Shobhaa De on Raj Thackeray, MNS and Maharashtra

Wednesday, October 29, 2008, 20:13
This news item was posted in Mumbai category and has 9 Comments so far.

Recently Shobhaa De made an appearance on Karan Thapar’s Devil’s Advocate and had a few answers to questions from Karan about the MNS, Raj Thackeray, Mumbai vs Bombay etc etc. I did  not catch the interview on TV, but came across the transcript on the Cnn-IBN website.

Raj Thackeray

Raj Thackeray

This article is critical of Shobhaa De. But that does mean that I am against Maharashtrians. If your brain is so small, you should not be on this site anyway. I personally believe that Maharashtrians’ economic status, jobs and culture – all are important issues under threat. And I would write about my suggestions for them too. But this is specific to the interview.

Karan Thapar was, as usual, banal. Perhaps the medium demands it, but I can’t believe these silly, black or white questions are the best that he can come up with.

Shobhaa De disappointed me, though. She had stuff to say, sure, but not much of that would stand up to scrutiny in my opinion.

I say this as a Malayali who landed in Mumbai in 1994, slowly moved up in life, had to deal with a lot of Maharashtrians and made friends with quite a few of them.

Still her understanding of the issues seem peripheral to me; with or without MNS and Raj Thackeray.

Upcoming articles

  • Where is the sensible Maharashtrian leader with a vision?
  • Pride and economy are two issues
  • The costs and benefits of a cosmopolitan city – do Maharashtrians really want one?

First, let me go through the interview and try to intersperse my comments wherever I think she has got it wrong.

Maharashtrians last and everyone else first?

Karan Thapar: … Today, when people come from outside Maharashtra to live in Mumbai, do they have as much a claim on the city as Maharashtrians or is it Maharashtrians first and everyone afterwards?

Shobhaa De: In fact it’s quite to the contrary – it’s Maharashtrians’ last and everyone else’s first. I don’t blame the ‘everybody else’ and I don’t look at them as outsiders. I think Maharashtrians need to do a great deal of inward thinking and inward looking to figure out for themselves as to why the city’s complexion has changed the way it has and why it has been hijacked – in their minds – by outsiders who are laying claim to it.

Shobhaa De on MNS, Raj Thackeray, Maharashtrians and outsiders

Shobhaa De on MNS, Raj Thackeray, Maharashtrians and outsiders

I have a problem with that first line. That is typical defeatist thinking. Everybody else is not first, and Maharashtrians are surely not last in Mumbai. If you are poor or lower-middle class like how I was when I landed in Mumbai, the Maharashtrians you meet are often rude, impolite, make sarcastic remarks about your Hindi (or the lack of it, and Marathi too).

I have seen several taxi drivers and security guards complaining of bad behaviour from Maharashtrians. Things change the higher up you go. At the socially and financially higher levels of society, there are no Maharashtrians in any significant number to be rude to you. As I earned more money, I could divorce myself from the Maharashtrian-dominated lower classes and move to the upper middle class levels in society where interaction with Maharashtrians was lesser. So, if we are talking about the North Indians and their life in Mumbai, they deal with Maharashtrians – hotel waiters, peons, labourers, cops – and they are definitely have a bad time.

Shobhaa De also says, ‘It has been hijacked in their minds.” She means Mumbai. She is right, and she is wrong. How so?

If you look at Mumbai, the population of Mumbai is largely non-Maharashtrian. So population-wise, Mumbai has been hijacked. In what other sense? Culturally? But when was culturally Mumbai a city of Maharashtrians? It never was. Despite being the capital, it was never the cultural capital of Maharashtra. That was Pune. This was a British city, where a lot of people moved into, including Maharashtrians. But outsiders who came were more dynamic – as most Maharashtrians would admit – and took over business and enterprise, while the less enterprising, culturally oriented Maharashtrians could not afford to live in a more and more extensive city and slowly started moving out to the suburbs.

Jobs for Maharashtrians

Later, Shobaa De says this,” I am definitely saying that Maharashtrians are getting a raw deal in Mumbai.”

In some ways, this might be true. Especially in the case of Railways. But I am yet to make up my mind on it. Maharashtrians say Railways conspire to ensure Maharashtrians do not enter railways, and do not advertise job openings and tests in local newspapers. I have heard that that it is just propaganda. I do not know the truth, but this has to be investigated. The latest exams, where MNS activists beat up Bihari and UP students, were advertised in Lokmat and Loksatta. So that particular protest was just an excuse. But it is possible, and preference to locals in unskilled jobs should be given. Why not? I think there are existing laws for that anyway. But then, it also depends on whether a lot of Maharashtrians are available to fill those jobs. The average Maharashtrian is not interested in low level jobs, while the poor Maharashtrian is in the villages.

