ANALYSIS MUMBAI TRAVAILS
By Special Correspondent
MUMBAI: Metropolitan Mumbai, fiercely hit by Covid pandemic and passing through tense times since March last, is steadily overcoming the trauma of a long-paralysed public life. The price it paid for the visit of the Chinese curse in the form of a deadly virus is high. Yet, Under a Mission Begin Again initiative, this is restoration time.
Restaurants in the city will function from 7am to 11.30pm from Friday – a big relief to a city swarmed by young and old bachelors far removed from their homes and the well-heeled families that are rooted in a dining-out culture. Covid scare might still hold them back.
While Covid has hit Mumbai to its roots, the shaky state government run by Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray has been caught off guard on other fronts too – rains, floods, and power outage. With these came a huge row surrounding Bollywood, the nerve-centre of India’s entertainment industry, in the aftermath of the unnatural death of a prominent actor from Bihar, Sushat Singh Rajput.
A verbal spat between actress Kangana Ranaut, hailing from Himachal Pradesh, in its aftermath also soured relations between the state government and the film industry. Chief Minister Thackeray, thus, is saddled with a bagful of problems — and problems keep mounting for the state too.
Thackeray is thankfully getting a bit chastened too, of late. Warnings have come indirectly from Bollywood that they would, worse come to worse, give a slip to Mumbai. The Sena leadership’s abrasive act of using the BMC officials to demolish the dwelling of Kangana Ranaut came as the last straw on the hurt Bollywood’s back. She later approached the Mumbai high court, seeking a crore and more as compensation.
To add to Thackeray’s concern, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is offering the entertainment industry a strong base in Lucknow, the cultural and entertainment capital of Uttar Pradesh or in Noida close to Delhi. The North Indian band in Bollywood might be enthused at such a prospect. Thackery might now want to roar like a tiger, but he’s tongue-tied due to the miseries that the state is currently through.
The shutdown has been long-lasting, which the nation’s principal commercial hub could ill afford to bear. Streets remained deserted and establishments shut for months on end. Yet, there was no way out. The pandemic that raged through the poorly nursed migrant colony of Dharavi and the rest of the city as also major urban centres like Pune and Nagpur, hit close to 16 lakh people in Maharashtra – against the nation’s total of 74 lakh hits so far. The daily spike in infections is of the order of over 10,000 as per latest figures. Of this, Mumbai accounted for over 2,000 infections and 46 deaths a day, as on Thursday.
The local train services, the lifeline of Mumbai for decades, remains shut except for special services to ferry those engaged in emergency services and Covid control. So vast is the city’s dependence on its local train services that over 2,300 trains, through shuttle services, carry a daily passenger load of 7.5 million commuters; the annual ridership being of the order of 2.64 billion. Its halt since March last meant a total halt to citylife.
While the Brahinmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has allowed shops, hotels, restaurants and bars to remain open till 11.30pm from today, markets will have to shut by 9.30pm. None of these operated for months, sharply affecting the business in the metropolis in recent times. Iterations of rains and floods further hurt the city these months; and a power outage that crippled the entire city for a full day earlier this week added to the people’s trauma.
PAROCHIAL SENA, AILING MUMBAI
The parochial attitudes of the Shiva Sena that has been a serious problem with the metropolis that lost much of its charms over the years. Its attitude to those who come in from outside for work and business has been shameful; and it flexes its muscles against the Gujarati settlers too, who are largely engaged in business. This obsession often stretched to the Bollywood too, dominated by North Indians, principally those from Punjab and UP; but Bollywood rarely budged. The film world carried with it the power of the money and able counter-force from moneybag Muslim investors and even the underworld.
The Sena has been calling all the shots in the city for the past 40 years, controlling the BMC with an iron grip amid massive corruption, and being part of the state government repeatedly. It held the CM post for the second time now; the first being by Manohar Joshi –1995 to ’99— and now by Uddhav, son of Sena founder Bal Thackeray.
Bal Thackeray had vitiated the city that once held a great aura. He reveled in parochialism, first targeting South Indians who came in for employment, and later against the Northies, principally the migrant workforce from UP and Bihar. Thackeray clan itself has its genesis in a migrant family that came here generations ago from Bihar and settled down when the city was a beehive of textile mills – a vestige of the British Raj.
Unable to bend to pressure from the Sena, the textile industry has largely transplanted from the city to neighbouring Gujarat. Another major strength of Mumbai was its large numbers of pharma industries; which too have heavily shifted base to Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Pune and Hyderabad in recent years. Mumbai’s strength was also the reigning foreign banking sector. Now, most foreign banks have shifted their bases to New Delhi, a city that has grown in size, height and esteem since the late 1990s.
Mumbai, now hugely unorganized and a nightmare for travel in peak hours, is still an economic powerhouse and retains its image as the nation’s top commercial hub. The Mumbai Port, from where loads are carried to the northern parts of India as also to other regions, is still a huge enterprise. The coronavirus has come to hurt it badly, though.
Leaving a big city to a regional party was Mumbai’s curse. National parties plan big; regional parties are more interested in loot when they get into power. They have no ideology to uphold and are mostly family enterprises as in the case of the Shiv Sena. When Uddhav took over as chief minister, he brought in his son Aaditya to into the cabinet, as his principal associate. The next generation of the Thackerays has been installed with great zeal and projected as the hope of the city’s youth.
What helped Uddhav Thackeray and the Shiv Sena to dump the BJP, re-craft a new alliance and grab power and the CM post was the perceived incompetence of previous chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, a good Brahmin from Nagpur who however failed to build an aura good enough to keep the Shiv Sena under check. Fadnavis was the choice of the RSS top brass in Nagpur, with whom he had jelled well. Powerful and well-entrenched Marathas through the arm of NCP leader Sharad Pawar and the regionalist Shiv Sena conspired to neutralize the influence of the BJP and Fadnavis. Yet, there is no guarantee that this government will hold on for long.
When will Amit Shah turn his attention to Maharashtra is what the BJP leaders in Maharashtra are waiting for. –IHN-NN
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