Raj Thackeray is playing a very dangerous political game. He may say that he is fighting for Marathi pride, but in the end it is nothing but politics, and a dangerous version of it. And the problem is, there are people who sympathize with him. India is a vast country with a population greater than most continents – actually all of them except Asia. And the diversity – languages and dialects, religions, ethnicity – is mind boggling. In my opinion, the only reason we still live together under the umbrella called India is because of the division of the states on the basis of language, something which allowed people to keep their languages and customs and regional identity alive and still call themselves Indian. But does this freedom mean that the state or whosoever anoints himself as the spokesman for the natives is granted the license to force feed the local language and customs to every one who comes and settles down in a state – either temporarily or permanently? For that is what the senior Thackeray in Maharashtra and the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu resorted to in the past, and the MNS and KRV are resorting to in present day Maharashtra and Karnataka respectively.
Languages serve a single purpose – facilitate communication. If you go to China and cannot speak Mandarin, and have to communicate with someone who cannot speak English, you have a problem. But when two people can communicate in a common language, even if such a language is not their “mother tongue”, it is the communication that matters, not the language. And the fact is, if you know English and Hindi, you can travel through most of India without facing too many problems. So the question is, why is it necessary that a madrasi or bhaiyya or gujju or your-favorite-pejorative-term who has settled in Mumbai learn Marathi if he can go about his job with the knowledge of Hindi and English? That is the only way he can show that he respects the local culture? The fact that he has left his state to come and settle down in Maharashtra because he finds it better than his home state in terms of facilities and freedom offered is an insult to Maharashtra and its native people? What kind of perverse logic is that? And this is such a slippery slope that things will just get worse. Not only has Bombay become Mumbai, but it is demanded that everyone address it as such. What next? Force people to wear native outfits, cook and eat native cuisine, watch native movies and dramas, demand that they stop patronizing “foreign” gods (Tirupati, Vaishnodevi) and start donating to “local” gods (Siddhivinayak, Shirdi Sai Baba)?
The renaming of cities, forcing people to put up signages in the local language, making school children give up English education (English is the lingua franca of global trade, commerce, technology and education) in favor of the “mother tongue”, telling people to leave their festivals and cultural identity outside before entering the state is nothing but skulduggery of the worst kind. And using the law to do it is so wrong that I don’t have a word for it. Languages and cultures don’t survive if you force them down people’s throats. The only way they can survive is when they are voluntarily adopted by people. Force can only give rise to hatred and bad blood. If Thackeray really wants to protect Marathi pride, and it does not need any protection, he should stop his use of force on every single issue. Three odd years ago, he split from the Shiv Sena to start the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena – Nav is “new” and nirman is “construction”. But he forgot that a state’s identity cannot be rebuilt by terrorizing a section of its inhabitants – particularly those who happen to come from other states. Intolerance can only generate contempt – not admiration, and use of force can only generate fear – not respect.
Thinking about the whole matter, I don’t see things changing for the better. While “unity in diversity” has kept the states together, inter-state feuds and culture clashes are only going to increase in the future. India doesn’t need external enemies. Its citizens and their intolerance are an excellent substitute.