Friday, February 12, 2010

Shiv Sena, Migrants and Nativist Movements: A Reality Check

Ever since the MNS/Raj Thackeray saga began and more recently, with the Shiv Sena/SRK episode, the media has been thrashing the Shiv Sena and its more recent variant, the MNS with a heavy hand every day. The same treatment has been meted out to the Maharashtra government which brought forth a language and domicile requirement for taxi licenses. The latest strike comes from Rajdeep Sardesai with his open letter to Uddhav Thackeray. First of all, let me clarify, I am not a fan of the Shiv Sena or its violent methods. Political parties have a fundamental obligation to adopt and follow democratic methods and respect the rule of law; any party not doing that should be taken to task. However, when the system proves unworkable and local sentiments, though universal, are at variance with the law of the land, the prospect of violence is a reality and a debate becomes necessary to decide whether a change in the law is called for.

That said, I come to the subject matter of this post. The media has only been looking at this issue from the standpoint of which party/leader stands to gain/lose, how other parties have responded to this and what their political angle is. The point of writing this is to ask the questions the mainstream media has refused to ask or answer: Firstly, is the demand of the Shiv Sena for preference to locals politically illegitimate? Are the allegations and concerns of the Shiv Sena or the MNS regarding the welfare of Maharashtrian workers valid?

Regarding the first question, the answer is absolutely not. Not only have numerous states provided different forms of preferences to locals in post-independence India, the system existed even before that. Bengalis and Marwaris migrating to Assam even in the 19th century led to resistance from locals, migrants came to dominate the Chhota Nagpur region of Bihar at the expense of local tribals who were unhappy with the arrangement, Biharis opposed Bengalis gaining prominent government positions in the Bihar government, north Indian ghair-mulkis came to dominate the Hyderabad Nizam's administration leading to resentment from local mulkis, an important factor in the Telengana movement, etc. The more recent attacks on the Pundits in J&K are of course well known.

All of this was well known at the time of independence itself. When the protest of Biharis against Bengali dominance in their government in 1938 became an issue, Babu Rajendra Prasad, then a leader of the Bihari Congress concluded that 'Bengalis who have not made Bihar their home but have come here for service or profession or business' should be excluded from appointments. He argued that it is just and proper that the residence of a province should get preference in their own province in the matter of public services educational facilities. Bengalis in Bihar, not distinguishing between the native-born, the long-term residents, and recent migrants 'speak a different language and insist on having Bengali schools. They should have due and fair share- no more and no less- in services also. Noting that domicile requirements for government employment existed in most provinces at the time, he further said, "The desire of Provincials to seek employment in their own locality is natural and not reprehensible, and rules providing for such employment to them are not inconsistent with the high ideals of the Congress, particularly when they exist in all provinces".

This question also came up in the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly when Jaspath Roy Kapoor of U.P. wanted to add 'residence' in addition to 'place of birth' to the text of article 10, the non-discrimination clause of the draft constitution. Alladi Krishnaswamy Aiyer contended on the other hand that residential qualifications ought to be permitted for the purpose of state employment and sought to amend the provision to allow parliament that authority. Various other arguments were also put forward in favor of allowing regions the right to prefer locals over others. Ambedkar urged the adoption of both of these amendments stating that while residential qualifications may detract from the value of a common citizenship, 'At the same time, you cannot allow people who are flying from one province to another, from one state to another as mere birds of passage without any roots just to come, apply for posts and so to say, take the plums and walk away...We are merely following the practice already established in the provinces'. The compromise thus finalized was to bar discrimination on grounds of residence as a general rule under article 16(2) while allowing Parliament to pass state-specific enactments as exceptions to it, a power accorded under article 16(3). This need for a balance between these conflicting interests was also later echoed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

In practice, given that migrations are almost always internal and the perceived gains of one state invariably rivals the losses of another, this has proven to be unworkable. Barring one instance in 1957, Parliament has thus never managed to enact any law granting states such freedom to discriminate. In that case, it allowed four states that special privilege - Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh - all states with agitations and conflicts involving outsiders. It is not surprising then that regional groups, despite local popularity of their cause, are thus left with one of two undemocratic choices: intimidate stakeholders in the system to bring change locally through unlawful means or force the hand of parliament. Either of these would invariably involve recourse to violence. Is it any surprise then to see the Shiv Sena engage in violence periodically with the silent acquiescence, connivance or tacit endorsement of the ruling dispensation and perhaps even the broader political fraternity in the state? Should it surprise anyone that the Shiv Sena manages to get away with it because, notwithstanding the media brouhaha, political parties see this as a popular stance and are reluctant to confront it?