Shobhaa De: They are too laid back and also there’s a certain intellectual arrogance which means Maharashtrians will not do the kind of jobs like dhobis (washermen), darbans (attendants), bhel-puri waala (street-food shop owner), taxi driver – which they consider, may be, a little demeaning and beneath themselves. But there are articulate, intelligent, educated Maharashtrians who are also not getting a shot at jobs. I can really understand their peeve too.

Maharashrians are beginning to exploit Mumbai’s opportunities, finally

Not all Maharashtrians are laid back. I know many who are doing well. While one can figure out they are not really comfortable with the cut-and-thrust and job-hopping of the new economy, they do it well enough to reap the benefits. Shiv Sena leaders themselves were reported in the media often saying that “our boys do not want to do service jobs” like a salesman’s job. But I object when she says that articulate, intelligent Maharashtrians are not getting jobs.

I came across the educated Maharashtrian only when I joined a company where the majority of employees were Maharashtrian. Now, this company was owned by a Punjabi – a lot of the senior guys were from across the country. But most jobs easily went to the local Marathi boys and girls. Why? These were the articulate, skilled, capable boys and girls – and it was easier to find them! You just had to ask one Maharashtrian employee if he knew anyone who was good enough for a specific job, and he would definitely bring you some good people.

When I made friends with Maharashtrian colleagues, I also noticed that if they were smart and articulate, the entire spectrum of jobs in Mumbai became open to them. They were as good as they wanted to be. I personally think these Marathi boys and girls were really good, and the younger ones would be even better. So they were slow in learning to exploit the financial capital of India, but that won’t last and they will be as deadly as any of the new generation in a few years from now.

Speaking Marathi in Mumbai

Karan Thapar: … First, the people who live in Mumbai should speak Marathi. Do you agree with that?

Shobhaa De: Well, if you go to West Bengal, Karan, do you hear anything but Bengali being spoken? Does anyone mind? You go to Karnataka, do you hear anything but Kannada being spoken? If you go to Tamil Nadu, do you hear anything but Tamil being spoken? So in that sense, may be a disconnect is happening in Mumbai. People think Mumbai belongs to all of India and therefore not parochially bound.

Karan Thapar: They are forgetting it’s a Maharashtrian city?

Shobhaa De: In a way, yes. Also, it’s a Maharashtrian city, people who choose to live there should learn and speak Marathi. If I were to make West Bengal my home, I jolly well learn Bengali. If I choose to live in Punjab, I should learn to speak in Punjabi. All the signages, all over India, happen to be in two languages, sometimes in three. You go anywhere in India, the signages are in local script. Why is it that Mumbai is being picked on for insisting on both signages – Devnagiri, which is also Marathi, and English.

Ah. Now this is worth talking about.

Is Mumbai a Maharashtrian city?

Shobhaa De, MNS, Raj Thackeray, SHiv Sena and Maharashtrians are right when they say that in most big cities in India, the local language is the prevalent language. But it is not entirely right, too. Bangalore has a lot of outsiders, and they often speak in Hindi or English. But generally she is right when she talks about other cities and comapre them to Mumbai.


Mumbai is, like it or not, so far, India’s only real cosmopolitan city. There is no other city like that in India. Not even Delhi.

(Well, Maharashtrians may not want it that way if that means Marathi culture may be destroyed by that cosmopolitan city – but that’s another article I am going to write later.)

It is a city where money speaks. It is, or was, as capitalist as one could get in India. In an aggressive business-oriented city, people speak what works. If all the CEOs in Mumbai, all the stock brokers, all the factory owners, all the IT company management were moneyed Maharashtrians, all their employees would be speaking in Marathi too. I know I would be.

In Mumbai, money is the language

There is something I once told a Maharashtrian friend. While discussing the language issue, I said, “See, you are a Maharashtrian. But I am Mallu. I am slowly learning Hindi and speaking it, but not Marathi. Why? Because apart from you and my colleagues here, I hear Marathi spoken by cops, bais, coolies, bus drivers and conductors. I do not hear it being spoken by my CEO or any CEO. My interviews happen in English.”

This is not to insult the Marathi language. But it is the true state of affairs. It is a language with a rich cultural heritage, which I often suspect is superior than my mother-tongue. But I am here to make a life for myself, and I would choose the language which helps me do that. For me, in Mumbai, it was English and to a lesser extent, Hindi. Not Marathi, by a long stretch.

