Salute pluralism

The city of Bangalore has had politicians who tried to ride the chauvinist horse but failed to arouse passion in the people.


In the first 70 years or so of the last century, Bombay was a melting pot. People came there from all over India. It was a place where if you were willing to work hard, your merit could take you far. Bangalore, after the IT revolution, is much like Bombay used to be.

People come from all over and find work. It is no longer the ‘garden city’ or the ‘pensioners’ paradise.’ It is where people from all over India want to come, and it has turned into a pluralistic society.

Kannada never was, and now perhaps even less, the language spoken by most people in Bangalore. There is no linguistic chauvinism despite attempts by some Kannada literary figures and minor politicians to rake up the sentiments. The smalltime politicians make it into a living. None has the clarity of objectives and single-mindedness that Balasaheb Thackeray showed in his takeover of Bombay. On present showing, Bangalore will not become what Bombay is today. Like so many others, I had felt the same about Bombay in the 1970s.

In 1955 the States Reorganisation Commission thought Bombay should be separate from the proposed state of Maharashtra. The Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti fought this. It had among its members, many non-Marathi speaking Bombayites. Thackeray, then a cartoonist in the Free Press Journal, incidentally a paper founded and edited by a Tamilian, Sadanand, formed the Shiv Sena. He made it into a powerful force especially in Bombay. He started by agitating violently against the Udupi restaurants, Malayalees, and Kannadigas with surnames like Rao, Shetty, etc. He denigrated them as outsiders who had taken the jobs that should have gone to the local Marathi-speaking Maharashtrians. At different times he targeted different sections of Bombay’s population, mainly other linguistic groups and communities --Muslims, North Indian migrants (Biharis and UPwalahs).

He was bold, sarcastic and enjoyed the fear that he aroused not only among those groups he targeted, but in the general population of Bombay. He cultivated the image of an urban sophisticate, writing articles in the newspaper he owned and ran, his cigar smoking, whiskey drinking persona, his numerous adulatory visitors, both Hindu and Muslim, among Bollywood film stars, cricketers, musicians, top businessmen, and other celebrities. But he started a violent agitation against the Valentine’s day!

Except for a few (like Lata Mangeshkar) who might have believed in and supported his extreme views, for most, it was a price to pay (it is said that the price was sometimes also in money), if they were to work and live peacefully in Bombay. However it was a rare person whose mother tongue was Marathi, who expressed horror at what was happening.

Public antipathies

His guest list did not adhere to his public antipathies. Journalists who wrote critically about him were hosted by him and their egos massaged. Sanjay Dutt, a half-Muslim, caught with guns at the height of the Bombay riots, with a Congress MP for father, was saved from jail by Balasaheb. His support for film stars and celebrities who sought his help to save them from the mobs, was quite wide spread. This suggests that his public agitation was not reflected in his personal opinion and he lived his private life quite distinct from his public persona.  He was truly a meticulously self-made personality, based on fear created by violent public hostilities, and private friendships with the people from the very groups he targeted.

He claimed to be doing all this for the sake of the ‘Marathi manoos.’ Someone should research the plight of these manoos so many years after the Shiv Sena was founded. Another violent Bombay figure, the physician Datta Samant, a powerful trade unionist, destroyed the highest employing industry of Bombay for over a century -- the textile industry. Balasaheb went further. Many investors chose other cities over Bombay. This was so particularly after the Shiv Sena took over the municipal corporation and let the infrastructure of the city deteriorate to the benefit especially of the real estate lobbies and of course of the Shiv Sena leadership.  

So, could Bangalore go the Bombay way? None of us who lived in Bombay till the 1960s thought Bombay could go the way it has. Bangalore has had politicians who tried to ride the chauvinist horse but failed to arouse passions or impact the inward migration.    

Bangalore was never a majority Kannada speaking city. Today much of the real estate has been bought up by people from outside the state. Many of the top jobs, the best residential areas, the most opulent life styles, are of non-Kannadigas. As in Bombay, few of these migrants have made any effort to understand the local culture and speak the language. Bangalore is ready for a single-minded and determined Balasaheb clone, ready to destroy Bangalore’s cosmopolitan nature and growth. Our political leaders, do not have the courage to stand up against such chauvinism. It did not happen in Bombay
thanks to tall leaders like Y B Chavan, Sharad Pawar and others. Karnataka today does not have such leaders.

One thing though is in favour of Bangalore not going the way of Bombay. It is the phlegmatic nature of the Kannada speaking Bangalorean, developed over the years when it was part of Mysore. Let us hope it will protect the city from the kind of deterioration that Bombay underwent. Perhaps Bangalore’s political leaders are too busy exploiting the wealth of the city’s municipal finances!

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