Mumbai has been allowed to be ruined

Print edition : May 21, 2010

Kumar Ketkar, the Editor of Loksatta.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

FIFTY years ago on May 1, 1960, the first States Reorganisation Committee created the State of Maharashtra by unifying the Marathi-speaking areas of the Central Provinces, Berar, the Deccan states and the Bombay Presidency. In the division, Bombay (now Mumbai) went to Maharashtra. While there was never really any contention about the inclusion of the other areas into Maharashtra, the inclusion of Bombay caused strife. Maharashtra claimed it on the grounds of linguistic majority. The opposing view said the city belonged to the variety of trading communities that had built it.

A solution offered by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was that Bombay have a status similar to that of Chandigarh, the Union Territory that serves as the capital of two States. But the demands of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement were met and the city became the capital of Maharashtra. It was be natural to assume that Bombay would continue to flourish, but the exact opposite happened as the years passed by.

It is inevitable that many ifs and buts will arise when one looks back at history. Many problems haunt Maharashtra, but the one that is causing the greatest worry is also the one that is not acknowledged. It concerns the changing ethos the socio-cultural ancestry of Mumbai. This is not about sentiment (though sentiment is important) but about the survival of anyone associated with the city because the problems that have arisen out of to neglect Mumbais socio-cultural heritage are now beginning to affect the citys economic environment.

Mumbais problems actually had its beginning when the city was treated as a commodity and not as a living entity 50 years ago. Without going into the well-documented tensions, undercurrents and non-issues that are becoming issues and without giving undue importance to local political parties, Kumar Ketkar, the Editor of Loksatta, the widely read and respected Marathi broadsheet from the Indian Express Group, presents a clear picture of what the city was, what it is, and why he does not see any hope for the return of the Mumbai that he and that of thousands of other Mumbaikars knew.

Kumar Ketkar was earlier the Editor of Maharashtra Times. He is a regular commentator on current affairs and socio-cultural issues and has authored several books in Marathi on a number of topics. In an interview to Frontline, he says Mumbai has not benefited at all from being the capital of Maharashtra. Excerpts:

Fifty years on and looking at the linguistic division that created Maharashtra, has the dream been lived or has it been appropriated by politics? Has it been beneficial to the Marathi-speaking people?

Well, actually there are too many misnomers and misconceptions floating around, which raise some of these questions. Mumbai never had more than 40 to 45 per cent Marathi people even when it was incorporated into Maharashtra. The second largest linguistic contingent was Gujaratis, at less than 15 per cent, and this was followed by Tamils, Telugus, North Indians.

But this division camouflages many important aspects of Mumbai life, and I am talking only about Mumbai now that is crucial because the formation of Maharashtra was not the issue. The issue was whether Mumbai should go to Gujarat or Maharashtra. Nehru said Mumbai had such a unique history that it should be called a bilingual State. When he said bilingual he was not equating Marathi with Gujarati that is a mistaken belief. He meant that Mumbai had essentially evolved as the business capital of the country and the businesses were primarily in the hands of the Gujarati-speaking population. He was saying that all the textile mills were owned by them, the entire stock market was in the hands of Gujaratis and Marwaris, and yet the overall influence on the city was of the Marathi lingua franca because the largest contingent of the population was Marathi and the culture was Marathi. Nehrus idea was to keep alive the relationship between the working-class population, which was largely Marathi, and the business investors, who were non-Marathi. There was a symbiotic relationship between the two, and to keep both alive and growing it was necessary to have a bilingual State.

I dont want to go into the merits of the argument but the point is that in the last 50 years, instead of encouraging Marathi entrepreneurial growth, Mumbai has seen a decline even in the Marathi working-class population. With no involvement in capital handling and with the closure of mills, the Marathi working class has no jobs. There were 65 textile mills, all owned by Gujaratis and Marwaris, and 98 per cent of their workers were Marathi. Textile mills have disappeared completely and the area has been taken over by high-rise buildings, shopping malls, multiplexes and the rest of the rich mans world. In all this there is nothing Marathi. Lalbaug, the heart of the textile area, was the hallmark of Marathi culture. Now it has disappeared.