Mumbai, like all cosmopolitan cities, speaks what works. None of the other cities in Shobhaa’s list are cosmopolitan – and they are nowhere near Mumbai in anything. Sure, I can go to Thiruvananthapuram and speak all I want in Malayalam. But I am here because this is where I can make a life.

Respect is earned – not legislated.

Back to Shobhaa De now.

Shobhaa De: You don’t hear Marathi in Mumbai anymore. You just don’t hear it. You try and ask for directions – stop anyone on the road – and chances are they’ll say we have no idea because we’ve come from UP or Bihar or wherever

Karan Thapar: So this, in a sense, irks Maharashtrians – the fact that in their capital you don’t hear Marathi, that UP-ites, Biharis and Punjabis seem to dominate irritates them.


Shobhaa De: I would definitely say so because the educated may think it politically incorrect to state as much but the feeling lingers.

Karan Thapar: But not to the extent of dominate Maharashtrians in Maharashtra.

Shobhaa De: And pushing them out of their own capital.

Shobhaa De: When you have slogans written all over the walls in Mumbai saying, ‘UP hamari hai, ab Maharashtra ki baari hai’ (UP is ours, now for Maharahtra)

Marathi is very much heard in Mumbai. Maybe Shobhaa De moves in elite circles where are there are not too many Maharashtrians. It is not heard enough to satisfy everyone for sure. But like I said before, in Mumbai, people do what works. If Maharashtrians are only 35 %, chances are, conversations would be in Hindi, Marathi and English. I can say that I hear English in Mumbai much less than Marathi – and as a financial capital, English should be heard more. What you hear is irrelevant if it works.

And I have stopped people on the road and asked for directions. People do not know where many places are because it is often confusing. It is only in small towns of India that everyone knows where every place is. The same happens in Delhi and Bangalore.

Are Maharashtrians being pushed out of Mumbai?

Nobody ‘pushes’ Maharashtrians out of Mumbai. If I have a house to sell, and if a Mahrashtrian offers me more money than a South Indian or a Punjabi or a North Indian, I would sell it to him. If Maharashtrians are finding it difficult to stay in the city, that is because a lot of them are not doing financially as well as the newcomers.

But that is capitalism. You have to fight and compete. And competing is new for Maharashtrians, but they are learning it.

But the newcomers are definitely more driven than Maharashtrians, so it is natural. People who come from another place to make a life have more desire to really work hard and do it. People who were in a place for generations are not that aggressive in using every opportunity. It is pretty normal. Like I said, Maharashtrians are learning how to do that, and in another 10 or twenty years, a lot of Maharashtrians would be back as they can afford the cost of living. It is not great to hear, but again, thats how a growing city works. Blame capitalism if you want, but that’s all there is to it.

SP and MNS slogan battles- its not against Maharashtrians, but against MNS

The slogans? I don’t think those slogans are everywhere – but it is obviously a response by SP to MNS. SP is obviously trying to fish in troubled waters. It is a challenge by SP to MNS. It is not a challenger to Maharashtrians. Unfortunately, if we think we are with MNS, it would affect us. The way to deal with it is to ignore it. That is the rational way.

Maharashtrian intellectuals and leadership

Karan Thapar: So you are saying that intellectuals either support Raj Thackeray or oppose him but don’t stay silent.

Shobhaa De: I am saying speak up, whatever your point of view is. You agree or you don’t, it’s not Raj Thackeray who’s the issue, it’s the pride of Maharashtra that’s at stake.

It is because of the our goonda, your goonda mentality. Why do a lot of people support the Bajrang Dal even they are disgusted by their violence? They are our goondas. That’s why. Same goes for MNS. A lot of intellectuals understand the feelings of Maharashtrians, and they do not have a sensible Maharashtrian alternative to Raj Thackeray. Why are they not forming that alternative? Raj Thackeray’s (and Shiv Sena’s) reaction to public criticism of them would be to beat you up.

Street plays? Thrash them. Abuse them. Intellectuals are not used to dealing with things acording to the rules of the street – and that is where Thackerays excel. I would not want to be the intellectual who offers a criticism of  Thackeray and then get beaten up when I walk out of the house.  Kumar Ketkar, editor of leading Marathi daily Loksatta was attacked because he wrote what he thought was wasteful expenditure when there were bigger issues. MNS and Sena do not appreciate criticism, and you would not want to be at the receiving end. This is not a debating society – coherent arguments about pros and cons about Maharashtrian issues, and Sena-MNS tactics would be answered with a punch to the face.

