In a recent article in Business Standard, columnist Mihir Sharma has expressed concerns over growing ‘parochial attitudes’ in major Indian cities like Mumbai. What is surprising in the article is, the author considering India’s diversity as a barrier, and the author’s definition of parochialism in this regard. The author questions -
Why is it that so many of India’s cities, which could be locations for the dissolution of the many barriers that divide us, instead replicate and strengthen them?
What are these barriers that the author is talking about? It is evident that he is referring to linguistic, cultural, ethnic, religious, regional, and many other differences. But are they really barriers?
The world is naturally pluralistic and several diverse peoples, have co-existed for several millennia. So, when does diversity become a barrier or even appear as one? When one wants to force juxtaposition of different peoples, does diversity appear like a barrier. But then, diversity is only natural. The topic of forced juxtaposition has been discussed previously in Karnatique. There is no “natural antipathy” between any two given culturally or linguistically different groups, and when there is need for interfacing between the two they organically evolve methods of mutual cooperation. But forced juxtaposition is what creates unease and friction.
Major cities of today’s India are laboratories of forced juxtaposition. In the past when people moved to a region that was culturally or linguistically different they would integrate into the host society, first by picking up the language of the land. In fact, even to this day, many developed nations, such as those of the European Union encourage migrants to learn the local language as a policy. Unfortunately, independent India has dumped this policy of multilingualism. With English available as a language of administration and official communication across all states of India, and with the gradual promotion of Hindi as a pan-India language, the natives and migrants are expected to use these two languages for mutual interfacing, with special emphasis on Hindi. Any talk of encouraging the native languages is immediately condemned as chauvinistic or parochial.
Massive migration to major cities has resulted in forced juxtaposition, and a policy of mono-lingualism and the attitude of condemning anything native as parochial have been detrimental to any possibility of integration.
While calling Mumbai as parochial, Mihir Sharma also adds that Delhi is free of the ‘poisonous’ natives-vs-migrants politics. But this is not a coincidence or not an unusually tolerant character of the city.
The promotion of Hindi use through administration and legislation by the Union Government of India, as a pan-India language, coupled with little encouragement to multilingualism, has worked in favour of Delhi, which is part of the Hindi heartland. Migrants, whether they are from UP and Bihar, or from the non-Hindi states eventually learn the vehicular language of Delhi and integrate.
The same kind of integration is absent in Mumbai or Bengaluru. State patronage to Hindi means that the natives are expected to speak to migrants in Hindi, and the migrants shall never be expected to learn the native tongue. This attitude is considered liberal, and any attempts to protect the linguistic rights of the natives are immediately condemned as parochial or chauvinistic by voices of the Delhi establishment.
Referring to the ‘parochial politics’ of Mumbai, Mihir Sharma says that this model if replicated across the Indian Union, “would doom the emergence of more liberal, inclusive and prosperous India”. But the chauvinistic and patronizing attitude of the Union is the root of all language chauvinism, which the Delhi establishment has hardly acknowledged.
The columnist also accuses the state and its politicians for the lack of improvement or development in Mumbai. He says:
It has become ever more subservient to the state that it nominally rules. No state government or politician can afford to let Mumbai improve; as it stands, it is too powerful a source of funds and power. Mantralaya’s restrictions and regulations strangle the city and its amenities, but are exactly what the state’s politicians need.
The state of Maharashtra is the top contributor to the Union Government’s revenues, with direct taxes from Maharashtra alone amounting to a whopping Rs. 40 lac crore a year. The city of Mumbai contributes a major chunk of this revenue but only a fraction of this revenue makes its way back to Maharashtra, let alone Mumbai. Much of these funds are used to fund the special packages for other states and the centrally sponsored schemes. Why not return a major chunk of the revenue to the state or even let the state collect and manage the revenue all by itself? It is not the state of Maharashtra and its politicians that are holding back development in Mumbai, but it is the Union Government by taking away the city’s and the state’s major chunk of revenue.
The author advocates decentralization to the urban bodies, but keeps mum on the much bigger need to decentralize from the Union to the states.
Consider the subjects that the states and the Union have jurisdiction over. There are about sixty six subjects on the state list, whereas the concurrent and the union list together number a hundred and forty seven. The states do share the concurrent list with the Union but the ruling of the Union can override the legislation or orders of the state in those subjects. So, in effect, the Union holds jurisdiction over more than twice the number of subjects that the states do.
Frequent meddling with the state subjects by the Union Government through centrally sponsored schemes further impinges on the powers of the states. Considering the many diverse linguistic and ethnic groups across India, such over-centralization of power at New Delhi robs them off democratic empowerment. Hence the Union Government should be a much thinner entity retaining only the portfolios of common interests like external affairs and defence, and devolve the rest to the states. Why is the columnist who calls Aam Admi Party’s “idea of radical decentralization” as a “real political innovation” silent on the devolution of powers to the states?
The Union should devolve as many subjects as possible to the states, and should retain the ones like foreign affairs and defence. The states shall decide on devolution of powers to municipal bodies. As each state is different, the devolution model shall be different. There cannot be a single model of devolution of power from states to municipal bodies across India.