Coming to the second point regarding the welfare of the marathi manoos, I am aware of no study that has systematically studied the impact of migrants on locals in Mumbai. But there are many other studies looking at the impact of immigration on local labor markets in other countries across the globe. They vary in their determination of the extent of impact but none of them suggests that large scale migration will have not an impact on employment opportunities for locals (see this paper for instance which reviews relevant literature). Some have suggested that while higher end job opportunities and wages grow with immigration and expansion of the local economy, lower end jobs suffer owing to greater availability of cheap labor. That finding matches the grievances of marathi manoos as articulated by MNS/Shiv Sena which have insisted that contractors and other employers prefer outside workers as they work cheap and are less likely to 'cause trouble' as they are not as well organized. One may or may not sympathize with such arguments but there is little doubt that there are real consequences. Furthermore, in the coming years, as fertility rates fall and economic growth hastens in the southern states relatively faster than their northern BIMARU counterparts, migration is very likely to grow with southern metropolises facing the prospect of cheap labor, growth of slums, heavy strain on infrastructure, higher crime and various forms of sectarian conflict. Appeals for peace, calm and media entreaties for national unity and broadmindedness may not bring much relief when people in overpopulated urban areas fight over limited resources. Rhetorical attacks on the Shiv Sena will resolve nothing; theatrics over Shah Rukh Khan and his new movie will fade from public consciousness but these issues including the periodic recurrence of episodic violence will remain. It is therefore better to debate them and find answers today rather than wait till they are exacerbated to a point where emotion overtakes reason and violent conflict becomes a routine and enduring feature of urban India.


Xinhua Ram said...

I agree. The issue of immigration and its perceived threat factor to locals is universal and cannot be brushed aside. It is not confined to Maharashtra. If not Shiv Sena or ULFA, some other organization or movement will take its place. This report on a petition by a Gujarati school in Maharashtra appeared on June 01, 2004:

"Ipso facto it is not possible to accept the proposition that the people living in a particular state cannot be asked to study the regional language". Observing that it is appropriate for the linguistic minority in a state to learn the regional language, the court said its reluctance to learn the regional language will lead to its alienation from the mainstream, resulting in linguistic fragmentation within the state” anathema to national integration.

Pilid said...


Linguistic minorities and school language question is a slightly different issue because the scope of their educational rights is governed by Art.30. Will write about that at some point. Thanks for the comment.

Hindu Fundamentalist said...

i think you have raised a good point that the issue is not being debated enough. it is easy to dismiss shiv sena as parochial. but the issue will persist and resurface in various other forms. there are two fundamental issues at work here: migration and integration.

migration: i dont think there is any easy solution to this. whether it is migration from one city to another, or from villages to cities or from other states to a city. and this problem is universal and not unique to india. all rapidly expanding local economies will face this issue. chinese model of permits for local movement is one extreme way of monitoring and controlling the migration problem. but i am sure there are better models in developmental economics.

integration: i think this is where we are facing greater resistance and the reason is not very difficult to identify. it is language. having divided our country into linguistic states, we have already set the stage for language based politics. the lack of integration due to language is more evident than the cultural differences because cultural diversity is just too vast to perceive any homogeneity. would the conflicts in the examples you have given be subsumed if it were within the same language? i bet it would. there could be other inhibitors to integration but i cant think of anything as pronounced as language. of course, i am talking of hindus and not considering muslim ghettoisation.

Pilid said...


Great points. I think language is an important difference but it may not be the only one. Limiting the rate of migration into major cities may be something the Center can consider. The courts have already ruled that imposition of the state language in schools is a permissible limitation on the rights of linguistic minorities - that may help the process of integration as well but only for the next generation.

Thyagarajan said...

Great Article. Echoes my own view on the issue

shaan said...

Excellent. Why don't I see any article like this in the media? Are they incompetent? Or has the media become over politicized? May be both.

Chennai is a little insulated from this future flood of migration as it is the only metro with very less Hindi speaking people. Am I right?