Local trains for locals? Local calls for locals?

Liberalisation may have dismantled the socialist scaffolding of the licence-quota-permit raj somewhat. But the reservation juggernaut is rolling merrily across the badlands of Bharat. 27% reservation for OBCs. 10% reservation for Muslims in Andhra Pradesh. 10% reservation for economically weak upper castes in Uttar Pradesh. Reservation for Gujjars in Rajasthan. Internal reservation for OBCs in Karnataka. Reservation of “D” group posts in railways for locals.

As if all those reservations weren’t fetching enough “seats”, Bal Thackeray wants one more set of reservations: Reservation for Marathi speakers in newly built apartments in Bombay.

In growing proof that there is nothing more potent than pumped-up parochialism and linguistic chauvinism, the Shiv Sena supremo has said that 50 per cent of all new apartments should be “reserved” for Marathi-speaking people. “Reserve 50 per cent of the houses for Marathi manush (common man). Otherwise, we will not allow even a brick to be laid,” Thackeray said in an article in the Sena mouthpiece Saamna to mark his 82nd birthday.

In his edict, Thackeray said that builders should set aside a quota for Maharashtrians and that the quota must be mentioned in the contract. His son, Uddhav Thackeray, the Sena’s executive president, said: ”Maharashtrians are living in hutments, while towers are being built. How can this go on?”

Clearly, the reservation demand, appended to other timely political observations, is proof that the ageing tiger is smelling elections. If nothing else, it will increase the Sena’s nuisance value, besides swelling its bottomline. But, honestly, in a rapidly globalising world, how much further are we going to push the “local” envelope? Is the reservation of apartments for “locals” really a feasible idea or just a stunt by a very bankrupt politician?

Will the demand apply only in government-built apartments, or in private ones, too? Does a Kannadiga who learns Marathi in 30 days qualify for the reserved apartment? How will Marathi speakers be identified and allocated apartments? What if he or she doesn’t have the money to plonk on the table? What is the message: that all a “local” needs to do in life is be born in a state, the “State” will take care of the rest?

What next? Cars for locals? Club memberships for locals? Local trains for locals? Local calls for locals?

And, how much longer before Thackeray’s ideological blood-brothers and sisters on this side of Maharashtra border take up the cue?