The point here is that the Marathi people in Mumbai were living in communities. Places such as Girgaon, inhabited by the lower middle class, used to have wonderful theatre, music, arts, culture. Even the textile workers had a rich heritage of culture. Communities existed all over the city in pockets... in Vile Parle, Shivaji Park, Hindu Colony, Lalbaug, Parel, Girgaon. There was social interaction and there was an essential vibrancy. What has happened in Mumbai now is de-communitisation. Girgaon has been uprooted. Shivaji Park and Hindu Colony are up for construction. I am not going into the insider-outsider debate. What I am saying is that Marathi community life has been disrupted. Mumbai began to be populated by new groups of people people who are yet to form communities people who are still individuals.

New groups of people?

Marathi people celebrating Gudi Padwa at Girgaon, Mumbai.-PTI

All these people in the new high-rise buildings they have not connected with the life in Mumbai in any form. They dont have old friends or relatives in the city, they dont have neighbourhoods or communities or cultural roots. Again, I say this is not in connection with the so-called issue of North Indians. This is about those who had cultural roots and have been uprooted and those who are new to the city and have not yet been able to develop cultural roots. Naturally, it is not possible to develop roots in 15 or 20 years time. As a result, the entire city today is disconnected, people do not connect with each other. I remember when I used to go to college in the local trains, they were crowded but there was some kind of bonding between the people inside the compartment and outside, on the platforms. Now there is no bonding, everybody is there by himself. There was a sense of belonging to Mumbai. When Mumbai was made the capital, nobody in the political class realised that however much you may say that Mumbai belonged to Maharashtra (which it did), it required separate attention. Mumbai does not have the same geo-cultural relationship with the rest of the State Satara, Sangli, Sholapur, Aurangabad, Nagpur, Akola or Konkan that is a separate Maharashtra. Mumbai is different. So pay special attention to Mumbai. But nobody did. And Mumbai has been allowed to be ruined. Mumbai has been allowed to be sold.

The Congress never campaigned for Mumbai to be integrated with Maharashtra. They just got it. The Congress did not have a vision of Mumbai as a new metropolitan world. They still had the old mindset of India belonging to the rural areas. And so all politicians, including our Chief Ministers, see Mumbai only as their office space. Mantralaya is their office space,. a place from where they can manage Maharashtra. You get elected from Nanded, Pusad, Latur, wherever, and you come to Mumbai as you are coming to office. They come here and they manage Marathwada, Vidarbha but they pay no attention to Mumbai.

So what was actually happening was a non-policy growth. Mumbai was growing irrespective of a State plan because it was an industrial centre, a railway hub, a big port. It had its independent dynamism. It grew in an uncontrolled way and these people paid it no attention. I remember when I was in college, the population of Mumbai was less than 20 lakh. In 1975, when I was working at The Economic Times, I did a story on Mumbais population closing at 50 lakh. When the citys population was less than 60 lakh, The Illustrated Weekly of India did a story questioning whether Bombay was dying because of its population. Today Mumbais population is 1.6 crore. For the last 35 years we have been asking whether the city is dying, but Mumbai is dead. Mumbai doesnt exist. No body accepts this.

So Mumbai has not benefited from its inclusion in the State?

What Maharashtra has done in the past 50 years is total ruin of Mumbai. I have, despite being a Marathi, no love at all and no pride that we are celebrating our 50th anniversary. In fact, I have condemnation, and this is not political condemnation, it is my personal feeling because I was born before Maharashtra was formed. I have been a Mumbaikar all my life. The virtue, dynamism and vibrancy of life have declined every day. And in my lifetime it will not improve. As a journalist I have travelled in every taluka and all I can say is how pathetic Maharashtra is. There are 36,000 villages where tankers deliver water. In Mumbai, 8 per cent of the land is occupied by nearly 65 per cent of the people and 92 per cent is occupied by 35 per cent of the people. Dharavi, Govandi, Mankhurd [intense pockets of slums] are only 8 per cent of the land. The point is, Maharashtra remains underdeveloped and Mumbai remains neglected.

How would you trace the neglect of the city?

