North Indian migrant workers in Mumbai are being attacked by a militant organization (known by the acronym MNS) which exploits the resentment of the local population. The most odious of the political leaders egging the violent mob on is Raj Thackeray. A generation ago the same folks (Raj’s uncle Bal was the leader back then) were targeting South Indians. What changed?
Back when the Government controlled the economy, the South suffered. North India is much more populous. By its sheer numbers it has always controlled the Central Government and its spending. When the Government eased the restrictions on the economy, the South surged ahead with a sustained boom in the last fifteen years. Its investment, during the lean years, in education and land reform paid off with a generation of young English speaking workers. They no longer need to flock to Mumbai to sell chai or deliver lunches to the office workers. Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad are also now magnets for the young and ambitious. Only Kerala remains a net exporter of people, hanging on to a communist ideal that attempts to make everyone equally poor. There are signs of economic revival even there.
The heartland of India that stretches from Delhi to Kolkota is still mired in despair. It includes Uttar Pradesh, a state with almost three times the population of France. And Bihar, the home of ancient Buddhist monasteries. A thousand years of conquest and foreign rule have devastated these regions. While they remain the center of Indian culture, the educational system lags behind national norms. Landed gentry still rule in a thinly disguised feudal system. No surprise that the people of North India would migrate to Mumbai looking for work, much like Southerners did in the seventies.
Thus the cycle of vilification goes on. So now it is the Northern worker who is being called dirty and lazy and working for too cheap wages. It is their shops that are being burned down, they are the ones fleeing the violence. Even Amitabh Bachhan, the hero of so many Bollywood movies, is not immune from insult.
There are some glimmers of hope for the North with the rise of Mayawati, a fiery lower class woman who has braved the system to become Chief Minister of UP. Nitin Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar is making a courageous stand against the all-pervasive corruption.
The only constant in ethnic prejudice is to kick whoever happens to be down. As the Northern economy grows with the many planned development projects (the ambitious highway construction, the car factories, new IITs and Institutes of Science) the descendants of the Shiv Sena and MNS will find new victims. May be the cyber-boom of the South will fade by then?