MNS (or Sena) is not Maharashtra

My feeling is that Shobhaa De too has fallen prey to the us-or-them mentality. It is normal too. For those who think I am against her or Maharashtrians or MNS or Sena, I would like to clarify that this article is about the particular interview of Shobhaa De. It was written for the express purpose of debunking what she said.

My next article would be about the real problems of Maharashtrians. The way I see it, the jobs issue and the Marathi pride issue are not one issue, they are two. And I will tackle both of them soon.

A lot of Maharashtrians are making the mistake of identifying themselves with Sena or MNS. Just because someone says some things which appeal to you, that does not mean they are your representatives. Decent people can only be represented by other decent people.

There is no representative to the real Maharashtrian at this point, and there is a big market for one. A decent guy who understands and speaks to the Maharashtrians as well as others and who does not use violence as a means. It is only because such a personality is absent that Maharashtrians are forced to support the MNS or Sena. In my opinion, thats a mistake.

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9 Responses to “Shobhaa De on Raj Thackeray, MNS and Maharashtra”

  1. snigdha said on Saturday, December 6, 2008, 6:15

    Marathi Manoos – A parasite on Indian Society

    Don’t blame Pakistan or the terrorist. They had the courage and pride to inflict damage to a country they believe is there enemy. We have to blame so called Indians like the Thackeray’s and the people who follow them (Marathi Manoos) who are making our society weak. These people unlike the rest of India have never had to struggle and have lived off the wealth created by outsiders. They have negligible contribution towards the growth of Mumbai which was created by outsiders who believed in national pride, hope, hard work and continuous struggle for progress. Mumbai was created by British, Gujaratis, Marwadis, Parsis and companies like TATA’s whose wealth came from their flagship company “Tata Steel” in Bihar. In fact most of these people don’t know or care about Indian History, have never stepped outside Maharastra and are not aware that Mumbai wasn’t even a part of Maharashtra. It was part of Gujarat before and the population of marathis in Mumbai was negligible before independence (

    Lack of enterprise, ethics, courage and hard work has resulted in a society which demonstrates incompetence in every area and has the potential to adversely effect the Nations growth and prosperity. Some of these examples amply demonstrate this:-

    1.) WEAK & CORRUPT POLICE:- 14 maharastrian policeman died without killing a single terrorist !!! This is because it is more of political force then a law enforcer. Why do they have fancy names likes ATS when they can’t protect themselves, leave alone protecting others, thier jeeps get hijacked by terrorist!! In fact at CST when a brave photographer (Anil Singh – who shot the photographs of the terrorists) informed armed policemen about the terrorists , they ran away. Inspite of all this we make these people National heroes and people like Sharmila the wife of Raj Thackeray sends SMSs glamorizing the non existent contribution of marathis in saving the city by stating that all policemen killed in Mumbai were Marathis.
    2) WEAK & CORRUPT POLITICIANS:- Pratibha patil – our president Mrs. Pratibha Patil – the cosmetic head of state? So much has happened. Mumbai and India was attacked and at war and Mrs. Patil was not to be seen anywhere? Why? Shivraj Patil – The worst home minister ever seen , he was more bothered about his dressing then the terrorist attacks on India. RR Patil – Mr Patil spoke and behaved as if he was featuring in a pulp Bollywood movie, during the 60-hour-long terror attack and its aftermath, with irresponsible sound-bytes serving as dialogues,” Clown, what happened to your statement “goli ka jawab goli se doongi”? Vilasrao Deshmukh , and the list goes on
    3) LACK OF ENTERPRISE:- Inspite of all the opputunities available you sont have a single Industralist from the state who has been able to create jobs at a mass level. There are many parts in Maharastra where shop keepers close from 12 noon to 4 in the evening and treat customers as if they are doing a favour by selling to them, when outsiders are more successful in competing with these incapable people they are beaten up. In most organisations in Maharastra the most incompetent people are generally the Marathi Manoos who were hired because they were easily available and are able to retain there jobs because of the support from local politicians.

    This is not a simple problem. A weak society influenced by paranoid cowards, completely detached from reality, confused and megalomaniacs like Raj Thackeray has the potential to completely destroy the country to take india to fragmented pre-1947 india , which was a period of intense repression from foreign forces where we saw large scale genocides, large scale destruction of hindu temples and blatant conversion of temples into mosques.

