Politics and International Affairs and the quest for the ulterior motive.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Inclusive Nationalism not Regionalism
The pathetic and outrageous display of thuggery by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena cadres on the streets of Mumbai against north Indians marks another shameful chapter in the unending tryst of the ‘senas’ with their understanding of regionalism. Whatever the provocation for the display of brute force, the actions of Raj Thackeray’s party men does not bode well for a country that should be tackling pan-Indian issues like Islamic fundamentalism, secessionism and Naxalism as a strong united country rather than narrow minded regionalists that alienate and isolate people further and become root causes of civil unrest in the country. The role of migrants in Maharashtra and in economically developed states has been raging for decades. Punjab and Delhi are other examples that have witnessed high migrant populations along with development hubs across the country. The approach of regional parties and the upper echelons of civil society has been twin pronged. The regional parties ask for more representation of the “locals” and natural “citizens” of a particular state over the migrants that often claim a lot of jobs in these economic hubs. The other approach is the elitist one, where the migrants, often poor and low on the socio-economic ladder, are treated as eye sores and the root cause of all ills in society. Both arguments are specious and counter productive in the lager national perspective.

While one would not usually agree with the sentiments of the likes of Samajwadi Party’s Amar Singh, however, he made a valid point with regards to the Mumbai unrest. He said that the migrants from Hindi heartland do not come to metropolitans like Mumbai to beg, but to actually earn a decent living and carry an important role in the day to day lives of most middle class homes. While it is also true that mass migration not only puts pressure on the resources and infrastructures of a city or state, it has also led to increased crime by the migrant population. But that is a law and order issue and in no way does it take away from the economic contribution the migrant population contributes to the economy of a state/city. The elitist argument is especially specious. Proponents regard the migrants as an eyesore, these people are willing to use the services of these very migrants to drive their cars or clean their homes and contribute to their economic upliftment, but they do not want them to live in the same city as them! It is proponents of this same argument that also rue about the political class, but seldom realize that they do not even vote while the migrants are a more democratically inclined and aware lot. The other issue the unruly scenes in Mumbai have brought to the fore is the discriminatory nature of our perspective towards migration. Take for instance, an executive in a big corporate firm. If he or she is transferred to another city, he is more than welcome to be part of the culture and ethos of his migrant city. Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkatta and Chennai are full of private sector employees who hail from across the country. How is it that outfits like the MNS never raise a hue and cry about these “outsiders”? Is the quest for economic prosperity only the preserve of the rich and middle class and not of those who often leave everything behind to find a better life in the big cities?

Our nation faces numerable challenges in this new century, our young population will increase the workforce but will also require more jobs in the process. Concurrently, the infrastructure and resources are failing to meet the challenges of this promising future. Coupled with the rise of extremism and internal security issues like Naxalism, the challenges are complex and daunting. What is the need of the hour is inclusive nationalism, where every citizen of the country must meaningfully contribute to make India realize her true potential. Issues like regionalism and casteism are an impediment to this potential rise of the country. The leaders of our country need to get over the narrow considerations of caste and coalition compulsions and ensure that the State and state policy does not become an impediment to this enviable future of the country. Regionalism brings with it a deferential attitude towards the nation as a whole. It is only at times of war, like in Kargil, when the nation truly pulls together to fight an external threat. For local issues within the country most citizens are happy to live in the cocooned comfort of their state or region. Most people feel far removed from the threat of Naxalism or even bird flu as long as it doesn’t affect them. These are issues that require a pan-India resolve and change in attitudes and unfortunately for too long have we chosen to look the other way. It is time that we think of the country as a whole and not in bits and pieces. The rising importance of regional parties underlines the rising threat of regionalism. With national governments dependent on regional outfits, a pan-India vision gets myopic to state considerations. While the importance of regional parties will stay for the foreseeable future, we desperately need our national parties – the BJP and the Congress to not shy away from issues of national importance and more importantly not sacrifice issues of national interest at the altar of regional and coalition compulsions. One may take a dim view given the pandering that is on display by both national parties to woo regional allies, but the hope remains that ultimately for the larger good of the country, where the stakes are unmistakably high, the national parties will stand up and guide India to her true potential.