It is criminal neglect of Mumbai, and it has been by the entire political class. They profited by letting it grow in an uncontrolled way. The mafia took advantage of this and grew from 1975, and is growing today; it is the land mafia that rules Mumbai. And its aim is not to develop but to loot Mumbai. Thats why there is no control, no regulation and whatever exists is violated. Mumbai is used by the rest of Maharashtra by the so-called rural chieftains who come to rule Maharashtra from Mumbai. Their aim is to develop their constituency at the cost of Mumbai. You will find Baramati and Pune developed because of Sharad Pawar. Latur is developed because of Vilasrao Deshmukh. Sangli is developed because of Vasantdada Patil. But the area between Pune and Sangli via Satara is horrifying. There is total disequilibrium of development within the State. The Maharashtrian political class, including Sharad Pawar, has not paid any attention to how society has been evolving. If you remove Mumbai and Mumbais income, then the rest of Maharashtra is worse off than Orissa or Bihar, and this is provable. There is no point in talking about backward Biharis coming to Mumbai because the rest of Maharashtra is worse than Bihar. Mumbai is rich, so Biharis come here to earn, the same way as somebody from Satara comes here.

When the State was formed, there must have been great idealism. Do you see any evidence of that now?

No. The idealism was that the linguistic culture will flourish. The people will live like communities. That has disappeared completely because the natural momentum of Mumbai was going differently. The leaders who fought for Mumbai to be integrated into Maharashtra had idealism without vision. Their idealism was that if Maharashtra developed then the poor farmer, the poor worker of Mumbai would benefit. The reality is that farmers are committing suicide and textile workers are no longer a part of this city.

When did the shift from linguistic division as a practical necessity to jingoism happen?

An abandoned textile mill stands in stark relief against the backdrop of a modern high-rise building in Mumbai. A file picture.-SANTOSH VERMA/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Jingoism began at the time of the movement, only but it was limited. Ninety per cent of Gujaratis in Mumbai understand Marathi and almost 60 per cent of the people in the main city understand Gujarati, so that is not an issue. There have been no clashes between the two communities.

How is it that the language has been hijacked and made a political tool?

Hijacked where? Not in the rest of Maharashtra. Only in Mumbai. Not even in Thane The Shiv Sena may have grown there but the language is not an issue. The de-communitisation of Marathi-speaking population gives them a complete feeling of disconnect. So what remains as their identity? I speak Marathi. Im proud of being a Marathi [-speaking person]. What is my connectivity with Mumbai or Maharashtra? Its my language. I may be disconnected socially but Im connected by language.

Jingoism is a reflection of poor governance

Poor? Theres no governance. There is a complete disconnect with the people of the entire political class, including the Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray who talk of Marathi. Shiv Sena leaders send their children to English-medium schools. I have nothing against it, but if you are so proud of the Marathi language and culture, then send your children to Marathi-medium schools. These are closing down because Marathi parents dont want to send them there. So what is this Marathi pride they are talking about? I studied in a Marathi school and I have been in English journalism. The two can go together.

There are two types of survival one is the economic and the other is the cultural. Cultural survival seems to be under threat.

Tremendous threat. Even the economic survival is at stake because the entire business profile of the city does not necessarily incorporate the Marathi people and the cultural survival is at stake because de-communitisation has taken place. They are a vanishing tribe.

How do you resolve the two?

You cannot. There is no chance of resolution. Because the entire Marathi middle class, which is the leader of the culture not the poor people unfortunately, has given up the language. They maintain the pride but in their day-to-day economic activities they have given up Marathi. Twenty years from now there will be no Lok Satta it will not be economically viable. In fact there will be no Marathi paper. There may be pamphlets or something. People will speak Marathi but the newspaper will not be viable. Economics and culture must match.

When did Mumbai start to go off the tracks?

Sometime in the late 1970s. The textile strike was the turning point. It was a big contributor. That began the decline. There was a shift in Mumbais economic character. The service sector came in. Marathi people were the working class. They could not quickly adjust to the service sector. They were marginalised. That created a complex, which created anger. The anger created the Shiv Sena. Suddenly you cannot tell me you are a textile worker OK you will not be jobless. You become a clerk in a bank. If I am a textile worker, I am a textile worker. My age is 40. How can I suddenly become a bank clerk?

Does the Shiv Sena have a role to play?

Other than giving a false sense of community and false pride no, they have no role.

And I dont call the Shiv Sena a regional party. It is a local party... a Mumbai-centric party like the MNS [Maharashtra Navnirman Sena].

So they are riding piggyback on people fears?

Yes. Otherwise they have no identity. A Marathi person cannot identify himself with this gamut called Mumbai, so he wants to be connected with something and the Shiv Sena is there.

You sound very pessimistic.

I am not pessimistic. I am realistic. And realism is bad.

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