Regionalism Raises Ugly Head
By Shivaji Sarkar
India pre-1947 resounded to the battle cry of “throw out the British”. Sprinkled with nationalism, all pledged to make India united and secular. The 2018 Mera Bharat Mahan is all about chucking the “outsider aam aadmi” from States and imposing an “insider curfew” on them. Peppered with loads of patriotic regional chaap, all promising to make their respective States more local and faithful than ever.
The trigger for the latest exodus of Biharis and UP bhaiyas from Gujarat was the abysmal rape of a 14-month-old girl in Sabarkantha district by a Bihari lad last week. This unleashed the genie of regionalism in the State whereby the State was caught in the vortex of ‘Gujarat for Gujaratis’ and ‘throw out the North Indians’ campaign resulting in poor migrants being beaten, attacked and threatened, notwithstanding, assurance by Chief Minister Rupani of safety and action against the perpetrators.
Similar to the ‘throw out North-Easterners’ from Bengaluru in October 2014. Recall, two North-East students were beaten by three men for not speaking Kannada and another by seven men. Alongside, they were asked if they were Japanese, Chinese or Korean? Indeed, resentment runs deep over North-East and North Indian techies flooding the city with their loud, noisy, in-your-face manners. In Mumbai, the same paranoia against North Indians raises its ugly head every few years. In Punjab and Assam Biharis are no longer welcome.
Questionably, are we racist? Is regionalism ingrained in our psyche? How does one control the hate mongers? Does our polity realize the ramifications of this regionalism? Does it not further divide people on regional lines and is antithetical to hope of narrowing India’s burgeoning regional divide, thereby unleashing a Frankenstein?
Clearly, in a milieu of competitive democracy, if caste politics ensures convergence of electoral booty, politics based on region has better chance of polarising voters via vicious speeches induced raw emotions of hostility and hate. Who cares if it is destructive, stokes violence and sows seeds of rabid regionalism alongside communalism.
Recall, regionalism debuted in Tamil Nadu in early 60s, wherein people’s alienation from the Centre led to the DMK’s birth, which later split into AIADMK etc. It then moved to Maharashtra where little-known cartoonist Bal Thackeray became the self-styled champion of everything Marathi. His Shiv Sena nurtured on the infamous `Marathi manoos’ standard, by which practically everyone in Mumbai was an `outsider’ except 28% Maharashtrians. His first victims were skilled labourers from southern States who were branded “lungi-wallas” and their businesses attacked. After them Gujarati entrepreneurs and now North Indian UP bhaiyas or Biharis.
Then Assam burnt over the foreigners issue in the 70’s, when the All Assam Students Union started an oust all “illegal Bangladeshi migrants” movement. This caught the people’s imagination and the Congress Government was voted out and Asom Gana Parishad elected. In Nagaland and Manipur students want all non-Nagas-Manipuris out. Regionalism had arrived.
In November 2003, India resounded to parochialism again, when Assamese stopped 20,000 Biharis from taking a recruitment test in Guwahati. Biharis retaliated by stopping trains from North East, dragged people out and killed beat. Assamese hit back killing over 52 Biharis. Dreaded militant outfits ULFA and All Bodo Students Union joined the mayhem. Their slogan: “All Hindi speaking people leave Assam”. “Catch Assamese and kill them,” countered Biharis.
Why blame locals alone? Our netas too reveled in playing the regional card. In the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP dubbed Congress Lucknow candidate Karan Singh, former J&K’s Sadr-i-Riyasat ‘outsider’ vis-à-vis ‘insider’ Vajpayee. Never mind, Lucknow is miles away from Gwalior, Vajpayee’s birthplace. Interestingly, the Sangh again portrayed ‘Vajpayee the local’ in Himachal, by underscoring his love for Manali.
Thus, regionalism thrived with Parties and leaders making it their mantra. Former Prime Minister and kisan leader Charan Singh floated the farmer-oriented Janata Party and Devi Lal Lok Dal in Haryana. Badal his Akali Dal in Punjab, NT Rama Rao Telugu Desam in Andhra, Bangla’s Mamata Banerjee her Trinamool Congress and Naveen Patnaik floated the BJD in Orissa. All with a common USP: “We are locals who shall rule, Delhi is dur — the outsider.”
Additionally, Mandalisation gave a further impetus to regionalism with “Made in India” leaders Mayawati, Mulayam, Laloo, etc. Their electorate no longer was willing to know-tow to centrist Parties and those foisted by them. They plugged for own biradari.
Further complicating matters we not only have castes and sub-castes(gotras): Brahmins, Baniyas, Dalits, and Kapus etc, we also have to deal with Biharis, UPwallahs, Haryanvis and all South Indians are dubbed Madrasis. Along-with pre-conceived notions on place, language, cuisine and customs a person comes from. Consequently, our large regional diversity, leads to communities pitted up against each other ideologically or for resources.
While Northerners look down on ‘Madrasis’ and their eating habits, Southerners think ‘Panjus’ are loud, braggers and only good enough for Bhangra! The Bengalis are intellectuals, and a half-decent Bihari is supposed to crack IAS. There are the stingy ‘Gujjus’ from the West and ‘Bhaiyyas’ from UP. These differences make people suspicious of those who are not like them. Hence, ‘people like us’ close ranks. These closed communities are naturally full of prejudices towards the ‘outsider.’
Undoubtedly, citizens should have equal job opportunities across the country. The problem kicks in when locals demand their pound of flesh and to some extent, rightly so. Arguably, why should people from outside a State apply for menial jobs? If outsiders corner sweepers or helpers jobs where should the locals go for their bread and butter? Join militants and take up guns? Does that promote national integration?
In States where militancy rages, statistics prove unemployed local youths taking to crime and terrorism as jobs are cornered by outsiders. Kashmir and North East bear this out.
Alas, over the years are polity has chipped away with deadly precision at the reality of a united and integrated India where regional aspirations play second fiddle to national unity. And, where every Indian has the right to live in any part of the country he chooses and get equal opportunities to earn a decent livelihood. In sum, an India that is equitable and offers a level-playing field for all classes, castes and communities.
High time we remember India is a Union of States and address this ‘outsider’ issue else regionalism will lead to disintegration of the country. The Government needs to put in place a strong deterrence in instances of violence towards a particular community or regional abuse against ‘outsiders’ who come to different States to eke out a living.
The country needs a strong anti-racial law to condemn all forms of racist discrimination, abuse, assaults and killings as it a threat to their right to live. The Law Ministry needs to frame a strong law which covers all kinds of regional crimes committed against regional minorities living away from home.
A clear no-tolerance policy towards regional intolerance is the need of the hour. The message should be loud and clear. Time we looked beyond the gora-kala-Hindu-Muslim, Madrasi-Punjabi phobia. We are two sides of the great skin divide – all people. We need to sing along to that old Bollywood song: Hum Bihari hain toh kya huah, dil wale hain! —– INFA