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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The idea of a nation/state

So the Shiv Sena went on a rampage yesterday at Mumbai Central Railway station (perhaps the only building standing in Bombay not be named after Chhatrapati Shivaji). They ransacked the office of the Railway Recruitment Board. At issue were "2,200 vacancies for gangmen, khalasis and other categories which come under Class D". The Times of India reports :

MUMBAI: Members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena (ABVS), the Shiv Sena's student wing, ransacked the office of the Railway Recruitment Board at Mumbai Central on Tuesday morning to vent their anger against the board's hiring of non-Maharashtrians.

The mob demanded that the Class D recruitment examinations, currently under way, be postponed since 40 per cent of the applicants were non-Maharashtrians.

When board chairperson Anil Mittal stated that he could not concede to the demand since this was an all-India examination, about 100 youths ransacked his office, smashing the window panes and damaging the furniture and computers.

Mittal suffered a cut on his forehead. "Biharis and UPwallas keep pouring into Mumbai for jobs in central government establishments such as the railways. Marathi jobless youths can't be expected to twiddle their thumbs," said Raj Thackeray, ABVS chief and Sena leader, pointing out that Assam too was facing a similar situation...

There was a similar problem in Assam the other day. There were allegations that people from Bihar were prevented from appearing in a Railway recruitment test at Maligaon in Assam on November 9.

A day or so later, Assamese passengers travelling through Bihar were roughed up and the The All Assam Students' Union (AASU) called for a 24-hour Assam bandh on November 17 to protest against the mistreatment of Assamese passengers. Ten people were reportedly killed in related violence.

I'll leave Assam for the moment to write something about Mumbai. About 6.5 lakh (650000) candidates had shown up for the 2200 seats on offer. They mostly squatted in an around the Mumbai central railway station as most of them couldn't afford to buy their way into a lodge. I could (and probably should) try and imagine and write about their desperation. However, I want to write about something else that I have been thinking off for the last few days.

The idea of a Nation or in this case a State. It's obviously a complicated, imagined and for the purposes of this post a parochial and un-meritocratic, idea. The Shiv Saniks went on rampage because, in essence, they think that since Mumbai is a city of Maharashtra, it is legimitate for Maharashtrians to demand a certain amount of preference in how the resources (including jobs) of the state are allocated regardless of efficiency concerns. Basically, "I should get a job in Mumbai even though he will make a better gangman than me, because my name is Wadekar (Maharashtrian) and his is Kumar (Bihari)."

In the particular case of the railways, the Shiv Sena chose a wrong target. The railways is a central government undertaking. It cannot make preferences of this sort.

It's an idea I want to get understand better. Any idea on how I should go about it?

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