The subtext in the Vedanta-Foxconn row: The age-old Maharashtra vs Gujarat tussle

The subtext in the Vedanta-Foxconn row: The age-old Maharashtra vs Gujarat tussle

They have often bickered over attracting investments and FDI, with non-BJP leaders in Maharashtra fanning apprehensions that the fact that the top two in the BJP — Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah – are from Gujarat, tilts the scales heavily in favour of the latter.

Maharashtra leaders rattle off many such examples where Gujarat, once considered the “junior” partner, having been carved out of the larger Bombay State, has sneaked ahead of its counterpart.

Like when Maharashtra planned an International Financial Services Centre at its commercial hub of BKC in Mumbai. In 2014-15, the project was in an advanced stage, with areas earmarked for it, when Gujarat rolled out GIFT City, a business district. Later, in 2017, PM Modi announced his flagship bullet train Ahmedabad-Mumbai project, and land required for it included some belonging to the BKC.

More recently, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari left many feathers ruffled when he said: “Sometimes I tell people that if the Gujaratis and Rajasthanis are taken away, Mumbai will lose its financial status. There will be no money left in Mumbai and Thane.”

There were protests cutting across party lines to the remarks, including from BJP ranks.

Mumbai itself remains a contentious issue between the two states. Before Gujarat and Maharashtra were created out of the Bombay State on May 1, 1960, on linguistic lines, there was debate over where Mumbai, or Bombay as it was called then, should go.

Between 1956 and 1960, the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement led by veteran Communist and socialist leaders held protests to ensure that Bombay, which was largely Marathi-speaking, remained with Maharashtra. Almost 105 people lost their lives in the agitation in police firing, and a stone statue at Hutatma Chowk in Mumbai’s Flora Fountain is a stark reminder of that protest.

CPI leader Prakash Reddy says, “While the capitalists always favoured a separate Mumbai, the credit for it going to Maharashtra goes to the common struggling class people, who took to the streets during the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement.”

Congress leader Hussain Dalwai, who was closely associated with leading socialist leaders, says, “Mumbai has always embraced people across classes, communities or religions. But it is the hidden agenda of some segments to break it.”

While time has healed much of the Gujarat versus Maharashtra rancour, the fault lines remain. Particularly, as for parties seeking power in the state, the Marathi and the Gujarati vote remains critical. Among the common citizenry, tension spikes over issues such as separate ‘vegetarian’ and ‘non-vegetarian colonies’ in the metropolis, with the Gujarati way of life projected as imposing on Maharashtra culture.

The Shiv Sena rose to prominence presenting itself as the party of the “Marathi manoos”, while the Gujaratis are considered a vote bank of the BJP, especially since Modi’s rise.

However, the Sena has largely kept the Gujaratis in good humour, even during its 1980s anti-north Indians campaign, when it accused migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar of taking away jobs in the service sectors.

Gujarati leaders too have split their bets across parties, maintaining cordial relations with all, and content not stirring regional tensions, unlike some leaders from the North.

But the latest row is expected to impact the coming elections to the BMC with the Gujarati vote estimated at around 17%, against 26-30% Marathis.

Last year, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray had announced an outreach plan to woo Gujaratis. The slogan coined by the Sena was: ‘Khao jalebi, fafda, Uddhav Thackeray appda ( Eat jalebi, fafda, but consider Uddhav Thackeray yours)’, a message that Gujaratis could keep their way of life with the Sena. It will be interesting to see its messaging now, particularly as its breakaway faction led by Eknath Shinde is a ruling ally of the BJP.

Some time ago, Fadnavis had accused the non-BJP parties of “deliberately raising the bogey” of separation of Mumbai from Maharashtra. “But people know that Modi and Shah are always working for the welfare of Mumbai and Maharashtra,” he had said.

This will be a hard sell now in the light of the Vedanta-Foxconn row. The Opposition, for one, will point out that it was Fadnavis who as CM in his last tenure in government promised Maharashtra a $1 trillion economy.