The New York metropolitan area has the largest Jewish community outside Israel. This community is not only successful and wealthy but it has been philanthropic. This is evident as you walk around in the city and see the Hospitals and other institutions built by funding from the Jewish community in New York. The Jewish community is also a major donor to political parties and political campaigns. Its political influence is so high that its reach as a political lobby has become legendary.
Imagine if the Mayor of New York decided to ban pork, ham & bacon in New York City during the four days of Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur – yes, ban all restaurants & food outlets from selling pork & ham to all New Yorkers regardless of their religion, ethnicity, and food choices. What could be a reason for such a draconian move? To protect the sensibilities & feelings of the Jewish minority during their religious holidays!
This simply would not happen in New York. The concept that a religious minority, however wealthy & powerful, could impose their restrictions on all other communities in New York would be unacceptable. Such a ban, if tried, would create a storm of protest and perhaps a blowback against the minority that demanded it.
The above is the simplest parallel to what the Mumbai Government tried to do this past week to the majority of Mumbaikers. The Jains are a small but extremely wealthy religious minority in India. No minority in India comes close to their wealth. Being a tiny majority, they have been reportedly dedicated to protecting their interests by generous political contributions to the governing party. Though a different faith, Jainism is regarded by Indians as good non-violent religion & a part of the broad Indian ethos. And Mumbai has the largest populations of Jains amongst all the cities in India.
Then last week, in one act of asinine arrogance, the ruling Mumbai Government & the Jain community caused substantial damage to the image of Jains in Mumbai. How did they do that? They banned the sale of all meat and chicken in Mumbai during the four-day Jain religious festival in September.
The majority of people in Maharashtra, the state of which Mumbai is the capital, are non-vegetarians. In fact, the majority of Mumbaikers are non-vegetarians. But the traditions & choices of the majority were set aside by the Mumbai Government and the practices of a tiny wealthy minority were imposed on the majority of Mumbaikers.
Frankly, we were stunned. We simply could not comprehend why the ruling BJP party in Mumbai would take such a draconian step of trampling over the rights of the majority of Mumbaikers. The answer – the upcoming elections for the Mumbai Municipality. The BJP reportedly wanted to do better in these elections that have been previously won by the majority Maharashtrian parties. The money of the Jains & vegetarian Gujaratis was supposed to be instrumental to the BJP in fighting this election.
It backfired and how. The anger against this imposed ban on meat was instant, broad & deep. It united not only the Maharashtrian majority but also the other non-vegetarian communities in Mumbai. This anger spread through out the rank and file of the Shiv Sena & Manase, prominent Maharashtrian parties on Mumbai. Even the High Court that prides itself on maintaining its colonial British roots voiced its displeasure. Finally, the Mumbai Municipal Corporation rescinded the meat ban because of “prevailing public sentiment“.
The reverberations of this sad episode were felt nationwide. Madhu Kishwar, an Indian academic & writer in Delhi, tweeted the feelings of many:
- Madhu Kishwar @madhukishwar – 14/n Even if meat ban for 4 days was avoidable but to inflame passions against Jains on this minor issue will have very harmful consequnces
The reverberations of this asinine meat ban will be also felt by the ruling BJP party in Maharashtra. The BJP came to power in Maharashtra in 2014 on the coat tails of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Good Governance was the election theme of PM Modi. Unfortunately that has remained a dream with little progress on the ground. They have been able to buy time for themselves because India is still predominantly rural, poor and old systems of political patronage die hard.
These defenses have, in a single stroke, been shattered by this monumental stupidity of Mumbai’s BJP Government. They have demonstrated in an act that everyone understands that the BJP in Maharashtra is just like all the other parties that were in power.
The above is yet another example why India remains, what we call, an electocracy and not a democracy. As we wrote on India’s Independence Day in 2011,
- “India calls itself the largest democracy in the world. But the real question is whether India is a true democracy. We think the proper word for the Indian system is Electocracy. India runs elections but, between the elections, the Government neglects the Indian people. Politicians have learned to manipulate society, to create vote banks, to divide Indian society into so many groups and communities that prevent the formation of a true democracy. … Today’s India is a system Of the Politicians, By the Politicians and For the Politicians.”
Unfortunately, the new BJP Chief Minister Fadanvis of Maharashtra has proved us right. Only an electocracy can behave as his Government did – needlessly & arrogantly trample on the rights of the majority to appease a tiny religious minority and that too reportedly for political contributions.
This chief minister has grand visions of making Mumbai an international center for Finance & Media as well as a new Asian center for global arbitration. He has reportedly hired Anshu Jain, the ex-CEO of Deutsche Bank to make this happen.
We have a humble suggestion for Chief Minister Fadanvis of Maharashtra. He should focus on making Mumbai a true democracy, a city where the Government works for the people. If he cannot do that, all these grandiose visions will fail as similar visions of the previous parties have.
We have been positive towards Chief Minister Fadanvis until now. He seemed to be working hard to do good work. We sincerely hope that he learns from his government’s asinine stupidity of last week and redirects his staff to make Mumbai & Maharashtra a real democracy rather than a political electocracy.
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