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In Mumbai 2014, throwback to Bombay 1956-60

Why BJP’s rivals are giving the elections a Maharashtra-vs-Gujarat spin

Written by Shubhangi Khapre | Mumbai | Updated: October 14, 2014 12:12:31 pm

At Flora Fountain in Mumbai, a  burning flame reminds one of 105 martyrs from the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement of 1956-60. It was an agitation that culminated in the creation of two states, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Both linguistic groups had set their eye on Bombay, which eventually became the capital of Maharashtra. Now Mumbai, the metropolis remains on centre-stage of national and interstate politics.

More than five decades since the movement, parties contesting the Maharashtra elections have been seeking to stir the same passions around Mumbai. The Congress, the Shiv Sena and the MNS have accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of a hidden agenda to sever the city from Maharashtra.

THEN AND NOW

While the Amchi Mumbai theme is characteristic of the Sena and the MNS, it is the first time that the Congress and the NCP have taken up such an aggressive campaign to show Mumbai as the victim of an interstate battle between Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Estranged cousins Raj and Uddhav Thackeray have a familial connect with the Samyukta Maharashtra. The late Prabodhankar Thackeray, their grandfather, was a founder leader of the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement that fought for keeping Bombay in Maharashtra.

On successive election campaigns, the Congress and the Sena were at loggerheads on the issue of Mumbai. It is the first time the four parties are speaking the same language on Mumbai, though Congress MLC Ananth Gadgil insists, “The Congress government at the Centre has always safeguarded Mumbai’s economic importance.”

The Congress, which ruled at the Centre, was seen as against the 1956-60 movement, when socialist and communist forces joined hands against the Congress. The Congress took it seriously only after union finance minister C D Deshmukh resigned. And it was after the killing of 105 people that Bombay’s place was established in Maharashtra.

KEY TO STATE

With 36 assembly seats out of 288, Mumbai is crucial to every party. And the political agenda set here can also influence voters in 36 more seats — in the satellite towns of Thane and in Raigad (Konkan belt).

“Mumbai has always been a historical centre of state politics. There is a belief that the party that leads in Mumbai rules Maharashtra,” says political analyst Bharatkumar Raut. “The only exception was in 1978, when the Janata Party and its allies swept all 34 assembly seats but it was the Congress that came to power. The Congress government under Vasantdada Patil, however, lasted barely four months.”

The Congress and the NCP are hoping to polarise the sons of the soil in Mumbai, and in the process create an undercurrent of state pride that it believes would run across communities and religions among the state’s 8.35 crore voters. The regional parties fear central control of Mumbai would make them redundant on their home turf.

The NCP’s Chhagan Bhujbal says, “We have a PM who is indulging in a campaign to show Maharashtra has failed and Gujarat is ahead. If it were based on fact, we would have accepted it. But such a campaign for votes has to be countered.”

Modi, for his part, has sought to turn the tables on his opponents by stressing Mumbai’s importance. “Why not make Mumbai a world class city? And why not transform the city into a international financial capital?” he has said at rallies in the city, stressing nothing can separate it from Maharashtra.

And state BJP president Devendra Fadnavis asserts, “ The Congress, the NCP, the Sena and the MNS are trying to make an issue out of Mumbai’s supposed separation from Maharashtra. The BJP is always committed to Mumbai’s status as capital of Maharashtra.”

But even the CPI’s Prakash Reddy sees a larger BJP design. “There cannot be any ambiguity about the BJP’s agenda to separate Mumbai from Maharashtra,” he says. “It is a well-planned strategy to serve the interests of the corporate sector and the moneyed class. Mumbai will be for capitalists, for the rich and famous. The talk about an international financial capital is a step in that direction. It will serve a certain elite section. What will it offer the working masses?”

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