  2. Ameya said on Wednesday, December 10, 2008, 14:45

    Wonderful article! Your insight into this is really worth appreciation. Attacking Raj T is fine, but its so pathetic to see people criticizing all maharashtrians. That is a pathetic act. You said your next article will be on marathis but where can we find it?
    Secondly, it is irritating to see anything like the comment above. That comment by Snigdha is just a narrow minded person’s comment. there are some shopowners who keep shops open for a small time. Yes, because the business there is low. It is the same story everywhere in small towns of India. things are not very different in UP or Orissa. I can generalise similarly that all people coming from far off places are conmen because I have seen many, I can also generalise malayalis are into heavy nepotism because I saw few. Please read:

  3. divya said on Saturday, December 13, 2008, 11:57

    snighdha u need a pyscho check seriously, this is the reason why u have made such foolish comments. i don’t know how nonmaharashtrains can go against the marathi localites, staying here in maharashtra. if u want to praise ur caste then go back to ur state where ur people are respected by the non localites (including maharashtrains). your r a big “maharashtra ki dharti par bhoj”

  4. LINS said on Friday, December 19, 2008, 7:39

    95 % of railway employees in Mumbai are from UP. All railway contract from eateries to napkins, whether the train halts in Mumbai or Chennai are with people from UP/ Bihar origin. There are people from UP who pay handsome money to politicians to get recruitment in Mumbai. Civilians will revolt to this. Such revolts happen in USA to Asians and in Uk and in Chennai and every other place where other state people try to dominate the civilians. There is no problem in civilians moving from one state to other. But when movement happens in Bulk and other party starts dominance then there is a problem. This is a genuine problem of Mumbai. Just observe if you can there was a time when there were GURKHAS / watchman who were mostly Nepalis now it is only Bhayas. The vegetable wala, Dudh wala, Riksha wala, MTNL office, Railways, Income tax most of the staff in Mumbai are these guys. One guy comes and then gets other and then they start building local community and now it is beyond imagination in Mumbai. They do not allow any other community to enter in this locality which they have created. For eg: A vegetable wala Bhaya will get a neighbor who is fruit wala bhaya and then all of them will make a community and will not allow any other community people to do any business in this locality. This is the way they spread. There is no limit on the production. Paida Karo aur Mumbai bhej do. There is a community building which is happening and which should be opposed.

  5. sandeep said on Saturday, December 20, 2008, 5:10

    Bhaiya bhagao Mumbai bachao

  6. non-North Indian said on Wednesday, December 24, 2008, 1:24

    First of all, my congratulations on a very balanced report and comment. I, too, missed the interview because it was not telecast in the time slot and on the date promised. AND NO EXPLANATION WAS GIVEN, NOR AN APOLOGY TENDERED. Possibly the sold-out “I am an Indian” Mr. Dilip Saardesai (as he doesn’t mind being referred to) presumed that his fellow-Ghatis did not deserve such courtesies Then I was directed here by a friend, and from here I navigated to the transcript of the original interview on the IBN Live page, and then back here. I am glad that Shobhaa De had the courage to take a stand that would be unfashionable in the circles in which she is generally believed to move. I am also very happy that the Malayali author of this piece has the capacity to view the issue from a non-North Indian (nNI) perspective (the term nNI, as I use it, includes everyone who is not a speaker of Hindi/Hindustani/Urdu/Punjabi). Above all, Ms. De makes a very valid point when she compares the status of Marathi in Mumbai with that of Bangla in Kolkata or Kannada in Bengaluru. Kolkata was not built by the Bangalis any more than Mumbai was by Maharashtrian. Bengaluru — well, Kempe Gowda did play a role, but that is ancient history. The mess we see today is largely the creation of non-Kannadiga (especially North Indian) hordes invading and overrunning an El Dorado. Anyway, the point is that if Bangla is acceptable as an identity tag of Kolkata and Kannada of Bengaluru, why do the “cosmopolitans” have a different different yardstick for Mumbai? Double standards! Finally, Snigdha: I would have bet that kind of name could only belong to a Maharashtrian. Seems I was wrong. Or maybe, like Mr. Saardesai, you find it embarrassing to be a Ghati?

  7. XYZ said on Monday, February 2, 2009, 9:20

    Nice article. I wish more people start thing like this and stop partisioning our own country. Its time that educated class of this country start expressing their veiws. Also i amazzed to read that Shobha de has such opinion about “outsiders”.

  8. yashvant pathankar said on Friday, April 3, 2009, 13:30

    sir my self yashvanta i know about mns and join this party do some help

  9. Nachiket Deshpande said on Sunday, May 10, 2009, 20:09