May 19, 2009 11:11:20 pm
The Congress sweep of Mumbai is bad news for the city. The much-hyped mature Indian voter who has apparently rejected divisive politics everywhere for a secular stable government, seems to have been mysteriously absent in Mumbai. On the contrary,the vote for the Congress here is the result of hate politics where the outsider is the enemy.
In every one of Mumbais six Lok Sabha constituencies,Raj Thackerays Maharashtra Navnirman Sena,with its aggressive pro-Marathi,anti-North Indian politics,got more than a lakh votes. Obviously,the majority of MNS voters were Marathi-speaking Mumbaikars,most of whom would have otherwise voted for the Shiv Sena.
In a bid to weaken the Sena,the Congress has been supporting the MNS ever since it started its sons-of-the-soil campaign,beating up vulnerable North Indians supposedly in the interests of the Marathi manoos last year. This strategy continued during these elections,and benefitted it well. Without this strategy,the Congress would probably have lost Mumbai (except for Sunil Dutts daughter Priya Dutt,the only candidate whose winning margin was more than the votes polled by the MNS candidate).
Why would Mumbaikars vote for a party that has failed them in three of the most nerve-wracking crises they have faced the flooding of the city on July 26,2005; the train bombings on July 11,2006 and the terrorist attack on November 26,2008? So many may not have died in these incidents had the administration taken preventive measures. Yet,no one from the city Congress or the NCP was willing to acknowledge responsibility,let alone apologise. Indeed,former CM Vilasrao Deshmukh and his Man Friday Johny Joseph remained unfazed.
Forget crises; the daily life of the average Mumbaikar has become hell thanks to the venality of the ruling combine. Its total surrender to builders; its Mumbai-to-Shanghai development pattern that necessitates regular slum demolitions and hawker evictions; the way its agencies carry out civic works often leading to crippling injuries if not death to helpless pedestrians has changed this city beyond repair.
But life for Mumbaikars is set to get even worse with Assembly polls just four months away. Politics of the worst kind is likely to engulf the city. The MNS,which has got 22 per cent of the vote in the city,will surely field candidates for many Assembly seats. Its Lok Sabha success will spur it to become even more aggressive in its politics of abuse.
The Sena,frantically trying to recover from its humiliating defeat in the city of its birth,will in turn try to prove itself the original saviour of the Marathi manoos,and may even revive its anti-Muslim politics,for Raj Thackeray has cleverly spared Muslims and enjoys some support in the community. Rabble rousers like Abu Asim Azmi of SP will have a field day.
Presiding over all this will be the Congress,loudly proclaiming itself the saviour of North Indians,tacitly allowing the MNS an even freer rein (the progress of cases filed against Raj Thackeray will be a good indicator); the buying over disgruntled Muslims with a few seats. Mumbais already dying cosmopolitanism is going to be severely damaged,whoever wins the Assembly election.
So in the countrys financial capital,touted as its most progressive city,its the old politics of polarisation that has worked. The countrys oldest national party has played this game before: it has ridden the communal tiger only to be eaten by it later. It did this with Bal Thackeray and his Shiv Sena in the 60s and 70s; with Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in the 80s. No one need care what happens to the Congress; but what matters greatly is the future of the ordinary Mumbaikar.
The writer is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist.
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