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Return of the nativists

Gadfly
Last Updated : 01 February 2020, 21:41 IST
Last Updated : 01 February 2020, 21:41 IST

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Recent events signify that ‘citizenship’ is leading us back to nativism. As the anti-CAA-NRC-NPR protests refuse to die down, something encrusted with multiple layers of meaning unfolded in Bengaluru’s Bellandur borough some ten days back. A hundred makeshift tin-and-tarpaulin sheds with alleged “illegal migrants from Bangladesh,” were demolished. In the light of recent history, it’s hard to not see those residents as victims of the ‘citizenship’ mayhem. As we know, none of this happened as per law. The victims possessed voter IDs and Aadhaar cards. Many belonged to North Indian states, West Bengal and even North Karnataka. Arms of the State colluded to break the law. We Indians criticise the State for its inefficiency, but boy can it function, especially if it means going after the poor and weak!

The Bellandur incident – in a much smaller way – is not unlike the NRC exercise in Assam, which intended to identify illegal migrants, but in effect brought up a big number who turned out to be Assamese Hindus and ethnic tribal folk. The Bellandur smash-up job, too, has turned out to be an instance of the government shooting itself in the foot. The event is shot through with toxic nativism – a thought process that will eat up the “other” but will also, in the process of working its venom, afflict those it tends to consider its own. Consider the history of the Shiv Sena in Bombay.

When it emerged as a major force, the Sena attacked South Indians as it felt they were over-represented in the workforce to the detriment of Maharashtrians. As some parts of commercial Bombay grew, some sections of the Shiv Sena’s voting constituency moved up the economic ladder. By the late 1980s, the South Indians were no longer the enemy for the party as much as the migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and later the Muslim community (indeed, the Sena’s corps changed to some degree). Thus, the target of the Shiv Sena moved; the foe was variable. This happened due to some amount of economic growth. But the labour gap that growth created was quickly filled with the rural poor, lower caste Hindus and Muslims piling into Bombay that was now Mumbai.

As growth began plateauing in the late 1990s and early 2000s Mumbai, the Sena (and later the MNS) began a new wave of attacks. In the post-Babri Masjid world, Islamophobia took strong root in Mumbai, but its victims were also poor Hindus from North India. Even its fiercest critics concurred with the Sena that Mumbai couldn’t be taking the burden of distress in UP and Bihar. So, regional parties took the idiom of economic protection for locals, and subverted nationalism to make nativism happen.

Therefore, if India’s economy does not improve fast, get ready for more attacks on UP and Bihari citizens in the cities of West and South India, exactly the way it happened in waves as Bombay turned into Mumbai. As we saw in Bellandur in Bengaluru, the aim to identify illegal migrants does not affect only Muslim illegal migrants. Nativist politics tends to become a Frankenstein’s monster. If such marginalisation of the poor continues, its victims (Muslims, Hindus and others) may protest by striking work. And if they do, the economies of Mumbai or Bengaluru will come to standstill.

In all this, it’s most ironic that both the perpetrators and their victims might have included communities, castes, individuals who may have voted for Modi-Shah, and not just once. Well, shall we say to them, congratulations!

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Published 01 February 2020, 16:38 IST

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