Political Chauvinisim in the Service of Capital

Maharashtra recently witnessed a spate of violent attacks on workers from other states, especially from UP, Bihar and Jharkhand. Spearheading this campaign of chauvinistic frenzy was Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, the chauvinistic cousin of Shiv Sena, the original party of ‘Maratha pride’. It all began with Raj Thackeray accusing Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan of using Maharashtra as his operational base only to shower ‘benefits’ on Uttar Pradesh, but in no time it escalated into a generalised outburst of chauvinistic venom directed against ‘North Indian’ immigrants in general. With Raj Thackeray thus staking his claim to the Sena’s legacy of militant chauvinism, cousin Uddhav also promptly joined the competition by threatening to deport any outside workers employed in airport modernisation work as ‘cargo’ material!

With the two cousins trying to outbid each other as the true champion of ‘Marathi interests’, media analysts have tended to treat the whole thing in the narrow context of ‘turf war’ between the two cousins. But once again what emboldened the ‘sainiks’ was the complicity of the Congress-NCP government. No action whatsoever was taken against Raj Thackeray even as his men went on a rampage all over Mumbai. Eventually when the Deshmukh government ‘acted’, it was only to enact a calculated farce. Raj Thackeray was arrested only to be promptly let off on bail. A similar treatment was meted out to the Samajwadi Party chief in Maharashtra, thereby striking a juridical equality between the rampaging sainiks and their immigrant victims!

Fifteen years ago, it was under another Congress regime when Bal Thackeray’s ‘sainiks’ had taken over Mumbai, inflicting a communal carnage the scars of which have not healed till today. And subsequently even after the Sena was indicted categorically by the Srikrishna Commission, the Congress-NCP government of Maharashtra chose not to initiate any action against the culprits. Indeed, the Sena has always enjoyed sufficient impunity in carrying out all its lethal political experiments. In its early years, the Sena was patronised as a brigade of thugs and demagogues that helped Mumbai industrialists to divide and ‘discipline’ the working class and weaken the powerful communist-led trade union movement.

Maharashtra being the classical home of India’s big business, the impunity extended historically by the state to the Sena’s politics of chauvinism can only be understood in the context of the changing requirements of big capital. Over the last two decades the industrial scene in Maharashtra has undergone a sea change. Traditional industries like textile have been restructured by closing down most of the so-called ‘sick’ textile mills, shedding labour and ‘modernising’ production. Nothing mirrors this restructuring better than the changing landscape of metropolitan Mumbai where factories of yesteryears have been transformed into huge chunks of lucrative real estate. While manufacturing industries close down and the organised working class is steadily downsized, massive SEZs announce their arrival on ruins of industry. Meanwhile, the whole of Vidarbha continues to reel under acute agrarian distress.

People’s resentment is naturally running high in the state against this large-scale destruction of jobs and livelihood. Powerful united struggles of the working people are also coming up challenging the destructive whims of big capital. In neighbouring Goa the state government has been forced to scrap all the SEZs that had already been notified. Will the people of Maharashtra too have a similar success in reining in the marauding march of big business? It is precisely at this crucial juncture that we are seeing this ugly resurrection of the politics of anti-immigrant chauvinism. The Sena Parivar taps into the simmering mass discontent in Maharashtra to refuel its divisive anti-immigrant agenda. What better way can there be to divide the working people of Maharashtra and enforce the whims and writs of a globalising big business?

Globalisation demands unfettered freedom for capital while keeping labour as much fragmented, localised and terrorised as possible. This is where the Senas step in to establish their ‘political relevance’. And for the same reason, it is absolutely essential for the working people to thwart these thugs and demagogues.

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