Insularity spiced with violence can only create a city of thugs. Little will be left of the cosmopolitan ambience of Mumbai if the ignorance, illogic and aggression of Shiv Sena cadre are allowed to reign. Uninformed cultural chauvinism has always been part of the Shiv Sena’s USP: it so far manifested itself in wild bouts of violence on Valentine’s Day or during beauty pageants. Anything beyond the Shiv Sena’s peculiarly askew definition of “Hindu” was suspect and undesirable, whether the “foreign” influences were supposed to come from an undefined West or from Islam was not important. This time there has been a variation on the theme: Shiv Sena leaders have taken to storming shops and threatening multinational companies and Indian business houses for not employing enough Maharashtrians. The Marathi theme was never absent, the Shiv Sena has now decided to give it priority. Mr Sanjay Malshikar, a Shiv Sena leader, has announced that all organizations have a deadline of August 30 after which 90 per cent of their staff will have to be Maharashtrian. The impudence is staggering, but not surprising. Mr Bal Thackeray, the patriarch of the Shiv Sena, has always considered himself an extra-constitutional authority, and has never baulked at making the most inflammatory pro-Hindu statements. His aura of godlike immunity has inevitably rubbed off on his followers, who, too, have never been penalized for their more outrageous actions, such as the recent one of entering a playwright’s house and warning him not to make “anti-Maharashtrian” statements in his plays.
Yet with all the sound and fury, it is not clear what the Shiv Sena is trying to achieve. There is a very clear division of policy within the organization, since only one faction is most vociferous about the pro-Maharashtra drive. It is ironic that one of the woes of the Shiv Sena is that it has remained sharply confined within Maharashtra, it has never been able to make its presence felt anywhere else in the country. This effort to “throw out” non-Maharashtrians will further limit its power instead of enhancing it: it will have failed to take advantage of the flourishing economy of its major city. The other faction in the party is more keen on expanding its political base, which seems a comparatively more sensible tactic. The sudden thrust against non-Maharashtrians will not help this cause. Reservations by themselves are harmful enough, but to demand 90 per cent reservations on the basis of ethnicity goes against constitutional usage and simple common sense. But an excited Shiv Sena cannot be expected to pause for either the Constitution or good sense.