Six days before the 60th anniversary of the Constitution of India, the Congress government in Maharashtra has behaved no better than thuggish political parties and outfits acting in the name of language, region and religion by asserting that it will give taxi licences only to those who are able to read, write and speak in the local languge (Marathi) and who have been residents of Maharashtra for 15 years or more.
Chief minister Ashok Chavan now claims that his government was only implementing a 1989 rule of the motor vehicles act that makes the 15-year domicile status mandatory. Nevertheless, the timing of the announcement, when the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Samithi (MNS) have been upping the ante of antagonism, shows how brightly the flame of parochialism burns in the hearts of mainstream parties who find the ground slipping away.
At one level, the rule is “undemocratic and discriminating”, as the taximen’s union has described it, when the Constitution allows Indians to live and work in any place they please. At another level, it seeks to overturn the cosmopolitan ethos of a great metropolis which has welcomed migrants from everywhere and allowed them to contribute to the City in their own, unique ways, like New York and London.
But there is a third, more dangerous, whiff emanating from the retrograde move. It sets a precedent, sends a signal for politicians and political parties (and the lunatic fringe sitting on the sidelines) whose vision is similary constricted in other parts of the country. And, above all, why are only taxi drivers being subjected to this demanding condition. Why not investment bankers or film industry personnel or mediamen or mall workers or software workers or…?
If today we talk of language and residence as prerequisites for employment, how much longer before caste, community, religion, etc, become sneak into the debate?