the adjoining areas of Kalbadevi, Chira Bazar, Princess Street and nearby localities observed a bandh with stores downing their shutters in the otherwise busy area.
The Shiv Sena, demanding that the Marathi manoos of Girgaum not be displaced, has been protesting the Metro Rail route’s alignment despite its own government promising to fast-track the project. On Wednesday morning, around 2,500 people participated in a rally from Princess Street to Girgaum’s main junction, the rest of the bustling lanes bearing a deserted look.
What’s more, the Sena’s protest received support from residents, as well as from the Congress. Gawde, who participated in the protest, said, “The commercial structures here include authentic Maharashtrian non-vegetarian restaurants and it also houses the Chira Bazar fish market.
This area will slowly go to the vegetarian lobby which will never want any outlet serving non-vegetarian food or a fish or meat market to come up in the area again. This has been happening across the city. Non-vegetarian restaurants and markets have been done away with in areas dominated by Gujaratis, Marwaris and Jains.”
Sena leaders agreed. While Girgaum, one of Mumbai’s oldest residential quarters, has been home to Maharashtrians, as well as Gujaratis, for decades, the Shiv Sena has been harping on its demand for the Marathi manoos to be protected from displacement.
“Today, we have more Gujaratis, Jains and Marwaris here,” said former Sena MLA Arvind Nerkar. Maharashtrian families from the area have begun to move northward and to the western suburbs, swapping crumbling buildings with cheaper flats in the suburbs, claim political activists from the Shiv Sena and MNS. Around 60-70 per cent of the population in Girgaum is Marathi-speaking. This move will push out the Marathi population from south Mumbai. I am not against the project, but it should be done while taking people along.”
Nearly 650 families will have to be rehabilitated from this area, including a handful of local Shiv Sena leaders’ families. Despite Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis assuring that these residents would be rehabilitated in the same area once the construction was complete, and also that they would get larger homes during the rehabilitation, the Sena has remained firm in its opposition.
Pandurang Sapkal, a Sena leader and resident of the area, said, “I was born and brought up in this area and had never thought of moving out. There are hundreds of people like me who think and feel the same. Today, for the first time I saw thousands participate in a rally and observe a bandh in the area. The CM should come out with an alternative as we won’t give up our homes and the area where we grew up.”