Recently, an upcoming political party in Maharashtra created a huge fuss. It blamed non-Marathis for creating problems for Marathis living in Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra. Its prime target was Biharis, people of a state known for its relatively higher proportion of migrant labour population.
This party claimed that non-Marathis come to Maharashtra seeking opportunities, which mounts pressure on infrastructure and jobs meant for the existing Marathis. Implicit in this was the wildly erroneous assumption that the local economy and state resources – from drinking water to real estate and advertised jobs – are a Marathi entitlement. Quite conveniently, ignoring that the companies doing business in Mumbai or the farmers growing vegetables may be selling their goods all over the country, and thus earning revenue from everywhere. This racist political rhetoric also never mentioned that a Marathi youth, just like any other Indian youth, is entitled to join national colleges or jobs like the IIT or the army respectively.
If you apply even basic reasoning and logic, the tirade of keeping non-Marathis out or blaming them for Maharashtra’s woes falls flat on its face at best. At worst, it may even be a criminal offence amounting to racism and hate speech.
But we Indians are not known for logic. Be it our movies or political pitches – emotions matter more than reason, or even truth. Blaming non-Marathis, thus, provides a strong emotional hook. It’s a form of collective catharsis, which allows a section of Marathis to vent their pain. Many suffer daily – from an aam admi in potholed Mumbai to a poor farmer in under-irrigated Vidarbha. It is nice to have someone to blame, especially when their leader ratifies such a notion. It has to be someone not like them. And Biharis happen to be an easy target.
It’s extremely hard to reason with such emotionally charged people. Hence, arguments about all Indians being equal, or the national economy and workforce being one and seamless, won’t be bought. So, while radical politici-ans thrive, reasonable ones sink.
However, the real irony of the situation was revealed last fortnight: the biggest irrigation scam was conducted in Maharashtra, by Marathis, and against Marathis. Yes, the main accused in the scam are not Biharis. If you thought a poor migrant family standing in line for a bucket of water was the cause of Mumbai’s problems, think again. It is some bad Marathi, voted to power by good Marathis, who robbed the latter silly. It is the Marathi politicians running one of the most corrupt state governments in India. It is your own people, those you trust, who have kept the state backward. There is no reason for Maharashtra to be so poor. It has a vast educated class, hardworking workforce, large land area, ample connectivity, besides housing Mumbai, India’s commercial hub.
And yet, Maharashtra’s farmers continue to have one of the highest suicide rates in the country. The government has been using irrigation projects as an excuse to siphon off projects to their friends. They have kept the farmers poor and themselves and their friends rich. However, there is little focus on these issues. When cornered, Marathi politicians point fingers at the non-Marathis, or use other deflection tactics. What makes them do this? Because they can take the Marathi population for granted.
In fact, here’s another irony in the recent irrigation scam. The day the accused deputy CM resigned, other ministers too threatened to resign. In most parts of the world, a politician accused of massive corruption, against no less than farmers, would become a political untouchable. Here, almost everyone in his party expressed solidarity. As if the accused was somehow the victim here.
Obviously, the ministers chose to side with the accused as they felt confident this won’t damage their electoral prospects. In fact, abandoning the leader, despite the charges, appeared to be a bad strategy. In other words, the people of Maharashtra wouldn’t care about corruption when it came to voting. They would only care about their revered Marathi leaders and their relatives continuing to rule them. Even if that means farmers not having good irrigation facilities and Mumbai better roads.
Who is hurting whom here? Is it really the Biharis hurting the Marathis? Or is it time to swallow the bitter pill and accept this – Maharashtra is backward because it is the bad Marathis that are hurting the good Marathis. Whether it is placing blind faith in divisive or corrupt leaders simply because they are Marathi; or whether it is the wrong criterion of identity vs issues, when it comes to voting, the damage the Marathis are causing to themselves is immense. What is shocking is Marathis are one of the most forward-looking, culturally rich, modern communities. Marathi literature comprises some of the most vibrant, progressive vernacular writings in India. And yet, there has been little introspection on what has gone wrong in state politics and community values.
You may not like hearing this. However, i say this out of caring for my adopted home state, and sometimes caring is expressed as a bitter but necessary pill. As a Maharashtra resident it’s painful to see people suffering everyday. They clearly deserve better. Let the intellectuals and leaders of the Marathi community lead an introspection drive. Let us reclaim the glory of a community that has been eroded by some who betrayed their trust. And let us realise that what matters more in life is good people or bad people, not Marathis or non-Marathis.